Updated as of 7.20.2021 at 2:15pm
One week into the “quorum break” established by Texas House Democrat lawmakers and enabled by Republican leadership, the House remains paralyzed and unable to conduct legislative business.
With the special session one-third of the way complete, Democrats’ absence might mean squandered time and taxpayer money when present lawmakers reach the end, having not accomplished any of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda.
They Had a Chance to Prevent This
At the beginning of the 87th Legislative Session in January, State Rep. Bryan Slaton (R–Royse City) offered two amendments to the proposed House rules that might have prevented this issue, but both failed. One amendment would have required that 11 of the 34 standing House committees be chaired by a lawmaker who is a member of the majority party; the amendment failed by a vote of 11-127. The other amendment would have required that all committees be chaired by lawmakers of the majority party; similarly, it failed by an even greater margin, 5-135.
Since 1975, this distinguished body has had a history of limited minority party committee chairmen. This is in direct contrast to our federal counterparts. I cannot, in good conscience, support a measure that would make Texas more like Washington. It is my belief that we should have continued reliance on our republican speaker to choose the right person to chair each committee and always trust that they will support the agenda of a majority of members. This system has served Texas well for 46 years and I support keeping it in place.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park) spoke against one of Slaton’s amendments on the House floor.
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen) took to the back microphone to ask questions of Slaton, backing Cain up.
Ultimately, House Speaker Dade Phelan continued with the tradition of recent history and appointed 13 Democrat lawmakers to be chairman and 20 Democrat lawmakers to be vice-chairman of 33 of the 34 House committees.
Twenty-four of those appointed lawmakers were Democrats who broke quorum.
Will They Do it Now?
On the first day of the special session, State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) filed a resolution seeking to penalize lawmakers who shirk their responsibilities and leave when the House is conducting legislative business. The proposed penalties include removing chairmanships, committee memberships, and seniority privileges for lawmakers who break quorum.
Tinderholt asked Phelan a series of parliamentary inquiries to see if there was a way to “fast-track” the resolution in an attempt to stave off any potential quorum break.
Only five days later, the quorum was broken; the House has been paralyzed ever since.
In a recent radio interview on KFYO, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to a question from host Chad Hasty about penalties for the lawmakers who left:
Of course, any Democrat who is a member of leadership, such as a chairman … they should be losing their job.
There must be consequences for bad behavior, and I call on each of you [Abbott & Phelan] to ensure that the planned theatrics by some legislators to deny the will of the majority of Texans are met with firm, swift, and lasting ramifications.
Newly elected Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi, also a former House lawmaker himself, has repeatedly said that Phelan does have the authority to remove lawmakers of chairmanships that he appointed.
Thus far, only a handful of lawmakers have publicly indicated they support penalizing absent lawmakers by taking away their leadership positions. That list includes State Reps. Jeff Cason (R–Bedford), Leach, and Tinderholt.
Every day since the breaking of quorum, the House has gaveled in and opened with an invocation and pledges, very quickly followed up with standing back at ease with announcements of corresponding colors to permission slips distributed by Phelan to lawmakers, permitting them to leave the House floor. This has left little time for any other lawmaker to do much in response.
As the calendar days begin to pass, will lawmakers grow more and more frustrated with showing up to sit around and do nothing on the House floor? Will they demand that their own Republican leadership act?
Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to all Republican House lawmakers, requesting their thoughts on whether they believed absent lawmakers should be stripped of committee chairmanships, vice chairmanships, membership, and/or seniority privileges, as well as whether they believed that House rules or Texas Constitutional provisions allow for such penalties. As of publication, only State Reps. Jeff Cason and Tony Tinderholt have responded.
Concerned citizens can contact their Republican state representative to find out their position on removing Democrats from leadership positions in the Texas House.