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Outnumbered and virtually powerless to block the Tory priorities they oppose, Democrats in the Texas Legislature say they are keeping their options open as they prepare for a special session that is expected to revive the Bill. GOP election law they killed last month.
The line coming from Democrats across the spectrum: “Everything is on the table. This includes another walkout like the one that condemned Senate Bill 7 in the closing hours of the regular legislative session when Democrats broke the quorum. But this time around, such a move could now put their employees’ salaries at risk, as Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed funding for the legislature while telling lawmakers they could restore it in the upcoming special session. in less than a week.
“From a caucus point of view, as we are stepping into the unknown, we must keep all options open, including denying the quorum,” said Rep. Jessica González of Dallas, vice-chair of the Election Commission. bedroom. “I think a lot of people want to see what would be in [the elections bill] before making a decision.
She said House Democrats “are trying to get a feel for where the majority of our caucus is,” but that consensus is “to be determined.” Likewise, Representative Nicole Collier of Fort Worth told a Texas Tribune event on Tuesday that “as of yet, there has been no type of resolution or concerted effort.”
“It’s all on the table,” Collier said. “We are not going to remove any options at this point.”
There are still a number of unknowns before Democrats can agree on a strategy, including what the full special session agenda will be, how Abbott will structure it, and what the elections. Abbott announced on June 22 that the special session would begin on July 8 but offered no further details, saying only that the agenda would be announced before the start of the session.
Democrats will also need to consider Abbott’s veto on funding the Legislature for the two-year budget cycle starting September 1. This prompts lawmakers to participate in the special session – or potentially sacrifice the wages of their employees. Abbott’s veto was in retaliation for the Democrats’ withdrawal, but it affects more than 2,100 legislative staff and people working in legislative agencies. (Abbott acknowledged that the salaries of lawmakers are protected by the state Constitution.)
Last week Democrats and staff continued Abbott’s veto, asking the state Supreme Court to overturn it. Abbott’s office faces a Monday deadline to respond to the lawsuit.
The elections bill is unlikely to be the only proposal Democrats will have to strategize against in the special session. In addition to pledging to restore election laws, Abbott also said he would resurrect Republicans’ priority proposals to crack down on “critical race theory” in Texas classrooms and punish social media companies. for allegedly censoring Texans for their political views.
House Democrats sought to regroup for the battles ahead in a meeting Monday at the Van Zandt Hotel in Austin. About half of the 67 caucus members attended, according to three people in attendance.
Caucus leader, Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, said members “had a productive meeting, discussing our litigation challenging Governor Abbott’s unconstitutional veto in the Legislature, as well as the upcoming special session.” .
“House Democrats are united and ready to stand up for all Texans, especially when it comes to defending the sacred right to vote,” Turner said in a statement.
SB 7, the bill Democrats derailed in the regular session, would have placed new limits on early voting times, local voting options and postal ballots. Critics of the bill have called it an attempt to suppress voters that disproportionately affects Texans of color.
Whatever Democrats decide to do, it could only cause another temporary delay in considering the Election Bill given that they remain in the minority in the Legislature and only one Republican – Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio – has expressed interest in separating from his party. .
Abbott’s veto only pushed them into a corner.
Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez de Weslaco, one of the Democrats who left the room, said in an interview Wednesday that Abbott’s veto was “extremely juvenile” but that the potential loss of staff wages weighed on him. “absolutely” as July 8 approaches. . Still, he expressed optimism that Democrats would be able to solve the conundrum.
“I think Democrats have always been resilient in how we use the rules to our advantage,” Martinez said, adding he was “very confident” Democrats would eventually come together around a strategy. .
The special session also presents potentially difficult choices for some Republicans, namely House Speaker Dade Phelan. After the walkout, it drew the ire of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who accused Phelan of mismanaging the House schedule and allowing Democrats to break the quorum. Phelan denied this.
At the same time, Phelan has said he will not resort to the most drastic measures – locking bedroom doors and dispatching state police – if Democrats seek to abandon the chamber again. His office nonetheless underlines its commitment to complete work on electoral legislation.
“If 100 special sessions are needed, the Texas Legislature will pass an Election Integrity Bill that builds confidence in the accuracy of our elections,” Phelan spokesman said, Enrique Marquez, in a statement for this story.
Texas Republicans and Democrats will face more national attention than they did in the regular session. This is especially true as the battles for voting rights shift even further to the states after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked the Democrats’ sweeping election overhaul last week. Lawmakers in the Democratic states of Texas had tried to use their walkout to force a breakthrough in federal law, known as the For the People Act.
Among Democrats organizing outside the Texas Capitol, there was virtually unanimous deference to lawmakers in the special session, beyond expressing support for their approach all on the table. Beto O’Rourke, who has spent weeks visiting the state over voting rights after the walkout, said in a recent interview that Democratic lawmakers “have done so much so far, and I’m convinced that they’ll do whatever it takes in any special session. “
“There’s nothing they shouldn’t be considering,” said Glenn Smith, senior strategist for Progress Texas, the Austin-based Democratic group.
One question for Democrats is how far they should work with Republicans on election legislation, especially after being largely excluded from negotiations on the final version of SB 7 at the end of the regular session. Those talks resulted in a bill that GOP negotiators later admitted to be flawed, claiming they had made mistakes regarding the early voting window for Sunday and an election cancellation process. .
“Building that trust would be a difficult thing,” Smith said, adding that he thought Democrats “would talk [with Republicans], but I think we will be very tired of what they say.
To be clear, House Democrats were not unanimous in their decision to break the quorum on SB 7, and several appeared to be lagging behind, including a group of representatives from the border area.
One of them, Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass, said in a text message Tuesday that he “supports and will continue to support” his fellow Democrats who have stepped down, but in his case, he felt that ‘It was better to stay on the ground with other Democrats in the border region and argue against the bill in person.
“Regarding this special session,” said Morales, “I need to visit the rest of my colleagues and management to see what strategies we plan to use.”
Disclosure: Progress Texas has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.