In what is perhaps a preview of the tenuous upcoming special session, 36 Texas House Democrat lawmakers, which include several chairmen and vice chairmen, penned a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan on Monday, requesting his commitment to certain considerations in how the House will operate and deliberate legislation, including bills related to election integrity.
Near the end of the regular 87th Legislative Session, several House Democrats “busted quorum,” causing the omnibus election integrity legislation and other bills to fall victim to a deadline, ultimately ending their consideration.
The issue of election integrity was named an emergency legislative priority of Gov. Greg Abbott in February, and the Legislature chose not to act on the issue in the time specifically allotted for its sole consideration, causing it to instead be considered with a litany of other bills. Election integrity was also one of the several legislative priorities of the Republican Party of Texas.
In the month between the regular legislative session and the impending special session, some Democrat lawmakers have already indicated their willingness to attempt to bust quorum again to prevent consideration of similar election integrity efforts.
The House of Representatives is composed of 67 Democrats and 83 Republicans. Quorum is achieved by having a minimum of 100 members present at any time.
Though the official agenda for the announced special session has not been prescribed, it is widely assumed that election integrity will once again be considered, among other policy issues.
Requesting Speaker Phelan’s Commitment for Their Continued Cooperation
The signatories on the letter marked their continued cooperation as contingent on Speaker Phelan’s commitment on the following items:
No action shall be taken on election issues or any other item on the call until Article X funding has been restored.
You and your leadership team will not retaliate against Democratic members who exercised their legislative and constitutional authority to deny quorum during the regular session.
You will not recognize a motion for a Call of the House to secure a quorum proactively. In other words, you will only recognize a motion for a Call of the House if quorum is not present.
You and your leadership team must set the tone for the special session, admonishing members to maintain decorum and respect for their colleagues and the process. This includes online engagement with other members on social media.
All election legislation subject to Gov. Abbott’s call-not just the governor’s priority legislation-must be referred to and afforded a public hearing in the House Committee on Elections or any committee to which this legislation is referred.
Public hearings must be held on every iteration of election legislation. Committee substitutes drafted after the initial hearing must also be subject to public review and testimony. Public testimony must not be subjected to arbitrary time limits.
Committee substitutes must be delivered to all committee members at least 24 hours in advance of a hearing or a vote. Given the gravity of the subject matter, votes should not be taken on election legislation in formal meetings.
The public must be given ample opportunity to testify on election legislation. Weekend hearings should be scheduled to allow our constituents with full-time jobs and family obligations to participate in the process.
Virtual testimony on election legislation must be offered upon request to accommodate Texans with disabilities, whose voting procedures were explicitly impacted in SB 7.
If and when any election bill is considered on the floor of the House, ample time shall be provided to all members to thoroughly vet the bill through questions and forthright answers. Motions to extend time shall be granted.
Members of the conference committee for any election legislation must meet in person to discuss the report. Any draft conference committee report must be distributed to all conferees at least 24 hours prior to the deadline to sign the report.
Twelve of the 36 signatories include chairmen and vice chairmen of House committees. These are lawmakers who are generally understood to be in the leadership circle of the Speaker of the House.
In the letter, the signatories state:
“It is a time-honored tradition for the Speaker to defend the position of the House and not bow in deference, especially when the policy in question was cultivated by leaders from both sides of the aisle as specified by your and your leadership team. It is important that you communicate in no uncertain terms your intention to continue to stand up for the House and not allow the Lieutenant Governor to set the tone and the pace for the session, as he attempted to do in the final days of the 87th Regular Session.”
What Does It All Mean?
The letter concluded by saying, “We expect your commitment that our Speaker of the House will defend the chamber’s position on these issues over the next thirty days,” referring to legislation they interpreted as “targeting transgender children, limiting local workplace regulations, or restricting local government advocacy,” by which the House made its position clear during the regular legislative session by ultimately not considering bills related to those issues.
Though they indicated they looked forward to a response from Phelan, no response has thus far been made public, with the beginning of the first called special session just two days away.
List of Democrat Lawmakers Who Signed the Letter
Trey Martinez-Fischer (San Antonio)
Michelle Beckley (Carrollton)
Diego Bernal (San Antonio)
Rhetta Bowers (Rowlett) – Vice Chairman of the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee
Elizabeth Campos (San Antonio)
Sheryl Cole (Austin) – Vice Chairman of the House Administration Committee
Philip Cortez (San Antonio) – Chairman of the House Urban Affairs Committee
Jasmine Crockett (Dallas)
Joe Deshotel (Beaumont) – Chairman of the House Land & Resource Management Committee
Alex Dominguez (Brownsville) – Vice Chairman of the House Environmental Regulation Committee
Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (San Antonio) – Vice Chairman of the House Culture, Recreation & Tourism Committee
Jessica Gonzalez (Dallas) – Vice Chairman of the House Elections Committee
Vikki Goodwin (Austin)
Gina Hinojosa (Austin) – Vice Chairman of the House Human Services Committee
Donna Howard (Austin)
Celia Israel (Austin)
Jarvis Johnson (Houston)
Ray Lopez (San Antonio)
Armando Martinez (Weslaco)
Terry Meza (Irving)
Ina Minjarez (San Antonio)
Christina Morales (Houston) – Vice Chairman of the House International Relations & Economic Development Committee
Eddie Morales (Eagle Pass)
Penny Morales Shaw (Houston)
Sergio Munoz Jr. (Mission)
Caludia Ordaz Perez (El Paso)
Leo Pacheco (San Antonio) – Vice Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee
Mary Ann Perez (Houston)
Ana-Maria Ramos (Richardson)
Richard Pena Raymond (Laredo)
Ron Reynolds (Missouri City)
Eddie Rodriguez (Austin)
Ramon Romero Jr. (Ft. Worth)
Chris Turner (Grand Prairie) – Chairman of the House Business & Industry Committee
Hubert Vo (Houston) – Vice Chairman of the House Insurance Committee
Gene Wu (Houston)