Texas Democrats abandon House floor, blocking passage of voting bill before final deadline

Texas Democrats abandon House floor, blocking passage of voting bill before final deadline” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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In a last ditch attempt to block a sweeping GOP voting bill, all Democrats walked off the House floor Sunday night, preventing a vote on the legislation before a fatal deadline.

The Republican priority bill is an expansive piece of legislation that would alter nearly the entire voting process, create new limitations to early voting hours, ratchet up voting-by-mail restrictions and curb local voting options, like drive-thru voting.

Debate on Senate Bill 7 had extended over several hours as the Texas House neared a midnight cutoff to give final approval to legislation before it could head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.

Democrats had appeared to be trickling off the floor throughout the night, a number of their desks appearing empty.

During an earlier vote to adopt a resolution allowing last-minute additions to the bill, just 35 of 67 Democrats appeared to cast a vote. Around 10:30 p.m., the remaining Democrats were seen walking out of the chamber.

Their absence left the House without enough members to reach a quorum — which requires two-thirds of the 150 House members to be present — needed to take a vote.

Their departure came after a message from Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

“Members take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building,” Turner said in a text message obtained by The Texas Tribune.

With about an hour left before the midnight deadline, House Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledge the lost quorum and adjourned until 10 a.m. on Monday morning. Midnight was the cutoff for the House and Senate to sign off on the final versions of bills that has gone through conference committees.

“Today, on the second to last day of session, a number of members have chosen to disrupt the legislative process by abandoning the legislative chamber before our work was done,” Phelan said in a statement. “In doing so, 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. 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.”

Abbott tweeted that lawmakers should expect to finish the job during a special session.

“Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session.They STILL must pass.They will be added to the special session agenda,” he said in a tweet. “Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.”

By 11:15 p.m. about 30 Democrats could be seen arriving at a Baptist church located about two miles away from the Capitol in East Austin. Several members declined to comment on their departure from the floor that blocked the vote.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/30/texas-voting-restrictions-house/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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