Texas House Republicans voted Tuesday, July 13, to have law enforcement track down and arrest the 51 Democrats who left the state to break quorum and prevent a vote on changes to the state’s election laws. Democrats flew on a private plane to Washington, D.C., on Monday to prevent the vote. The U.S. House Democratic Caucus paid for the trip.
Since Democrats left the state, they are beyond the jurisdiction of state law enforcement, so the move will most likely not result in any arrests. Democrats staged a similar walkout for the same reason at the end of the Legislature’s regular session in May. No action was taken by Republicans at that time.
In a news conference Tuesday morning in Washington, Texas Democrats announced they would be staying in the nation’s capital until the current special session of the Legislature has ended. The 30-day session is expected to end Aug. 6.
Gov. Greg Abbott listed 11 items of interest for consideration during the special session, but his main priority is to pass a new election law, one that sets the most stringent rules in the nation.
The Democrats hope to stop House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1. Changes would include banning drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which were used in Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bills also would further restrict voting by mail, making it harder for people to send in absentee ballots.
While Republican officeholders have bombarded the media with statements of outrage about the move, historians pointed out that the tactic has been used successfully by both parties in Texas in the past.
On Tuesday morning, a motion passed for the somewhat complicated procedure known as “call of the House” to regain a quorum. Then, Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe) called for another motion to send for all absentees and bring them back to the House under “warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
With a call of the House in place, all entrances to the House chamber are locked. Members are not permitted to leave without permission in writing from the speaker; however, Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) plans to excuse lawmakers in the afternoons as the session progresses.