On Monday, in response to reports of House Democrat lawmakers leaving Austin to avoid a quorum and ultimately consideration of the omnibus election integrity legislation, state Republican leadership released several statements condemning the action and promising to employ every available means to compel them to return.
Over the weekend, both the House & Senate versions of the omnibus election integrity bills were passed out of their respective committees on party-line votes.
Gov. Greg Abbott
As Democrat lawmakers were boarding the plane to Washington D.C., Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said:
Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.
Notably, in the weeks before the beginning of the special session, Abbott followed through on a threat to defund the Legislature in response to two of his emergency legislative items dying in the waning days of the 87th regular legislative session as Democrats, enabled by House Republican leadership, “busted quorum,” precluding any additional consideration of the omnibus election integrity bill.
Abbott added funding for Article X of the budget for the next biennium to his special session agenda, alongside election integrity and bail reform. Many assumed that restoring Article X funding would be used as an incentive to compel Democrat lawmakers to stay and deliberate items like election integrity. Seemingly, that did not work.
House Speaker Dade Phelan
Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan released the following statement:
A number of House Democrats stated their caucus intends to break quorum in an attempt to stall election integrity legislation. These actions put at risk state funding that will deny thousands of hard-working staff members and their families a paycheck, health benefits, and retirement investment so that legislators who broke quorum can flee to Washington D.C. in private jets. The Texas House will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House Rules to secure a quorum to meaningfully debate and consider election integrity, bail reform, benefits for retired teachers, Child Protective Services reform, Article X funding, and the other important measures Gov. Abbott placed on the special session agenda. The special session clock is ticking — I expect all Members to be present in our Capitol in order to immediately get to work on these issues.
Notably, Phelan met with the House Democrat Caucus before their walkout at the end of the 87th regular legislative session, and he later confirmed he told them he would not order the locking of House chamber doors or send state law enforcement personnel after them.
Since then, Phelan told KXAN-TV, “My Democratic colleagues have been quoted saying all options are on the table with the voting bill. Respectfully, all options are on the table for myself, as well.”
Lt. Governor Statement
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took to Twitter to say:
Smiling House Dems fly off to DC on a private jet with a case of Miller Lite, breaking House quorum, abandoning their constituents, while the Senate still works. It’s my hope that Senate Dems report tomorrow to do what they were elected to do. We will vote on SB1.
At the end of the regular legislative session, Patrick chided Phelan for allowing Democrats to break quorum and ultimately mismanaging the legislative calendar.
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Statement
It’s not surprising that Democrats would flee the state to prevent free and fair elections. Thankfully, our governor has the ability to call special sessions until they return and add all of our GOP priorities to the call. Our Republican Speaker has the ability to revoke committee chairmanships currently held by Democrats as well. This tantrum won’t prevent the passage of important legislation to protect our elections.”
Texas House Republican Caucus
The Texas House Republican Caucus tweeted:
The Texas House Republican Caucus expects all 150 House members to show up to work on the House floor tomorrow at 10 AM. We ran for these offices to serve out constituents and the state of Texas. Furthermore, we’ve also taken an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. The legislative business at hand – helping our teachers, foster children, taxpayers, our border communities, and all Texans – provides additional reasons to be here doing the people’s work. It is our duty and our covenant with our constituents to be present. All options for completing the business of Texas are still on the table. As a Caucus, we remain on task for as long as it takes and Texans have our commitment to never walk away from the job at hand.
What is Next?
It is important to note that since the House Democrat lawmakers have not yet technically broken quorum, there is nothing that could have been done to prevent them from leaving Austin or the state of Texas.
When the House of Representatives gavel in Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. as previously scheduled, there will not be enough lawmakers to justify a quorum and conduct business. In order for the House to conduct business, a quorum of two-thirds of the chamber’s members (100 out of 150) is required to be present. Democrats currently hold 67 of the chamber’s seats.
As Democrat lawmakers have already fled, it is unclear what prospects remain for legislative matters on the special session agenda and currently moving through the legislative process.
What Tools Are Available?
The House Rules—specifically Rule 5, Section 7—allows for a “call of the House” to compel lawmakers who try to break quorum.
Rule 5, Section 8 of the rules governs securing a quorum. It states:
“All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained. The house shall determine on what conditions they shall be discharged.”
Given that enough Democrat lawmakers are already away from the state of Texas, there are little options to directly compel them to return.
Phelan could, as Speaker, remove quorum breakers from their committee positions, freeze office budgets, or strip them of their seniority.
There is also the possibility that Abbott himself could call special sessions in perpetuity until Democrats return. Theoretically, it would be a war of attrition in whether enough lawmakers could in fact sustain their private lives away from the state among other provisions.
With 27 days left in the first special session, it remains to be seen how long Democrats will be willing to keep it up.