AUSTIN – The battle between Texas lawmakers for a bill that would impose some of the nation’s stricter limits on access to the vote intensified Monday as Democrats and Republicans vowed not to back down on an issue very charged which has galvanized both parts.
Stuck by the last-minute setback for one of the top legislative priorities of the Republican Party, after Democrats killed the measure with a spectacular displacement Sunday night, Gov. Greg Abbott suggested he would withhold payment to lawmakers because of his failure to approve the bill.
“No pay for those who relinquish their responsibilities,” Abbott wrote on Twitter, a Republican who strongly supported the bill, while pledging to veto the section of the budget that funds the legislative branch.
Republican Party leaders said they would revive their efforts at a special session of the legislature. The chief architect of the bill in the State House of Representatives, Briscoe Cain, said the exit could allow Republicans to draft a measure even more to their liking.
“At the end of the day, it turned out to be a good thing,” said Cain, who chairs the House election committee. “We will return with better legislation and more time to do so. The special sessions are focused “.
Democrats were determined to oppose it, promising to redouble their efforts to prevent a new bill from becoming law.
“This is Texas, this is the Alamo,” Rep. John H. Bucy III said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “We will do everything we can to stop the suppression of voters.”
Despite the success of Democrats on Sunday night, Republicans control both houses of the legislature and would be favored to pass a bill in a special session. Abbott has not said when he would reconvene the legislature; he can do so as early as Tuesday, but can wait until late summer, when he planned to remind lawmakers anyway to deal with the redistricting.
Regardless of when they take over the bill again, they will have to introduce it from scratch and restart a process that can take weeks, although they could start with the provisions of the bill that died Sunday night or until and all proposing one with more severe restrictions.
Matt Krause, a conservative Republican from Fort Worth, described himself as “disappointed and frustrated” by the exit. But he said he believed the bill would finally pass, if not in the next special session, and then in another. “It will be much debated and disputed,” he said. “But in the end, during a special session, I think we’ll get it.”
He and other Republicans expressed irritation that the exit had killed not only the voting bill, but several others that were important to the caucus, including bail reform.
Failure to pass the bill was a startling blow to Republicans and one of the few setbacks they have suffered nationally in a months-long effort to restrict voting to the states they control. Republican-controlled legislatures, aligned with former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless fraud claims, have passed new laws in Georgia, Florida and Iowa with expansive restrictions.
Many Democrats and voting rights groups saw the Texas bill as perhaps the toughest of all; among other provisions, it would have banned both automatic voting and 24-hour voting; imposed new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad autonomy and authority to observers in favor of the polls; and increased punishment for mistakes or offenses by election officials.
President Biden denounced the bill over the weekend and called it an “assault on democracy” and urged lawmakers to pass two Democratic voting laws that have stalled in Congress.
Republicans in Texas and other states who have passed new voting laws have defended them on the grounds that they will improve “electoral security,” although the results of the last election have been confirmed by multiple audits, lawsuits and court decisions. .
Democrats thwarted the bill on Sunday night by secretly orchestrating an exit to the House of Representatives that denied the quorum to the House. As the midnight deadline approached to pass legislation and with more than five dozen Democrats missing, Republican leaders in the House acknowledged that they did not have the necessary number of lawmakers to conduct a legal vote and postponed procedures. .
Despite votes to resurrect the measure in a special session, Republicans were clearly baffled by its failure. They accused Democrats of abdicating from governing when they left – “they close the Chamber’s business,” Krause said, but they also set about pointing fingers at their own group. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick reprimanded House Republicans for mishandling the calendar as the deadline approached.
“You can’t take two days off when five days are left,” Patrick said after the departure. “You put yourself in a box where you’re on a deadline and I can’t even blame the other party for coming out.”
Patrick oversees the state Senate, which passed the bill early Sunday morning after an all-night session.
Shortly after the House adjourned Sunday evening, Democrats gathered in a predominantly black church two miles from the Capitol and represented the walk as a last resort once Republicans made it clear they would cut the debate by pass the bill at midnight. “We had no choice but to take extraordinary steps to protect our voters and their right to vote,” said Chris Turner, a state representative who is the party’s chairman in the House.
The selection of the church as a place to make their remarks was a deliberate gesture to the provisions of the Democrats considered among the most flagrant of the bill: those aimed at voters of color.
Civil rights groups said the failure of the bill was just the beginning of their fight against the Texas bill.
“The battle is not over: the Texas ACLU is more committed than ever to holding Texas leaders accountable for their attempts to undermine democracy,” Sarah Labowitz, ACLU’s director of policy and defense, said in a statement. Texas. “We remain vigilant against any attempt to reclaim this racist bill in a special session.”
Gene Wu, a member of the Houston House, joined other Democrats in ridiculing Mr. Abbott’s threat to veto funding for the legislature, writing on Twitter that he would punish “working-class office staff, maintenance and other support services because it did not meet each of its demands. “
Debates over a possible abandonment began as early as April, Democrats said, and gained momentum as the May 30 deadline for approving bills approached.
Seeing that the voting bill was likely to be one of the last battles and rooted in a long history of voter suppression tactics in Texas, the Democratic leadership began exploring all options that could stop its march.
Discussions about going out, according to Democratic Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, were organized on a personal level, similar to whipping a vote.
“Clearing a quorum, you don’t just say it and it happens,” Martinez Fischer said in an interview Monday morning, after the House had adjourned. “It takes a lot of conversations, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussions.”
For most of May, the House group remained divided on the idea of leaving, according to several people familiar with the discussions between Democrats.
But in recent weeks, Republicans have angered Democrats by working behind closed doors to end the bill in what is known as the conference committee, leaving Democrats who were also on the committee in the dark and denying them the entry into final legislation. This led to a change in attitudes in the democratic caucus. Rep. Terry Canales publicly excommunicated Republicans when the bill was enacted.
“House Democrats haven’t even seen a draft of the Legislative Council!” Mr Canales said on Twitter. “That’s blatant!”
The bill contained some new provisions that particularly infuriated Democrats, including one that limited early voting on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., effectively limiting the traditional tradition of “Souls at the polls” to the black church.
Lawmakers from the party’s Black and Hispanic Caucus held a meeting Sunday afternoon, known as the “Black and Brown Summit,” according to an invitation to the meeting obtained by The New York Times. The hosts wanted to discuss “legislation that disproportionately affects black and brown communities.”
“As the behavior became a little more nefarious, we realized we needed to start expanding our options,” Martinez Fischer said. “Therefore, I would say that discussions on the rupture of the quorum have only intensified in the last 48 hours.”
With an evening debate scheduled for the voting bill, Democrats still clung to the hope that they could end the clock with a lengthy debate. More than 30 Democrats in the House were willing to speak out against the bill, which would make it difficult to pass a midnight deadline.
But when House Republicans limited the debate, Democrats saw the exit as their only option. In response to a text message from Mr. Turner, all under five of the 67 had left the House of Representatives when Republicans tried to advance the bill.
Some Republicans said they were not completely surprised by the action.
“It was rumored yesterday,” Nacogdoches representative Travis Clardy said Monday morning. “I really didn’t think they would. I didn’t think they needed it. “
“You come here to work,” he added. “You don’t come here to leave and not finish the job.”
Two previous efforts to break legislative quorums in the Texas legislature were rich in political theatricality and spawned national headlines. In 1979, when state politics was still dominated by Democrats, eleven Democratic state senators called themselves “the killer bees,” allegedly because of their unpredictability, who hid for days in an Austin apartment to block approval. of a bill that would have created a dual primary system, including presidential primaries and traditional primaries by downward voting.
In 2003, the year Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, more than 50 members of the Democratic House nicknamed the “D killers” fled to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to protest a Republican redistricting plan.