Gov. Greg Abbott, GOP leaders allocate $4 million to fund county-level election audits

GOP leaders on Friday approved shifting $4 million in emergency funds for the Texas secretary of state's office to create an “Election Audit Division" at the agency, which will spearhead county election audits as required by the state's new election law set to take effect next month.

The additional funding, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, was requested by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this week and approved by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and the Republican budget-writers of the two chambers, state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood.

In a Nov. 18 letter to Patrick and Phelan, Abbott said the emergency shift in money — which is coming from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — was necessary because the secretary of state's office "does not currently have the budget authority to adequately accomplish the goals sought by the Legislature."

Friday's news comes as the secretary of state's office has a “full forensic audit" of the 2020 election underway in four of Texas' largest counties: Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Collin.

It also comes after the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a new election law this summer that further tightens the state's election rules with a host of changes, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and new rules for voting by mail.

The new law, which is facing legal challenges, also requires the secretary of state's office to select four counties at random after each November election and to audit all elections that happened in those counties in the prior two years. Two of the counties that undergo the audit must have a population of more than 300,000, while the other two must have a population lower than that.

In a statement later Friday, the secretary of state's office referenced both its 2020 audit and future audits required under the new state law, saying that the latest funds would be used for “additional staff to oversee audit activities," such as “verifying counties' removal of ineligible voters from the rolls … and ensuring compliance with state and federal election laws."

There is no evidence of widespread fraud in Texas that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid, but in Texas, he defeated President Joe Biden by 6 percentage points. A top election's official in the secretary of state's office earlier this year called the 2020 election “smooth and secure" in Texas.

Still, Abbott has fielded pressure from Trump and other Republicans to prioritize a measure at the Legislature that would provide a process for party officials to trigger election audits. That pressure has come as Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly cast doubt on election results in other states that handed Biden his 2020 victory, despite no evidence of substantial fraud and federal courts rejecting numerous legal claims challenging the election results.

Texas' new secretary of state, John Scott, briefly represented Trump in one of those lawsuits in Pennsylvania.

The last special legislative session ended in October without lawmakers passing election audit legislation after Abbott did not include it as a priority.

Hours after Trump's initial call on Abbott to act on election audit legislation, the secretary of state's office announced its audit of the 2020 election in those four Texas counties, though it was unclear what exactly prompted the move.

The scope of the effort, according to the office's documentation, includes measures that counties are already required to take after an election. A second phase, set for “spring 2022," will include reviewing records of voting machine accuracy tests, rosters for early voting, forms detailing chain of custody for sealed ballot boxes and other election materials maintained by the counties.

More recently, Scott has called that four-county audit his top priority, though he has said there's no question Biden is president and that he has “not seen anything" to suggest the election was stolen.

Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/19/abbott-emergency-funds-election-audits/.

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

Gov. Greg Abbott calls for criminal investigation into availability of pornographic content in public schools

Gov. Greg Abbott told the Texas Education Agency on Wednesday "to investigate any criminal activity" related to "the availability of pornography" in public schools, saying that the agency should "refer any instance being provided to minors under the age of 18 for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."

Abbott's request comes two days after he asked the agency, along with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the State Board of Education, to develop statewide standards preventing "obscene content in Texas public schools."

While those standards are developed, Abbott wrote to the TEA in his letter Wednesday, "more immediate action is needed to protect Texas students" against that inappropriate content, which he said is "a clear violation" of state law.

TEA officials could not be immediately reached. It was immediately unclear whether TEA has the ability to investigate criminal activity.

In Abbott's directive earlier this week about statewide standards, he cited two memoirs about LGBTQ characters that include graphic images and descriptions of sex, including "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe. The Keller Independent School District recently removed the book from one of its high school libraries after some parents raised concerns over the novel.

Kobabe's book is about the author's journey with gender identity, and at some points includes illustrations of oral sex and other sexual content, along with discussions related to pronouns, acceptance and hormone-blocking drugs.

Abbott also mentioned "In the Dream House" by Carmen Maria Machado, which the governor said in his letter earlier this week was recently removed from classrooms in the Leander Independent School District. That book is a memoir that examines an abusive relationship between two women.

This is a developing story; check back for more.


Fights over the Alamo persist as George P. Bush seeks higher office

The Alamo is known for being the site of one of the most pivotal battles in Texas' war for independence from Mexico. But in recent years, the roughly 300-year-old Spanish fortress has been at the center of a different kind of conflict, as politicians and others battle over a nearly $400 million plan to renovate and preserve the landmark.

This past week, that construction project hit a major milestone when the Long Barrack, the Alamo's oldest structure that once housed Spanish missionaries, reopened to the public after being closed for nearly two years.

The reopening marked the latest reminder of a yearslong pursuit mired in political infighting among top Republican officeholders and at times bitter back and forths among descendant groups, city officials and the state.

Tensions flared almost immediately after plans began for moving and repairing certain monuments at the historic site, which has deteriorated with age. But there have also been deep divides over how far-reaching those renovations should be, and whether different cultural perspectives tied to the site's history should be included — or if the restoration should more narrowly focus on the 1836 battle.

At the center of some of those controversies is Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush — son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — whose agency, the General Land Office, is responsible for overseeing the redevelopment plans.

Bush has faced criticism from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others over his handling of the redevelopment. And his involvement with the Alamo drama could be a sticking point for him as he heads into a contentious primary battle challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a race that includes at least two other Republicans.

Bush, according to his campaign, has overseen "historic preservation work" of the site, which "was in disrepair" when he entered office in 2015.

"As a proud native Texan, Commissioner Bush has been fighting to ensure that the Alamo remains standing for generations to come," Karina Erickson, spokesperson for Bush's attorney general campaign, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. She added that under Bush's leadership, "more has been done to tell the story of the battle of independence and that of the heroic defenders who gave the ultimate measure for liberty and freedom than any time in modern history."

But some critics, including former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, argue that Bush has made some "glaring screwups" by failing to take positions on some of the more controversial issues surrounding the Alamo redevelopment process. That process involves a partnership between the General Land Office, the city of San Antonio and Alamo Trust, a nonprofit group that manages the site.

"I don't think he's a bad guy," Patterson, who challenged Bush for his old job unsuccessfully in 2018, told the Tribune. "I think he has just tried to triangulate too much as it relates to policy, politics and that intersection."

Patterson said his successor deserved credit for some of the restoration and archeological research that has happened at the site so far.

"Is [Bush] going to be criticized about the Alamo in the Republican primary? Absolutely," Patterson said. "Is all of that criticism deserved? No, not exactly."

The Cenotaph

Some of the most heated disputes over the Alamo's redevelopment have involved the question of whether to relocate the Cenotaph, a 1930s monument on Alamo grounds commemorating those who died during the 1836 battle.

The roughly 60-foot monument, also known as The Spirit of Sacrifice, was set to be taken apart, restored and moved some 500 feet south to the nearby historic Menger Hotel — a move that project planners said would help better mirror the original site. But conservative groups argued that moving the Cenotaph would dilute its significance.

Bush though defended moving the Cenotaph, arguing that it was needed to prevent the monument from "basically falling apart from within," according to a call the commissioner had with state GOP members and activists, as San Antonio Report reported at the time. That only fueled some critics already angry over Bush's role in the redevelopment project.

The Cenotaph drama has also played into heated exchanges between the land commissioner and Patrick, the state's lieutenant governor who heads the Texas Senate.

At one point, Patrick blasted Bush over his management of the Alamo, tweeting that no one had put the Alamo "at more risk" than the land commissioner "with the outrageous 'reimagining' plan, lousy management, lack of transparency and moving the cenotaph." A few months earlier, Patrick had threatened to take oversight of the Alamo away from Bush's office.

Patterson said Bush's greatest shortcoming over his handling of the Alamo was his "absence" and lack of stronger leadership on issues like the Cenotaph.

"You cannot be involved in the Alamo without controversy surrounding whatever you're doing. It's been that way since the 1700s," Patterson said. "It's still that way and you can't lead if you are afraid of controversy. The Cenotaph was a symptom of that."

Ultimately, the Texas Historical Commission, a state board with Gov. Greg Abbott-appointed members who oversee historical preservation in the state, ruled to keep the Cenotaph in place. And earlier this year, Bush and Patrick appeared to move past their prior tensions, with both elected officials suggesting the two had had productive talks with the other since the Cenotaph issue had been resolved.

"I thank George P. Bush as land commissioner, who has worked so hard with the Legislature," Patrick said at an event with Bush and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in April. Patrick's office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Still, the broader drama surrounding the Alamo redesign — and Bush's involvement with it — could play a role in the Republican primary for attorney general, according to Jon Taylor, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio chairing the department of political science and geography.

"It's going to resonate at least with a certain percentage of Republican primary voters," Taylor said. "Someone is going to bring it up."

But Bush's camp says his work on the Alamo is a point of pride.

"Prior to Commissioner Bush taking office, the Alamo was split under ownership of the City of San Antonio and the state of Texas," Erickson said. "Under Commissioner Bush's leadership, we have successfully reunited the Alamo battlefield and returned it to state control, restored the sole remaining structures (Church and Long Barrack) from the battle of the Alamo, closed down the streets to vehicle traffic, and restored reverence and dignity to the sacred ground of the battlefield."

Though the primary is slated for March, the issue has already attracted attention from other Republicans running for attorney general, such as Eva Guzman, a former state Supreme Court justice.

Guzman, in an emailed response for this story through her campaign, called Bush's handling of the Alamo redesign a "colossal mismanagement of one of Texas' proudest landmarks" and questioned how the land commissioner can "be trusted to be our state's top lawyer" amid those so-called shortcomings.

During an interview for the annual Texas Tribune Festival earlier this year, Bush leaned on his experience running a state agency as a way to contrast his experience with a candidate like Guzman.

"The thing about Eva is that she's never run anything," he said. "I have 800 full-time employees. She wants to talk about executive leadership — I'm more than happy to have that discussion."

A spokesperson for Paxton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Neither did state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican also in the GOP primary race. At least three candidates are running on the Democratic side: former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski; Lee Merritt, a North Texas civil rights attorney; and Rochelle Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

History of the Alamo

After the Texas Historical Commission voted against moving the Cenotaph, stakeholders went back to the drawing board to revamp the redevelopment plan. The San Antonio City Council approved a revised $388 million plan — down from the original $450 million price tag — in April, which includes keeping the Cenotaph as is and repairing it.

It's unclear how long renovations will take, though stakeholders have suggested the process could last at least five more years. The latest plan includes renovating historic buildings near the Alamo Church to include the visitor center and museum, as well as an exhibit hall and collections building that are already under construction.

That revamped approach came soon after Nirenberg, the mayor, ushered in new leadership of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, which was tasked by the city council to "create a vision and guiding principles for the redevelopment of Alamo Plaza and the surrounding area," according to the city's website.

As the feud over the Cenotaph died down, a new one emerged: How will the story of the Alamo be presented at the site and in the new museum — and whose perspectives would be represented?

Traditionally, the Alamo is remembered as the site of a 13-day battle in 1836 where a group of about 200 heroic underdog Texas soldiers defended the fort against Mexican army forces. For many, the historic battle site is a symbol of intense state pride and a representation of the Texan ethos of fighting for independence.

But this past year, debates have ensued over the role slavery played in both the Alamo's history and the Texas war for independence from Mexico. The citizens advisory committee has debated the topic a number of times in recent months, with members split over how to present ideas and questions related to the issue in some of the new exhibits at the site that are currently in the works.

At least one Native American group that wants a seat at the table has also drawn attention to human remains found at the historical site in recent years, arguing that its members have been left out of the archeological process.

Asked whether mentions of slavery and indigenous people will be included in the new museum, Bush's campaign said the commissioner "believes the focus of the museum should be, without question, on the battle of 1836."

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced his candidacy for Texas Attorney General at an event inside Buford's Bar in…Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced his candidacy for Texas Attorney General at an event inside Buford's Bar in Austin on June 2, 2021. Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

"Throughout the entire process of improving the Alamo experience, the Alamo has worked with federally recognized tribes to ensure that all human remains encountered have been treated with the utmost respect and dignity," Erickson, the spokesperson, said.

The citizens advisory committee met last month to discuss a preliminary outline of the Alamo's redevelopment. Two of the committee chairs expressed concern at that meeting over the lack of cultural perspectives presented reflecting Native Americans and Black people.

"I may be the only African American in the room," said Aaronetta Pierce, one of the tri-chairs of the citizens advisory committee, "but in the whole time we've been in this discussion today, I have not heard the word African American or African American people or any role that they might play in this process. … It is inconceivable to think that we cannot be included in the beginning, ground-foundational discussion of the story of the battle."

Bruce Winders, a former Alamo historian and current consultant for the redevelopment project, reassured Pierce that the site would offer a variety of perspectives.

"We do know what the political climate is like, we know what the historical climate is like," he said. "And we know that there are stories that have to be told. And those stories will be told."

Moving forward

With new leadership and plans for the Alamo redevelopment in place, others say they are confident that progress will continue despite some of the bumps that have stalled those plans.

"We're just really starting in on the stories now," said Sharon Skrobarcek, a member of the citizens advisory committee, adding that a museum planning committee she is involved with is slated to meet sometime this month. "The good, the bad, the ugly — we want to tell it all. We just need to be careful about the conclusions we draw."

And Lee Spencer-White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, said that while her group had previously taken issue with two items — moving the Cenotaph and being involved with the human remains process — she was hopeful about the movement made on both fronts.

"For the first time in four years, I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the plan and the people involved in the plan," she said.

Meanwhile, Nirenberg, the San Antonio mayor, told the Tribune last week he's "pleased" about the Alamo redevelopment plan, "and that there appears to be continued, full engagement from all of the parties involved," which he characterized as a "delicate but critical partnership."

The main objective, the mayor said, "is the preservation and redevelopment of one of the most historic sites in Texas if not the United States."

"None of this is easy, and it forces us to confront things we like and don't like about our history in Texas," he said. "But the commitment to doing that and setting aside some of our predispositions and being committed first to facts and truth is extremely important, as uncomfortable as some of those truths may be."

Disclosure: Texas Historical Commission and University of Texas at San Antonio have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas House passes proposed new map for chamber’s 150 districts, aiming to protect Republicans’ majority for the next decade

The Texas House on Wednesday approved proposed political boundaries for the lower chamber's 150 districts that aim to fortify Republicans' strength in the state House for the next decade.

House Bill 1, authored by state Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican who chairs the lower chamber's redistricting committee, will now head to the Senate for consideration.

The House's 83-63 vote comes as the Legislature rounds out its third special session of the year, an up to 30-day stretch ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott that has focused on redrawing the state's congressional, Senate, House and State Board of Education maps based on the latest census data. Those numbers, which were delayed largely because of the pandemic, showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state's population growth over the past decade.

Despite those growth trends, the number of districts in which white people make up the majority of eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89 in the new map. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a Hispanic majority among eligible voters would drop from 33 to 30, while the number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Those numbers are based on census estimates of the number of citizens in each district who are of the voting age.

The new map includes 85 districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and 65 that would have voted for Joe Biden. That's one less Trump district than was originally proposed in the House late last month. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current House districts in 2020.

The special session is slated to end Oct. 19, which means lawmakers have a week left to hash out differences over those maps and other items included on the agenda set by Abbott.

Debate over the House's map proposal kicked off Tuesday morning and went into early Wednesday morning. Members considered more than 50 amendments to the map, with dozens of those proposed changes being added or failing largely along party lines.

"I appreciate everybody trying," Hunter said as he laid out the draft Tuesday morning. "I know that in any redistricting, some have issues and some don't. That's the nature of redistricting."

Some of the largest changes made on the House floor involved Dallas and Harris counties as members from both delegations rallied around their respective proposals.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, authored a successful amendment that would update the previous House proposal to add two North Texas districts where Black residents are a majority of eligible voters. Anchía's amendment also added one Dallas-area district where Hispanic residents are the majority of eligible voters.

The Harris County change, spearheaded by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, did not create any additional districts in which residents of color make up the majority of eligible voters, though it did strengthen the partisan splits for certain GOP and Democratic districts in the area.

One of the more tense moments came during debate on an amendment by state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, that reworks districts in the Rio Grande Valley to make House District 37 more competitive for Republicans. State Rep. Alex Dominguez, the Brownsville Democrat who currently represents that district, panned Lozano over the proposed change, arguing that the delegation had not been notified before he filed the amendment.

Lozano's amendment was adopted narrowly, 72-70, with several members switching their votes once a verification vote had been requested.

Earlier Tuesday, members considered an amendment by Anchía that essentially would have killed the map draft by striking the legislation's enacting clause.

"From a moral and legal perspective, we have no choice but to completely wipe the slate clean and start all over," he told members, citing concerns over a lack of transparency throughout the mapmaking process and with a draft that he argued did not adequately reflect the state's population growth over the past decade. His amendment failed along a near party-line vote.

For the first time in decades, Texas lawmakers are allowed to draw and enact political maps without first getting federal approval. That preclearance requirement, for states like Texas with a history of discriminating against voters of color in redistricting, was ended in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an attempt to address the absence of that requirement, state Rep. Toni Rose, a Dallas Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee, offered an amendment that would have required a federal district court to sign off on the map before it could take effect. The change, Rose said, would have ensured "that Texas is following the rules." It failed.

Members also voted down amendments offered by Republican members, including one by state Rep. Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, that would have returned his seat to a Republican-leaning one. It also would have made a nearby open seat more competitive to Democrats. Cason's amendment failed by an overwhelming margin, 17-119.

Before the debate wrapped up early Wednesday morning, state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, successfully pushed an amendment that places her back into her district. A previous version of the map had drawn the lawmaker into an adjacent, far more Republican-leaning district.

As Hunter introduced the draft to kick off debate Tuesday, he again pushed back against reports that the proposal would reduce the number of majority-Black and majority-Hispanic districts based on eligible voters.

In its analysis of the proposed political maps, The Texas Tribune uses citizen voting age population from the census estimates to determine whether the proposals increase white-majority districts while decreasing the number of districts where Black and Hispanic eligible voters will be the majority. Federal courts have established that citizen voting-age population, known as CVAP, is the standard measure for assessing Texas' compliance with rules from the Voting Rights Act that ban efforts to reduce the power of voters of color.

Hunter has argued that the CVAP metric, which is the census' estimate of residents who are eligible to vote, is not as accurate as voting age population data, which is based on the latest census figures. VAP, however, includes noncitizens who are not eligible to vote.

Hunter, using VAP, said Tuesday before any amendments were added that his proposed map would create two additional districts where Hispanic residents make up a majority and one with Black residents as the majority.

"We disagree with the allegation that [HB 1] does not achieve a good result," Hunter said Tuesday. He added that while CVAP would decrease in "some majority-minority districts," such "reductions were unavoidable" and that "in almost all instances," those districts would "continue to overwhelmingly elect the minority-preferred candidate."

But in the hours after its passage, multiple House Democrats denounced the map as discriminatory.

"The passage of the Republican Texas House redistricting proposal this morning is part of a coordinated attack on the voting rights of Americans that has been waged both in Texas and across the country," said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

For the most part, the hourslong debate carried on with little drama among members on the House floor. As the discussion kicked off, though, there was one testy exchange between Anchía, the Dallas Democrat, and Lozano, the Kingsville Republican.

Lozano delivered a spirited defense of the proposal while speaking against Anchía's amendment that would have rendered the map useless, pointing to historic election results in his district to argue that voters of color would vote for both Republicans and Democrats, depending on the candidate. Lozano also defended the process and timeline by which the map was constructed and then made available for public input, which Democrats and voting rights groups have heavily criticized.

"As entertaining as this hero speech is, does the speaker yield for a question?" Anchía asked Lozano from the chamber's back microphone.

"Definitely not!" Lozano replied, though he did take questions from Anchía once he finished his remarks soon after.

Carla Astudillo contributed reporting.

Texas House passes proposed new map with no additional districts in which residents of color make up the majority of voters

The Texas House on Wednesday approved proposed political boundaries for the lower chamber's 150 districts that aims to fortify Republicans' strength in the state House for the next decade.

House Bill 1, authored by state Rep. Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican who chairs the lower chamber's redistricting committee, will now head to the Senate for consideration.

The House's 83-63 vote comes as the Legislature rounds out its third special session of the year, an up to 30-day stretch ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott that has focused on redrawing the state's congressional, Senate, House and State Board of Education maps based on the latest census data. Those numbers, which were delayed largely because of the pandemic, showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state's population growth over the past decade.

The special session is slated to end Oct. 19, which means lawmakers have a week left to hash out differences over those maps and other items included on the agenda set by Abbott.

Debate over the House's map proposal kicked off Tuesday morning and went into early Wednesday morning. Members considered more than 50 amendments to the map, with dozens of those proposed changes being added or failing largely along party lines.

“I appreciate everybody trying," Hunter said as he laid out the draft Tuesday morning. “I know that in any redistricting, some have issues and some don't. That's the nature of redistricting."

Some of the largest changes made on the House floor involved Dallas and Harris counties as members from both delegations rallied around their respective proposals.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, authored a successful amendment that created two additional North Texas districts where Black residents are a majority of eligible voters. Anchía's amendment also added one Dallas-area district where Hispanic residents are the majority of eligible voters.

The Harris County change, spearheaded by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, did not create any additional districts in which residents of color make up the majority of eligible voters, though it did strengthen the partisan splits for certain GOP and Democratic districts in the area.

One of the more tense moments came during debate on an amendment by state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, that reworks districts in the Rio Grande Valley to make House District 37 more competitive for Republicans. State Rep. Alex Dominguez, the Brownsville Democrat who currently represents that district, panned Lozano over the proposed change, arguing that the delegation had not been notified before he filed the amendment.

Lozano's amendment was adopted narrowly, 72-70, with several members switching their votes once a verification vote had been requested.

Earlier Tuesday, members considered an amendment by Anchía that essentially would have killed the map draft by striking the legislation's enacting clause.

“From a moral and legal perspective, we have no choice but to completely wipe the slate clean and start all over," he told members, citing concerns over a lack of transparency throughout the mapmaking process and with a draft that he argued did not adequately reflect the state's population growth over the past decade. His amendment failed along a near party-line vote.

For the first time in decades, Texas lawmakers are allowed to draw and enact political maps without first getting federal approval. That preclearance requirement, for states like Texas with a history of discriminating against voters of color in redistricting, was ended in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an attempt to address the absence of that requirement, state Rep. Toni Rose, a Dallas Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House Redistricting Committee, offered an amendment that would have required a federal district court to sign off on the map before it could take effect. The change, Rose said, would have ensured “that Texas is following the rules." It failed.

Members also voted down amendments offered by Republican members, including one by state Rep. Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, that would have returned his seat to a Republican-leaning one. It also would have made a nearby open seat more competitive to Democrats. Cason's amendment failed by an overwhelming margin, 17-119.

Before the debate wrapped up early Wednesday morning, state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, successfully pushed an amendment that places her back into her district. A previous version of the map had drawn the lawmaker into an adjacent, far more Republican-leaning district.

As Hunter introduced the draft to kick off debate Tuesday, he again pushed back against reports that the proposal would reduce the number of majority-Black and majority-Hispanic districts based on eligible voters.

In its analysis of the proposed political maps, The Texas Tribune uses citizen voting age population from the census estimates to determine whether the proposals increase white-majority districts while decreasing the number of districts where Black and Hispanic eligible voters will be the majority.

Hunter has argued that the CVAP metric, which is the census' estimate of residents who are eligible to vote, is not as accurate as voting age population data, which is based on the latest census figures. VAP, however, includes noncitizens who are not eligible to vote.

Hunter, using VAP, said Tuesday before any amendments were added that his proposed map would create two additional districts where Hispanic residents make up a majority and one with Black residents as the majority. But under CVAP counts for HB 1 heading into debate Tuesday, the number of districts with Hispanic-majority electorates in the draft would drop from 33 to 30, while the number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would shrink from seven to four.

“We disagree with the allegation that [HB 1] does not achieve a good result," Hunter said Tuesday. He added that while CVAP would decrease in “some majority-minority districts," such “reductions were unavoidable" and that “in almost all instances," those districts would “continue to overwhelmingly elect the minority-preferred candidate."

For the most part, the hourslong debate carried on with little drama among members on the House floor. As the discussion kicked off, though, there was one testy exchange between Anchía, the Dallas Democrat, and Lozano, the Kingsville Republican.

Lozano delivered a spirited defense of the proposal while speaking against Anchía's amendment that would have rendered the map useless, pointing to historic election results in his district to argue that voters of color would vote for both Republicans and Democrats, depending on the candidate. Lozano also defended the process and timeline by which the map was constructed and then made available for public input, which Democrats and voting rights groups have heavily criticized.

“As entertaining as this hero speech is, does the speaker yield for a question?" Anchía asked Lozano from the chamber's back microphone.

“Definitely not!" Lozano replied, though he did take questions from Anchía once he finished his remarks soon after.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/13/texas-house-redistricting/.

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

The threats of state troopers arresting Texas House Democrats have yet to materialize

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More than a week after Republicans in the Texas House voted to authorize arrests of their quorum-busting Democratic colleagues, no such roundup has come to fruition.

As of Wednesday, there were no known cases of absent Democrats being arrested, and the chamber was still shy of the 100 members it needs for a quorum to conduct official business. That is despite its Aug. 10 vote to proceed with the arrests, Speaker Dade Phelan's signing of 52 warrants later that day and his announcement two days later that the House sergeant-at-arms had deputized state law enforcement to track down the missing Democrats.

So far, it appears that their bark is worse than their bite: Grand Prairie Rep. Chris Turner, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday that "the only thing that [he's] aware of is that the House sergeant-at-arms has paid a visit to some members' homes."

Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said Wednesday that the House sergeant-at-arms and law enforcement had "already visited several major metropolitan areas" to try and locate absent members "and will continue to do so until quorum is reached."

But it's still unclear whether the situation will escalate to the point of actual civil arrests, which Rep. Jim Murphy of Houston, the chair of the House Republican Caucus, acknowledged during a caucus news conference on Monday at the Capitol.

"I don't know that they're gonna go to that level," Murphy said. "At this point it's more like a jury summons … a paper that's delivered, and that'll be another conversation down the line."

Law enforcement, Murphy added, is "still out there talking to people, visiting homes and businesses, and then hopefully we get enough of them to come back. We don't need all of them to come back, just more."

The House is not publicly tallying attendance every day, but the last time the chamber took a vote that revealed who was there, on Aug. 10, there were 93 members present — seven short of a quorum.

Unlike Murphy, some GOP leaders outside the chamber have used stronger language about securing a quorum, raising expectations for a more aggressive effort. Gov. Greg Abbott said at the beginning of the first special session that the Democrats would be "corralled and cabined in the Capitol," while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz argued there is "clear legal authority to handcuff and put [the quorum-breakers] in leg irons."

No such tactics have come to light so far. And if lawmakers were detained, they could only be brought back to the House chamber and would not face criminal charges or fines.

House leadership might be weighing the optics of physically detaining the quorum-breakers, many of whom are members of color. Democrats themselves have taunted House leadership over those optics, with Rep. Celia Israel of Austin saying leadership is "bluffing" and asking, "Do they really want to arrest a woman of color?"

Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, suggested concerns from his party about those images could be fueling the hesitancy to follow through on arrests.

"We have Republican leadership scared to actually arrest people and bring them back," Slaton said Tuesday. "The Democrats seem to have a lot of power over us."

While there has been a legal battle over the authority to arrest Democrats, the Texas Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday, ruling that the state Constitution allows the House to "physically compel the attendance of absent members."

One of the quorum-breakers, Rep. Vikki Goodwin of Austin, said a paper arrest warrant was left on her front porch last week. She said lawyers have told Democrats that if law enforcement tries to arrest them, they should not resist but should make clear they would not be willingly going to the House floor.

"I think it's just an intimidation tactic, trying to get members to come back because there is this outstanding arrest warrant," Goodwin said. "I think it doesn't really show well if they physically detain us."

A House sergeant visited the Houston home of another quorum-breaker, Rep. Jon Rosenthal, on Tuesday, according to his chief of staff, Odus Evbagharu.

Both Goodwin and Rosenthal have declined to share any details about their locations, other than that they are no longer in Washington, D.C. More than 50 Democrats fled to the nation's capital at the start of the first special session last month, protesting the GOP's priority elections bill.

The legislation would, among other changes to state elections, outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access, further tighten the voting-by-mail process and bolster access for partisan poll watchers. Republicans have characterized the legislation as an "election integrity" proposal that would bring much-needed reforms to the state's voting system. Democrats and voting rights groups have argued the proposal would harm marginalized voters in the state.

The House first voted to authorize arrests when Democrats left for Washington last month. But it was not as consequential then because most Democrats were out of state, where Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction.

Now, the group in Washington has thinned out, and an untold number of Democrats are back home but still refusing to come to the House floor.

Last week, copies of the arrest warrants signed by Phelan were distributed in emails from Michael Black, the sergeant-at-arms, who offered to "assist" members in "making any necessary arrangements" to be present in the chamber. Black and other sergeants also delivered the warrants to members' Capitol offices.

Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday that the warrants have not changed Democrats' minds over potentially returning to the chamber — and "in fact it's likely had the opposite effect in escalating the situation."

Meanwhile, Republicans have expressed a growing sense of frustration over their absent colleagues, with a number of GOP members pointing to House rules lawmakers adopted unanimously in January that outline the procedure for what the chamber can do to help secure a quorum.

Rep. Tan Parker, a Flower Mound Republican running for state Senate, increased pressure Tuesday on Phelan to make good on the arrests. In a statement, Parker called on the speaker to instruct the Texas Department of Public Safety "to use all means necessary to enforce the civil arrest warrants," saying "the time for niceties and cordiality has passed."

In the meantime, monotony continues in the House, where Republicans have become accustomed to showing up for a brief, formulaic meeting each day. The House comes to order, one of them says a prayer, they say the Pledge of Allegiance and after a lull, Phelan releases them for the day.

On Tuesday morning, the prayer was led by Rep. Matt Shaheen of Plano, who invoked his missing colleagues and asked God to "provide them safe travels as they return to the state of Texas," whenever that may be. After the pledge, members sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the parliamentarians, Sharon Carter.

"All the parliamentarian wants for her birthday," Phelan said afterward, "is a quorum."

With special session’s end looming, Texas Democrats and Republicans mull their next moves

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Uncertainty is running rampant among Texas Democrats and Republicans as the final days of the special legislative session dwindle away.

The session officially ends Friday, and lawmakers are already gearing up for a second special session as House Democrats show zero interest in returning from Washington, D.C., and restoring quorum in the lower chamber for this session.

Abbott has promised to call a second special session to pass the GOP's priority voting bill, but the exact timing is uncertain. Abbott also has yet to detail what other items, if any, he intends to include on the agenda for the next special session. And House Democrats have not yet revealed what they have planned after the session ends this week.

At stake is the fate of the elections bill, which prompted Democrats who object to the legislation to leave in the first place, as well as the livelihoods of some 2,100 state workers and legislative agencies that are set to lose funding next month.

Here is how some of the top players are approaching the final days of the first special session:

Gov. Greg Abbott

Abbott has promised to call as many special sessions as needed to pass the elections bill and his other priorities. He has said he would call a second one to begin the day after the first one ends, though as of Tuesday, it was unclear if he will follow through on that.

If the first one goes all 30 days allowed under the Constitution, it would end Friday, and the next day would be Saturday. Past special sessions typically have started on weekdays.

An Abbott spokesperson confirmed Monday that he would call a second special session but declined to confirm the start date.

In any case, Republican legislators anticipate Abbott will want them back in Austin soon.

"I presume it's very quickly," state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, told reporters Tuesday. "I would imagine by next week we'll be back in session."

It remains to be seen if Abbott will add to this agenda in the second special session, though one thing is clear — he does not plan to curtail it. He has said he "will keep calling Special Sessions until we address every emergency item," referring to the 11 issues he laid out at the start of the first special session, such as pushing back against social media "censorship" of Texans and the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

Texas House Democrats

The over 50 House Democrats who left the state in July have been discussing what next steps should be taken as a group as the current special session comes to a close, with members holding hourslong meetings over the past week to consider their options.

Democrats could take a number of routes: They could return to Texas but remain in their districts, head back to the Capitol in Austin, stay in D.C. for the time being or head to another state to continue to prevent a quorum in the lower chamber.

The caucus has remained largely united in both its messaging and numbers since members landed in D.C., where the group has pushed Congress to act on federal voting rights legislation. Since they've been there, only one known member of the core group that fled — Philip Cortez of San Antonio — has broken ranks and returned to Austin, only to head back to D.C. soon after.

Democrats have been optimistic about the progress they say they have made with both Capitol Hill and the White House on that voting rights bill, though they have yet to score a meeting with President Joe Biden and have not appeared to move the needle with senators who want to protect the filibuster.

But last week, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said Democrats could potentially get around the filibuster blockade by integrating elements of the federal voting rights legislation into the reconciliation process of an infrastructure bill that is moving through Congress.

State Rep. Alma Allen of Houston told reporters Tuesday morning that the caucus likely will make a decision on its next steps based on what happens in D.C. over the next three to four days. And state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso emphasized that a lot could happen between now and Friday.

"I think we're gonna have a lot of success this week," he said.

If Democrats did again break quorum in the next special session, it's less clear what their specific goal would be in doing so. Abbott has said he will keep calling special sessions until the voting bill is passed, and Republicans hold majorities in both chambers.

There's also the question of whether members have the appetite or funding to carry out another potentially weekslong quorum break, which introduces a number of logistical hurdles for some, including time spent away from families and full-time jobs outside of elected office.

Regardless of what Democrats do next, some members say the caucus intends to stick together.

"The group is determined to stay together," said state Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood on Tuesday. "When we return to the [House] floor, we will return together."

House Speaker Dade Phelan and Republicans

Perhaps more than any state leader, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, has had to consider both sides in the debate that's ensued throughout the special session.

Phelan has fielded calls from his right flank to reprimand Democrats who broke quorum, such as stripping them of their committee chairmanships. Phelan has said that under current House rules, the speaker does not have the jurisdiction to remove them from such posts.

As punishment for the quorum break, Phelan did remove Moody, the El Paso Democrat, as speaker pro tempore, a position that performs the duties of the speaker in the speaker's absence. Democrats blasted the decision.

Another question facing House members is how the current impasse will impact funding for the Legislature, which is set to expire Sept. 1 thanks to Abbott's veto earlier this year in retaliation for Democrats' initial walkout over the bill.

While the Texas Supreme Court could weigh in, already one House Republican — Dan Huberty of Houston — has asked campaign donors to help pay for his legislative staff, writing that "it requires money in order to fund the budget of a fully-functioning office."

"I hope you will consider giving any amount you are able to help compensate my team," he wrote. "Your support is critical for their continued employment."

House Democrats are also bracing for a potential drop-off in funding. Zwiener, the Driftwood Democrat, told reporters Tuesday that lawmakers are "putting plans together to take care of our own staff," but urged Republicans to stand up to Abbott and ask the governor "to not use our staffs as a weapon against the Legislature."

"You don't negotiate with a bully," she said, "you stand up to them."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate

There is not much Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Senate can do while they wait for House Democrats to come back to Austin.

A group of Senate Democrats initially joined their House counterparts in Washington, but the number of senators was not enough to break quorum in that chamber, and they have since returned.

The Senate has passed legislation related to Abbott's agenda, but it cannot make it to his desk without a quorum on the other side of the Capitol.

Like Abbott, Patrick is not in the mood for further negotiation on the elections bill and has said it will eventually pass "pretty much in the form that's in."

Frustrated with the standstill, Patrick has pitched lowering the quorum threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority and asked Abbott to add it to the next special session agenda. But the idea is a long shot — even if Abbott adds it to the call and Democrats show up for the second special session, the proposal would require a state constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote to pass each chamber.


A tale of two capital cities: Texas Democrats continue fight for voting rights in Washington as Republicans push them to return

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Outside of the Texas House chamber, state Rep. Briscoe Cain is setting traps for Democrats.

The first was a case of Miller Lite placed under a brown shipping box propped open with a stick, a nod to the now-viral photograph of House Democrats smiling on a bus with a 12-pack visible in one of the seats as they left the state earlier this month to prevent passage of a GOP election bill at the Texas Legislature.

This week, Cain, a Deer Park Republican, swapped out the beer in his trap for a case of Dr. Pepper, first aid supplies, a sewing kit, a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, a can of hairspray and some Lifesavers.

"Hey Democrats, here's the Care Package you requested," Cain tweeted Monday, responding to a request from Dallas-area Democrats for goods to send the lawmakers camped out in Washington D.C. "It's right outside the House Chamber for you. Get back to work."

Cain's traps are the latest example of the political drama that both Republicans in Austin and Democrats in D.C. have engaged in over the past two weeks, with the two camps battling it out on cable news interviews and social media over the quorum bust and who is to blame for it.

A tweet by State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, related to the Texas Democrats quorum break during the special session. A tweet by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, related to the Texas Democrats quorum break during the special session. Credit: Via Twitter

Unable to pass their priority legislation, Republicans have spent their days in the special session pointing the finger at the 57 House Democrats who left, accusing them of abandoning their jobs and constituents. They've called on their colleagues to return to the Legislature to focus on issues important to Texas voters, such as providing additional money to retired teachers or increasing funding for foster care.

Democrats, meanwhile, have paraded around Capitol Hill, meeting with powerful leaders to convince Congress to pass federal voting laws. They've participated in a marathon of primetime TV appearances defending the decision to break quorum, while criticizing their GOP colleagues for pushing a voting bill they refer to as an attempt at voter suppression.

In a fiery Virginia news conference earlier this month, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson said she will "stay in the fight until I can't fight no more because I'm tired of people picking on us for no reason."

"We are Americans, and we are proud Americans, and we deserve the same rights and respect and considerations that everybody has," the Houston Democrat added. "And I'm going to fight until we get it."

But in their downtime, the Democrats are trying to find some normalcy amid a chaotic situation — one that's taken many of them away from their homes and families, while half a dozen members were sickened with the coronavirus and forced to quarantine in a hotel.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives, who are boycotting …U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives, who are boycotting a special session of the legislature in an effort to block Republican-backed voting restrictions in Washington D.C., on July 13, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Both groups of lawmakers say they are staying busy. Democrats in D.C. have met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and other party leaders in an effort to convince Congress to pass federal voting legislation. And Republicans in Austin have held multiple briefings with retired teachers in Texas and providers for the state's foster care system to discuss legislation on the governor's special session agenda.

State Rep. James White, a Hillister Republican, said the current situation has given him more time to dive into the policies on the special session agenda and to meet with stakeholders involved with the legislation.

"We're not sitting around Ranch 616, sucking down Ranch Waters," White said, referencing a local Austin restaurant that's well known for its tequila drink. "There's always real business to do."

Similarly, the Democrats are mostly careful to avoid the appearances that they are treating this stay as a vacation. In the afternoons, the pool at their hotel in the hip Logan Circle neighborhood is mostly occupied by families who seem oblivious to the national political drama playing out in the hotel lobby, conference rooms and television hits taking place in their neighbors' hotel rooms.

It's not been a luxurious getaway, they and their supporters said.

"They have sacrificed to be here for us," said civil rights activist Al Sharpton in an appearance with about a dozen Texas Democrats on Wednesday. "This is not convenient to leave home. This is not a pleasure trip...this is all missing your family."

State Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock did his laundry at a nearby stranger's home who is a friend of state Rep. Julie Johnson of Farmers Branch.

"It's somewhere between taking a trip and moving," he said.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat, lamented that he was in such a rush to get to Washington, D.C. that he didn't properly pack and arrived without a suit.

"I found separates at Marshall's and put together an outfit for about $65 which is great, and I have used it over and over and over again," he laughed.

Living out of their suitcases and in the hotel, the Democrats have created something of a routine — but concerns about the resurgence of COVID-19 loom large.

The Democrats report downstairs in their hotel at 8 a.m. every morning for a COVID-19 test.

The members who test negative have breakfast together, and then they typically spend their mornings in a room not accessible to the public due to COVID-19 protocols. There they engage in virtual conversations with various secretaries of state and legislators from around the country, union leaders, civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter, Bernice King, Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal conviction, and other like-minded advocates for their voting rights push.

On Wednesday, the group met at the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial for an event with Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King.

Outside of the scheduled time, the Democrats attempt to catch up on work from their jobs outside of the Legislature and take interviews with local and national press. Lately, they're fixtures on cable news, with frequent appearances on MSNBC, CNN and even Fox News. Most notably, the liberal-leaning MSNBC devoted an entire hour of prime time programming to the Texans last week.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak sickened six of the members last week, they've scaled back their trips to the U.S. Capitol. Early on, the several dozen lawmakers traveled to the Capitol in a bus. But given the heightened precautions and quarantining, the meetings are fewer and smaller.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks during a meeting with Democratic Texas state lawmakers in the Roosevelt Room o…Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks during a meeting with Democratic Texas state lawmakers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington D.C. on June 16, 2021. The Democratic Texas state lawmakers met with Vice President Harris to push for national voting rights and election reform legislation. Credit: Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Initially, the outbreak among the Texans shocked Washington. The positive tests were the impetus for some Capitol Hill staffers and members to revive mask-wearing at the Capitol.

"Sorry, I'm washing my hands, we're doing a lot of handwashing," said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin during a phone interview last week.

At some point midday, they take a roll call attendance to ensure everyone is accounted for.

Hinojosa said it's at times been difficult to operate in the constant state of flux.

"I had this desire a few days ago for a dry erase calendar. It was this need I had to try to regain control over our time here," she said. "Having a calendar I can look at because we're building this plane as we're flying it, right? And so, our time commitments are just more fluid here."

The Democrats communicate internally via phone tree, where members are assigned to small groups to quickly disseminate information.

Talarico was on one of his now-regular evening walks last week among the monuments on the National Mall when news reached him about a shooting in broad daylight a few blocks up from the Texans' hotel. He quickly checked in with several members of his texting pod and was relieved to learn that while some Texans were close to the incident, everyone was safe.

He compared the situation to the last time Texas Democrats broke quorum 18 years ago.

"There are a lot of similarities, but that 2003 group did not have to survive a virus or a mass shooting like we have with this quorum break," Talarico said.

Back in Austin, Republicans voted overwhelmingly to issue what's known as a "call of the House," which authorized law enforcement to track down Democrats who fled. The procedural move carried little weight since the Democrats who left are beyond the jurisdiction of the state's law enforcement, though it does prevent members present in the House from leaving unless they have permission in writing from the speaker and promise to return the next day.

Rep. Charles Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, holds a sign that reads, "Here we are still on the job for the people," on the House floor on July 14, 2021 Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

A day later, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and the remaining members posed for a portrait inside the chamber, with many of the seated Republicans smiling from their desks as rows of empty seats surrounded them.

The picture, at least from their vantage point, sent a message: Republicans had shown up to work on the issues important to Texans, while Democrats had walked off the job, fleeing the state on private chartered jets paid for by their caucus.

"We await the return of our colleagues to work on providing retired teachers a 13th check, protecting foster kids, defending taxpayers, and ensuring dangerous criminals aren't allowed lenient bail," Phelan tweeted with the photo. The 13th check refers to a one-time extra monthly payment the Legislature was planning to provide for retired teachers.

Republicans have since tried to capitalize on that messaging. Cain, the Deer Park Republican, has posted a daily photo — and, more recently, videos on TikTok — that counts how many days the chamber has gone without meeting quorum.

Another House Republican, state Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco, is keeping track of how much Texas taxpayers are spending on the special session since Democrats' quorum bust. The price tag — it was $649,950 on Tuesday, according to Patterson — is based on items such as legislative per diems for lawmakers and other budgeted costs, the lawmaker has said.

"Texas taxpayers deserve to know what this Democratic walkout is costing them. Every day, House Democrats are costing taxpayers $43,330, or basically, a teacher's salary every day they aren't here," Patterson tweeted earlier this month.

Phelan, for his part, has called on Democrats who left the state to return their per diems — $221 every day lawmakers are in session — and released a list of members earlier this month that had not yet started the process of doing so, according to his office.

The quorum break and subsequent call of the House have upended most lawmakers' plans for the summer, such as family vacations and other scheduled trips.

State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican, told the Tribune earlier this week that he's been busy with conference calls and virtual meetings with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is hosting an annual conference this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also said he had to miss most of his family's vacation, which was in Colorado this year.

King, who sits on ALEC's national board, was unable to attend in-person after a call of the House was issued — a disappointment for the lawmaker who said he already had to miss this year's spring event due to the regular legislative session that ended in May.

The House has continued to meet most days since Democrats have left, though committees cannot meet and members are often released by Phelan within an hour or two as the chamber stands at ease.

Phelan's daily dismissal ritual has become a moment of levity for the remaining members as they crowd around his desk to accept their permission slips to leave. Last week, the speaker described the slips of paper as "harvest grape" on Monday, "Whataburger orange" on Tuesday and "crawfish boil red" on Wednesday.

Legislators talk amongst themselves on the House floor on July 19, 2021.Legislators talked amongst themselves on the House floor on July 19, 2021. Credit: Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune

After he dismisses them, Phelan gives them instructions on when to return the following day. Recently, the speaker has mentioned that the time is in Central Standard Time, a nod to the dozens of Democrats operating in the east coast time zone.

King, who has been through a previous Democratic quorum break, said eventually the Democrats will have no choice but to return and that the Legislature will get back to business.

"I went through this in 2003 — you just have to have patient endurance," he said. "You just wait and eventually they wear out and come back."

Democrats maintain they are determined to wait out this special session. While they express confidence that donors will cover the costs incurred from the hotel and other expenses, being away from home has personal and professional consequences.

Back home, legislators left behind children, partners, ailing parents and pets. Two weeks in, several of the members' children have joined them in Washington.

The trip complicated the summer plans of Rep. Ana Hernandez of Houston, who shares custody of her young son with her ex-husband.

"My son flew up on Saturday, but I'm not sure at what point he'll be returning," she said. "It was a one-way ticket to Washington, D.C."

Hernandez and the other lawmakers also have day jobs outside of their legislative careers. She told the Tribune that she is able to continue to practice law from afar, thanks to the fact that many court proceedings continue to take place virtually, due to COVID-19 protocols.

But other lawmakers are not so lucky.

"Not everyone can work as effectively remotely as others so we have people who are away from a small business they run or a legal practice or whatever, and they are losing money being here," Hinojosa said. "Their families are losing income because they're here."

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will call lawmakers back for a second overtime round to address the legislation on his agenda that the Legislature wasn't able to tackle during this first 30-day stretch.

Though the quorum bust has caused tensions among some House members, White, the Hillister Republican, brushed off the suggestion that the chamber may enter the next special session as a more polarized body than before.

"You can't walk around in this business with grudges and resentments in your pocket," he said. "I think this is a full-contact sport — this is politics — and that same member that you didn't get on House Bill A may be the member you get to pass House Bill D. You take that vote and you move on."

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Texas GOP mulls options for voter suppression special session after Democrats flee to deny quorum

After House Democrats left the state Monday in an attempt to block passage of a GOP election bill during the special legislative session, attention turned to the Republicans and what they can do to get the priority legislation passed.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a statement that afternoon that the chamber would "use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House rules to secure a quorum" to pass items on the special session agenda, which was set by Gov. Greg Abbott. And a number of House Republicans indicated that they would support what's known as a call of the House, a procedural move that would allow law enforcement to track down lawmakers who have already fled the chamber.

It's unclear though what impact such an order could have, given that Democrats have flown to Washington, D.C. where Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction. Republicans are also keeping their cards close to the vest as to whether there are other tactics they plan to employ to compel members from the state's minority party to return to Austin before the special session ends in 26 days.

Abbott, who has also tasked the Legislature with working on a host of other conservative priorities such as border security funding and abortion-related legislation, said later Monday that he can and will call as many special sessions as needed "until they do their job."

"They will be corralled and cabined in the Capitol," he told KVUE.

The election legislation at hand, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, would make a number of changes, such as banning drive-thru and 24 hour voting options and further restricting the state's voting-by-mail rules. Both House and Senate committees advanced the legislation over the weekend after marathon hearings.

Two-thirds of the 150-member House must be present for the chamber to conduct business. And according to House rules, which were adopted unanimously by members at the beginning of the regular legislative session in January, any member can move to make a call of the House "to secure and maintain a quorum" for legislation. That motion must be seconded by 15 members, one of which can be the speaker, and ordered by a majority vote. The move also allows the speaker to lock the chamber doors to prevent members from leaving the chamber.

"Until a quorum appears, should the roll call fail to show one present, no business shall be transacted, except to compel the attendance of absent members or to adjourn," the House rules state.

At least two House Republican chairmen — Briscoe Cain of Deer Park and Jeff Leach of Plano — have said they will support such a motion when the lower chamber gavels in Tuesday morning. And others, including state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican who chairs the powerful House Calendars Committee, have indicated support for the procedural move.

"It's a sad commentary that we may have to utilize a procedural rule to try and force most of the Democrats to show up to do the job they were elected to do," Burrows said in a statement to The Texas Tribune, adding that "unfortunately, the siren call of social media fame and fundraising" had lured Democrats to D.C.

The last time the Democrats broke quorum and fled the state in 2003, Texas Republicans asked the attorneys general in Oklahoma and New Mexico if Texas troopers could arrest the lawmakers in their states without a warrant and bring them back to Texas. Both states said no.

Republican leaders at the time also asked whether federal authorities could bring the Democrats back, but the FBI and Justice Department said at the time that they had no justification for intervening.

As news of Democrats' dramatic departure spread across Texas on Monday, a number of statewide Republican officeholders and lawmakers panned their colleagues as attention seekers who were neglecting their legislative duties and abandoning constituents who had elected them to work on issues facing the state.

In a statement, Abbott said the Democrats' move to "abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve" and said they left on the table important issues like property tax relief and funding the state's foster care system to "fly across the country on cushy private planes."

Republicans also have another pressure point: funding for the legislative branch, including legislative staffers, will run out on Aug. 31 after Abbott vetoed its funding following the failure of two of his priority bills during the Democratic walkout in the regular session.

Democrats have challenged in court Abbott's decision, which puts in jeopardy the livelihood of about 2,100 legislative staffers. But if they do not return to Austin to reinstate funding during the special session, Republicans could blame them for not paying those staffers.

"[The Democrats are] walking out the door right when they have an opportunity to get their staff paid when they've been complaining about it," said Corbin Casteel, a GOP strategist. "It's a double-edged sword. They may be able to hold off on the voter integrity bill but they're also screwing their own staff."

Other House Republicans reacted Monday by filing legislation that would penalize lawmakers in the future for attempting to break quorum.

State Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, who chairs the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he had filed a constitutional amendment proposal that would remove protections for a lawmakers' salary if that legislator has an unexcused absence when a quorum is not present. He also filed legislation that would prevent lawmakers from campaign fundraising during a special session.

Middleton's move came on the heels of state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a fellow Freedom Caucus member from Arlington, filing a House resolution that would allow the chamber to strip lawmakers who leave of their chairmanships and committee assignments as well as open the door for revoking "perks like large offices and coveted parking spots" that are typically doled out based on member seniority.

State Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican who is spearheading the House's election bill, said in a statement to the Tribune that "it would be extremely disheartening" to see Democrats "make efforts to avoid debate on this topic." He also said he's "been as transparent as possible" to help "create the smartest and most effective policies."

"I know both myself and other representatives would welcome the opportunity to continue the debate and work together to pass a strong election integrity bill," Murr said.

Casteel said the state's minority party could be trading a short-term gain for a long-term loss with their latest walkout.

"This is one of those kinds of deals where you're looking at the battle versus the war," he said. "They won the first battle during the regular [session], they're trying the same thing here, but eventually their time is gonna run out and they're gonna have to come vote."

In 2003, House Democrats left the state during the regular session to prevent a redistricting plan by Republicans who had just taken both chambers of the Legislature. Senate Democrats stalled for two special legislative sessions, until the redrawn maps were finally passed during the third special session called by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

Jon Taylor, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said Abbott could do the same thing if Democrats do not return before the end of the special session.

"It's the old adage of elections have consequences," Taylor said. "When you're not in the majority, they still at this point can't stop this stuff."

But Taylor said even if Democrats can't stop the elections bill, they can still bring attention to their cause.

"The point is to get it across to voters, to Congress, to the nation because this is not just something happening in Texas, it's happening in other red states," he said. "We see it in Georgia, Florida, we've seen it in Oklahoma and we'll probably see it in other states."

Still, the maneuver is a calculated risk.

"You're already seeing it," Taylor said. "[Democrats are] viewed as heroes on the Democrat side and the focus of all evil on Republican side."

Texans line up by the hundreds to testify in Republicans' voter suppression special session

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is working rapidly in its second bid to pass new restrictions on voting, considering legislation in overlapping committee hearings that are expected to go late into the night.

Nearly 300 members of the public were signed up to testify on the legislation that makes up the GOP's renewed effort to further tighten state voting rules. The House committee is expected to vote to advance its bill at the end of its hearing, putting the bill on a path to be voted on by the full chamber next week.

The legislation filed in each chamber is similar to the GOP priority voting bill from the spring regular legislative session that prompted Democrats' to walk out and break quorum. That action effectively killed the bill, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to call the special session that began Thursday. In Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3, Republicans have already dulled some of the edges of the legislation, dropping controversial provisions to restrict Sunday voting hours and to make it easier for judges to overturn elections.

The bills' authors are still moving to ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting options, enhance access for partisan poll watchers and prohibit local election officials from proactively distributing applications to request mail-in ballots. Both bills also include language to further restrict the state's voting-by-mail rules, including new ID requirements for absentee voters.

"You'll notice that most of the security measures in Senate Bill 1 are not aimed at individual voters," state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the Mineola Republican authoring the Senate legislation, said in presenting his bill. "By and large, individual voters are trying to vote. They're trying to do the right thing. We want them to do that. The security measures in this bill, by and large, are directed at vote harvesters or folks who are trying to steal votes."

Falling in line with the GOP's nationwide response to former President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread voting irregularities, Texas Republicans have pitched their voting bill as part of an effort to bolster the security of Texas elections — even though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and state officials described the 2020 election as "smooth and secure."

But the proposals have been met with concerns from civil rights organizations and voting rights advocates who have argued that efforts geared toward improving security would instead complicate the voting process, particularly for marginalized voters. Significant portions of both bills focus on shutting down local expansion of voting options meant to make it easier to vote, like the drive-thru voting and overnight early voting hours used by Harris County in the 2020 general election. Local officials have said both initiatives proved particularly successful in reaching voters of color.

Upon questioning by Democrats, Keith Ingram — the top elections official for the Texas Secretary of State — told lawmakers he was not aware of evidence of fraud tied to voting that occurred overnight or as part of Harris County's drive-thru efforts.

On Saturday, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, questioned why the Legislature would prohibit options to increase voter access altogether instead of working to address the concerns Republicans may have about how they were implemented.

"Surely, we should be able to find ways to resolve those issues, especially if it's a convenient model for people to be able to vote," West said. "When we stand up and say, 'We can't fix it but we don't even want to look at trying to fix it,' I think it's inconsistent with the intent of the bill."

Hughes defended the ban by arguing it would not limit voter access because the state offers a long early voting period and that requiring voters to go into polling places to cast their ballots in person was "not a radical concept."

As of nearly 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the House committee considering the legislation had not yet turned to public testimony.

The Senate committee, meanwhile, was still listening to the over 200 people who had signed up to testify on the legislation, including former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso. O'Rourke, who called the legislation "a solution in search of a problem," told lawmakers there are more pressing matters facing the state and referenced a deadly winter storm earlier this year that has since prompted concerns about the reliability of the state's electric grid.

"If you're looking for something, more than 700 of our fellow Texans died because we couldn't keep the power on in February," he told the committee. "There are very real problems that require our attention and our focus, and [SB 1] just does not happen to be one of them."

Debate over the election bills comes as Republicans at the Legislature push a number of other issues on Gov. Greg Abbott's special session agenda — an 11-item priority list that appeals largely to conservative voters and includes legislation that did not pass when the Legislature convened earlier this year.

Democrats so far haven't ruled out another quorum break to again block the election bill, with party members in both chambers saying all options remain on the table. Though House Republicans have changed some of their approach for the special session in an apparent effort to appease opponents, Democrats say the legislation is still flawed and insist they plan to fight the bill at every opportunity.

Senate Democrats have echoed those sentiments, though a number of them have rallied around a counter proposal to SB 61 filed by West. The legislation would allow for online and same-day voter registration and expand the early voting period, among other provisions.

West acknowledged during a Friday news conference that while the legislation likely won't receive a hearing in the GOP-dominated Senate, he hopes Democrats and Republicans can "strike compromises to make certain that all people in the state of Texas are able to vote, that it's transparent and that it's secure."

Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Dems may walkout again during voter suppression special session: 'Everything is on the table'

Outnumbered and virtually powerless to block conservative 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 GOP elections bill they killed last month.

The line coming from Democrats across the spectrum: "Everything is on the table." That includes another walkout like the one that doomed Senate Bill 7 in the final hours of the regular legislative session when Democrats broke quorum. But this time, such a move could now imperil the pay of their staffers, since Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the funding for the legislative branch while telling lawmakers they could restore it in the special session that starts in less than a week.

"From a caucus perspective, since we're going into the unknown, we have to keep every option open, which includes denying quorum," said Rep. Jessica González of Dallas, vice chair of the House Elections Committee. "I think a lot of folks want to see what would be in [the elections bill] before making a decision."

She said House Democrats are "trying to get a sense of where the majority of our caucus is," but that consensus is "to be determined." Similarly, Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth said during a Texas Tribune event Tuesday that "right now, there has not been any type of resolution or concerted efforts."

"Everything is on the table," Collier said. "We're not going to remove any options at this point."

There are still a number of unknowns before Democrats can settle on a strategy, including what the full agenda will be for the special session, how Abbott will structure it and what the elections bill will look like. Abbott announced June 22 that the special session will begin July 8 but offered no other details, only saying the agenda would be announced before the session starts.

Democrats will also have to consider Abbott's veto of funding for the Legislature for the two-year budget cycle starting Sept. 1. That gives lawmakers an incentive to participate in the special session — or potentially sacrifice their staffers' pay. Abbott's veto was in retribution for the Democrats' walk out, but it affects more than 2,100 legislative staffers and individuals working at legislative agencies. (Abbott has acknowledged the lawmakers' salaries are protected by the state Constitution.)

Last week, Democrats and staffers sued over Abbott's veto, asking the state Supreme Court to reverse it. Abbott's office faces a Monday deadline to respond to the lawsuit.

The elections bill is unlikely to be the only proposal that Democrats will have to strategize against in the special session. In addition to vowing to bring back the voting legislation, Abbott has also said he would resurrect Republican 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 coming battles during a meeting Monday at the Hotel Van Zandt in Austin. Roughly half of the 67-member caucus attended, according to three people who were present.

The head of the caucus, Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, said members "had a productive meeting, discussing our litigation challenging Gov. Abbott's unconstitutional veto of the Legislature, as well as the upcoming special session."

"House Democrats are united and prepared to fight for all Texans, especially when it comes to defending the sacred right to vote," Turner said in a statement.

SB 7, the bill that Democrats derailed in the regular session, would have put new limits on early voting hours, local voting options and mail ballots. Critics of the bill have called it an attempt at voter suppression that disproportionately affects Texans of color.

Whatever Democrats decide to do, it could only cause another temporary delay in consideration of the election bill given that they remain in the minority at the Legislature and only one Republican — Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio — has shown interest in splitting with his party.

Abbott's veto only further backed them into a corner.

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martinez of Weslaco, one of the Democrats who walked out, said in an interview Wednesday that Abbott's veto was "extremely juvenile" but that the potential loss of staff pay was "absolutely" weighing on him as July 8 nears. Still, he expressed optimism that Democrats would be able to navigate the conundrum.

"I think Democrats have always been resilient in the way that we use the rules to our benefit," Martinez said, adding that he was "very confident" that Democrats would ultimately coalesce around a strategy.

The special session also presents potentially tough choices for some Republicans, namely House Speaker Dade Phelan. After the walkout, he drew the wrath of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who charged Phelan with mismanaging the House calendar and allowing Democrats the opportunity to break quorum. Phelan has denied that.

At the same time, Phelan has said he will not resort to the most drastic of measures — locking the chambers doors and dispatching state police — if Democrats seek to abandon the chamber again. His office is nonetheless emphasizing its commitment to finishing the job on the voting legislation.

"If it takes a hundred special sessions, the Texas Legislature will pass an election integrity bill that instills further confidence in the accuracy of our elections," Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said in a statement for this story.

Both Texas Republicans and Democrats will have to deal with more national attention than they did during the regular session. That is particularly true as voting rights battles shift even more to the states after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked Democrats' far-ranging elections overhaul last week. Democratic state lawmakers in Texas had tried to leverage their walkout to force a breakthrough on the federal legislation, known as the For the People Act.

Among Democrats organizing outside the Texas Capitol, there has been virtually unanimous deference to lawmakers in the special session beyond voicing support for their everything-on-the-table approach. Beto O'Rourke, who spent weeks touring the state about voting rights after the walkout, said during a recent interview that Democratic legislators "have done so much so far, and I'm confident they're gonna do whatever it takes in any special session."

"There's nothing that they shouldn't consider," said Glenn Smith, senior strategist for Progress Texas, the Austin-based Democratic group.

One question for Democrats is how much they should work with Republicans on the elections legislation, especially after they were largely cut out of negotiations over the final version of SB 7 at the end of the regular session. Those talks produced a bill that GOP negotiators later admitted was flawed, saying they made mistakes with regard to the early voting window for Sundays and a process for overturning elections.

"Building that trust back would be a hard thing," Smith said, adding that he thinks Democrats "will talk [with Republicans], but I think we'll be very weary of what they're saying."

To be clear, House Democrats were not unanimous in their decision to break quorum over SB 7, and several appeared to stay behind, including a group of border-area representatives.

One of them, Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass, said in a text message Tuesday that he "supported and will continue to support" fellow Democrats who walked out, but in his case, he felt it was best to remain on the floor with other Democrats from the border region and argue against the bill in person.

"As far as this special session goes," Morales said, "I need to visit with the rest of my colleagues and leadership to see what strategies we plan on using."

Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers take Gov. Greg Abbott to court for defunding Legislature

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A group that includes Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers is asking the Texas Supreme Court to override Gov. Greg Abbott's recent veto of a portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature, staffers there and legislative agencies.

More than 60 Democratic members of the House signed a petition for a writ of mandamus, which was filed Friday morning, as did the House Democratic Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, four state employees and the Texas AFL-CIO.

"The state is in a constitutional crisis at this moment," said Chad Dunn, an attorney involved with the petition, during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

The governor had vowed to veto the Legislature's funding in the final hours of the regular legislative session in May after House Democrats broke quorum and left the chamber to prevent passage of a controversial elections bill. That legislation, an Abbott priority, would have created new limitations to early voting hours, increased voting-by-mail restrictions and curbed local voting options.

The petition argues that Abbott exceeded his executive authority and violated the state's separation of powers doctrine. The parties involved with the petition are asking the all-Republican court to find Abbott's veto unconstitutional, which would allow Article X of the state budget, the section at issue, to become law later this year.

"Governor Abbott's veto is an attempt to coerce, and thereby direct, how the Legislature discharges its functions — far exceeding the usual mechanism of the veto as a check on legislative excess," the petition says. "If accepted, it would allow the governor to indirectly commandeer the Legislature by making its very existence contingent on its willingness to enact the governor's preferred agenda. And it would set the precedent for the governor to do the same to the judiciary."

In a statement later Friday, a spokesperson for Abbott called the Democrats' argument "misleading and misguided."

"The Constitution protects the legislative branch, and as the Democrats well know, their positions, their powers and their salaries are protected by the Constitution," Renae Eze said. "They can continue to legislate despite the veto."

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party's caucus in the lower chamber, told reporters Thursday there are roughly 2,000 employees in the state's legislative branch that would be affected by Abbott's veto if it stands.

Lawmakers receive $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session for both regular and special sessions.

"This isn't about [lawmakers'] paychecks," Turner said during the briefing. "What he's doing is hurting our staff and hurting our constituents."

Abbott's veto pertains to the upcoming two-year state budget that takes effect Sept. 1. The issue could get resolved next month when state lawmakers return to Austin for a special legislative session starting July 8. If Abbott includes legislative funding on the agenda, lawmakers could pass a supplemental budget to restore funding and prevent employees potentially going without a paycheck. That document, if the Legislature passed it, would also need a sign off from Abbott before it could go into effect.

In the meantime, the petition asks the court to proceed on an expedited schedule to help resolve the issue by Sept. 1.

"That's what happens when one branch gets in a conflict with another — the third leg of the stool steps in and resolves it," Dunn, the plaintiffs' attorney, said. "That's what we're doing here."

Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers take Gov. Greg Abbott to court for defunding Legislature

A group that includes Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers is asking the Texas Supreme Court to override Gov. Greg Abbott's recent veto of a portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature, staffers there and legislative agencies.

More than 50 Democratic members of the House signed a petition for a writ of mandamus, which was filed Friday morning, as did the House Democratic Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, four state employees, and the Texas AFL-CIO.

"The state is in a constitutional crisis at this moment," said Chad Dunn, an attorney involved with the petition, during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

The governor had vowed to veto the Legislature's funding in the final hours of the regular legislative session in May after House Democrats broke quorum and left the chamber to prevent passage of a controversial elections bill. That legislation, an Abbott priority, would have created new limitations to early voting hours, increased voting-by-mail restrictions and curbed local voting options.

The petition argues that Abbott exceeded his executive authority and violated the state's separation of powers doctrine. The parties involved with the petition are asking the all-Republican court to find Abbott's veto unconstitutional, which would allow Article X of the state budget, the section at issue, to become law later this year.

"Governor Abbott's veto is an attempt to coerce, and thereby direct, how the Legislature discharges its functions — far exceeding the usual mechanism of the veto as a check on legislative excess," the petition says. "If accepted, it would allow the governor to indirectly commandeer the Legislature by making its very existence contingent on its willingness to enact the governor's preferred agenda. And it would set the precedent for the governor to do the same to the judiciary."

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party's caucus in the lower chamber, told reporters Thursday there are roughly 2,000 employees in the state's legislative branch that would be affected by Abbott's veto if it stands.

Lawmakers receive $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session for both regular and special sessions.

"This isn't about [lawmakers'] paychecks," Turner said during the briefing. "What he's doing is hurting our staff and hurting our constituents."

Abbott's veto pertains to the upcoming two-year state budget that takes effect Sept. 1. The issue could get resolved next month when state lawmakers return to Austin for a special legislative session starting July 8. If Abbott includes legislative funding on the agenda, lawmakers could pass a supplemental budget to restore funding and prevent employees potentially going without a paycheck. That document, if the Legislature passed it, would also need a sign off from Abbott before it could go into effect.

In the meantime, the petition asks the court to proceed on an expedited schedule to help resolve the issue by Sept. 1.

"That's what happens when one branch gets in a conflict with another — the third leg of the stool steps in and resolves it," Dunn, the plaintiffs' attorney, said. "That's what we're doing here."

Texas governor defunds the legislature after Dems walked out to block voter suppression bill: report

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday followed through on a threat to veto a section of the state budget that funds the Texas Legislature, its staffers and legislative agencies.

The governor's move targeting lawmaker pay comes after House Democrats walked out in the final days of the regular legislative session, breaking quorum, to block passage of Senate Bill 7, Abbott's priority elections bill that would have overhauled voting rights in the state. The move also killed bail legislation that Abbott had earmarked as a priority.

In a statement, Abbott said that "funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early, leaving their state with unfinished business and exposing taxpayers to higher costs for an additional legislative session."

"I therefore object to and disapprove of these appropriations," the governor said.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner of Grand Prairie called the move by Abbott an "abuse of power" and said the caucus "is exploring every option, including immediate legal options, to fight back."

"Texas has a governor, not a dictator," Turner said in a statement. "The tyrannical veto of the legislative branch is the latest indication that [Abbott] is simply out of control."

Since Abbott issued his threat earlier this month, other lawmakers and political leaders have raised concerns over how the move could impact staffers and legislative agencies that are funded by Article X, which is the section of the budget he vetoed, such as the Legislative Reference Library and the Legislative Budget Board.

"I'm just concerned how it impacts them because they weren't the ones who decided that we were going to break quorum, it wasn't their decision, right?," said House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, in an interview earlier this month.

Questions have also been raised about the constitutionality of the move, which according to the Legislative Reference Library is unprecedented.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who heads the Senate, had expressed support for Abbott's proposed veto, saying the move could force Democrats to come back for a special session.

The biennial budget at hand covers the fiscal year beginning Sept. 1. If lawmakers are back in Austin for a special session before then, they could pass a supplemental budget to restore that funding.

Lawmakers are paid $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session, during both regular and special sessions.

The Legislature is expected to convene for at least two special sessions, Abbott has said in interviews. One, set for September or October, will focus on the redrawing of the state's political maps and the doling out of $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds. Before that, the governor has said he will call lawmakers back to work on the elections and bail bills as well as a number of other issues he has not yet announced.

Texas legislature wraps up for now — but will be restarting soon for special session

The Texas Legislature closed out its regular 140-day session Monday with sniping among the state's top political leaders and lawmakers already well aware they will be back this calendar year for an overtime round.

"We will be back — when, I don't know, but we will be back," House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told members from the speaker's dais. "There's a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you."

Talk of a special session — and questions about how soon one may happen or what additional issues Gov. Greg Abbott could task legislators with — has largely defined the last weekend of the Legislature's 140-day stretch after lawmakers left unfinished a number of GOP priorities and tensions between the two chambers escalated.

That drama reached new highs Sunday night when House Democrats staged a walk out and broke quorum, making it impossible to give final approval Senate Bill 7, a massive GOP priority voting bill that would tighten the state's election laws, before the midnight deadline.

Abbott quickly made clear that the bill, along with another other priority legislation that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash, "STILL must pass" — and said that the two issues "will be added to the special session agenda."

The governor, who is the only official who holds the power to convene a special session, has not yet specified whether he plans to order one ahead of an overtime round already planned for the fall to handle the redrawing of the state's political maps. An Abbott spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment earlier Monday.

Before lawmakers adjourned though, Abbott made clear he intends to reprimand the Legislature over its unfinished business by vetoing the section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch.

"No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," he tweeted. "Stay tuned."

Shortly after lawmakers adjourned for the final time, Abbott released a lengthier statement in which he applauded the Legislature for pushing through a series of conservative victories, while doubling down on his demands that lawmakers pass voting and bail legislation. But the governor also left open the possibility that other topics could be added to the agenda for the special session.

House Democrats earlier this week successfully killed proposals that would've banned local governments from using taxpayer dollars to pay lobbyists, prohibited social media companies from blocking users because of their viewpoints and barred transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity. Abbott had previously said he would sign those bills.

"I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation," he said.

Aside from handling last-minute, typical end-of-session to-dos — such as correcting technical errors in already-passed legislation and recognizing Capitol staff — House members were busy Monday taking photos with one another and with family members who were in town. Members, led by state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, also applauded Phelan over his first term as speaker.

"We always go through ups and downs — that's the nature of the Legislature — but what we're really here to tell you is: You did a great job," Hunter told Phelan from the chamber's back microphone. "Thanks for standing up for the Texas House."

Even before Sunday night's Democratic walkout, tension had been high in the Capitol.

Frustrated that the Senate had not moved fast enough on House leadership's priorities, the House recessed for several days of the session's home stretch. Later, three of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick missed a key deadline in the House, leading Patrick to call for an immediate special session this summer. When the voting bill failed Sunday night, Patrick pointed the finger squarely at Phelan, saying "clock ran out on the House because it was managed poorly."

Mentions of an imminent special session were sprinkled into conversations throughout Monday in the House. Before Hunter asked the chamber to applaud Phelan, the lawmaker asked whether it was the last day of the regular session — and added that he had heard "we may be getting a coastal breeze in the fall."

Phelan during his speech also alluded to the special session, telling members that while he hoped that the Legislature would not return until the fall, the decision was not his.

"Let's just have a restful, peaceful summer and hopefully be back here in the fall," Phelan said. "But that's not my decision, that's someone else's decision."

Phelan also emphasized abiding by legislative rules, an apparent dig at Patrick and the Senate, which moved in the early hours of Sunday morning to suspend its rules and jam through a series of last-minute additions to the expansive voting bill.

"No matter the external forces that tried to distract us or diminish the work of this body, we are the Texas House," Phelan said. "In this House, we work hard — and our rules matter. Our rules matter."

Meanwhile, across the Capitol, senators slowly filled the chamber Monday morning — many with family members in tow — as they exchanged cordial handshakes and friendly smiles. Clusters of bipartisan conversation presented a stark contrast to the late-night partisanship that largely defined a strange legislative session.

The first order of business as Patrick gaveled in the final regular session meeting of the upper chamber was the election of the body's president pro tempore during the interim — a largely ceremonial role reserved for the longest-serving senator who has not previously served in such a capacity. This year, that honor fell to state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels.

Members, each wearing a yellow rose in homage to Campbell, took turns commending her heart, her perseverance and her faith. "Many people consider her an iron first in a velvet glove, perhaps because of her firmness and her brevity," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

Campbell was flanked by her four daughters as she addressed her colleagues from the dais, the events from a tumultuous session seemingly weighing on her mind.

"We are chosen leaders of this great state of Texas at a time of great challenges," she said. "We came into our position, our position of leadership, for a time such as this."

After approving a series of memorial resolutions and technical changes to bills, the Senate prepared to gavel out for the final time this regular session. A hint at unfinished business rang out in Patrick's closing remarks.

"I normally say I'll see you in 18 months, but I might see you in 18 days or so," he said.