Texas Republican legislators’ attempt to rush through a controversial voting bill before the end of the legislative session was stopped in its tracks by a surprise Democrat walk-out, denying a quorum.
Senate Bill 7 (SB7) would enact a major overhaul of the electoral process in Texas. Written along lines not unlike those of similar bills passed in Georgia and Florida, it became a focal point for partisan clashes on the state and federal levels. Republicans said the reform was meant to protect the integrity of elections from fraud, while Democrats said it was meant to suppress the vote of black Texans, with some branding it the “new Jim Crow,” in reference to the system of legal discrimination of black people that was in force in many states before the mid-1960s.
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With the GOP controlling both chambers of the state legislature, the Texas bill was expected to be finalized on the weekend and passed on to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott. However, a last-minute maneuver by House Democrats blocked a vote on Sunday, the last day of the legislative session.
The Democrats’ initial plan was to stall until the midnight deadline with speeches against the bill, but “it became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation,” House Democratic chairman Chris Turner said in a statement later. “At that point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our constituents and their right to vote.”
Republicans have only themselves to blame for the way this Session is ending.
As the debate continued, he instructed members of the Democratic caucus to discreetly leave the chamber and the building. With dozens of lawmakers trickling out, the 150-seat body didn’t have the quorum. Two-thirds of the House members have to be present to take a vote. Republican Speaker Dade Phelan adjourned the session and later lashed out at the Democrats, accusing them of dereliction of duty.
The runaway lawmakers “killed a number of strong, consequential bills with broad bipartisan support,” Phelan said in a statement. “Texans shouldn’t have to pay for the consequences of these members’ actions – or in this case inaction.”
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The governor likewise rebuked the Democrats and said the bill will be back on the floor in a special session. “Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session. They STILL must pass,” he tweeted. A brief statement along the same lines did not set a date for when the special session will be held.
Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session.
They STILL must pass.
They will be added to the special session agenda.
Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 31, 2021
The clash over SB7 escalated on the weekend after a slew of last-minute changes were proposed by a conference committee following a behind-closed-doors discussion over the past week. The changes introduced additional rules that were not part of the previous versions of the bill, which were passed by both the House and the Senate.
These older versions differed significantly from each other. On Sunday, both chambers were supposed to pass a unified text that would then be signed by Governor Abbott. A marathon debate in the Senate, where Democrats objected to the changes and the fact that they were not given enough time to review them properly, ended with a victory for the GOP, after SB7 was approved overnight.
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