Texas Legislature to Convene Special Session on Voting Bill

June 2, 2021 by Reece Nations
Texas state capitol, Austin, Texas. (Photo by Dan McCue)

AUSTIN, Texas — In response to Texas Democrats’ quorum-breaking walkout in opposition to overhauls of the state’s elections near the close of the session over the weekend, Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would convene a special session this summer.

“We will be back — when, I don’t know, but we will be back,” House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said on Monday from the dais. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you.”

Democratic members of the House of Representatives were able to upstage the passage of Republican-backed voting legislation by conceding the floor and breaking quorum during final debate on the second-to-last day of the session. Senate Bill 7, a highly-amended omnibus bill, contained a wide swath of provisions ranging from restrictions on voter registration to tightening eligibility on absentee voting.

The bill is likely to be revived and passed during the special session, all but guaranteeing a hollow victory for Democrats. In doing so, Republicans are relying on the “dangerous, debunked myth” of voter fraud in the push to secure restrictive mandates following a year of record voter registration and turnout in the state’s 2020 elections, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

“This is a now-or-never moment for American democracy,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said in a written statement. “And I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives and also the United States Senate most especially, to look at what is going on in places like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, and realize that Republicans keep moving to the extreme right, but they keep changing the law to keep winning.”

Castro continued, “All we have to do to make it easier to vote is not change any law, we just have to change a custom: the Senate filibuster. If we don’t act now, then our democracy is not going to look the same, either in 2022 or 2024. We’re dealing with folks who have moved to the extreme right and the way they’re trying to win elections now is not by convincing more people that they’ve got great ideas or that they’re great at governing — it’s by keeping the people who disagree with them from showing up and casting a ballot.”

The extra session could serve as a means for Republicans to use their bicameral majority to take up other failed conservative agenda items. Another failed bill mentioned as a priority by Abbott would make it more difficult for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash. 

Ahead of the summer recall, Democrats are hoping the move sends a bold message to their counterparts across the aisle — some of whom were quick to rethink their opposition to a number of controversial provisions.

Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, said in an interview with NPR that a provision mandating a 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. window for early voting on Sundays was an error and that it should have been 11 a.m. Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, confirmed Clardy’s assertion and said the start time would be amended to 11 a.m. during the special session. 

Democrats had criticized this measure for its likely impact on longtime practices among Black churchgoers that encourages members to vote following services on Sunday mornings. 

“From day one of this session, our priorities were centered around hardworking Texans and building a state that is safer, freer, healthier, and more prosperous,” Abbott said in a written statement. “We added to that the imperative that we secure the Texas power system to ensure it never fails again. We kept those promises while also delivering one of the most conservative legislative sessions our state has ever seen.”

Abbott continued, “However, there is more we can and must do to ensure a brighter future for Texas. At the beginning of the legislative session, I declared election integrity and bail reform to be must-pass emergency items. It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither reached my desk… I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation.”

The president responded to the Texas voting restrictions bill ahead of its consideration by condemning it as “wrong and un-American” and calling it “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” 

The legislation gained the attention of progressive groups and voting rights advocates, TWN previously reported, along with a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, advocacy groups and local organizations who circulated a letter in opposition to the bill in April.

“This legislative session in Texas has been one of missed opportunities,” Texas Democratic Party Voter Protection Director Rose Clouston said in a written statement. “We are reeling from a pandemic and a winter storm that have killed far too many of our neighbors, and the Republican-dominated legislature has done next to nothing about either of these crises.”

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont,  warned members on Tuesday that the repercussions of their actions could negatively affect budgetary payments for staffers and legislative agencies. Abbot threatened to veto Article 10 in a tweet on Monday, a section that funds the Legislature.

Phelan said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that he thinks lawmakers are still owed payment under the state Constitution should Abbott carry out his veto. In response, Abbott insisted Phelan is “not some outside viewer” and he should “do something about it” if he is concerned about the veto.

Phelan said in a written statement that by choosing to abandon the floor, “these members killed a number of strong, consequential bills with broad bipartisan support including legislation to ban no-knock warrants, reform our bail system, and invest in the mental health of Texans — items that their colleagues and countless advocates have worked hard to get to this point.”

Phelan continued, “Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction — especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure.”

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