Updated 7/26/2021 at 3:15pm to reflect that a civil arrest warrant had been issued in the late evening Sunday and became public after this original article was published.
The Texas House of Representatives has been paralyzed and unable to conduct any legislative business since July 12, when a majority of House Democrat lawmakers broke quorum and left Austin, all but throwing the first called special legislative session into a state of chaos.
Republican lawmakers who were present employed a parliamentary motion known as “call of the House” to direct the House sergeant-at-arms to secure a quorum “under arrest if necessary.”
Under a “call of the House,” no lawmaker is allowed to leave the House chamber without the permission of House Speaker Dade Phelan (R).
So when Democrat State Rep. Philip Cortez (San Antonio) defected from his colleagues in D.C. last week in order to engage in “dialogue” with Republicans over proposed election integrity legislation, he was able to return to the state Capitol, check in with the House journal clerk, and was then permitted to leave the House chamber by Republican leadership.
Having faced heat from his Democrat House colleagues, he has now returned to Washington, D.C., altogether.
This All Happened in Public View
Upon leaving again, Cortez said:
“After discussions on improving House Bill 3 have not produced progress, I rejoined by Democratic colleagues in Washington D.C. I stand firm in my resolve to remain with the Democratic Caucus until the special session ends, and to do whatever it takes to fight for the freedom to vote for all Texans.”
Cortez currently serves as the chairman of the House Urban Affairs Committee. Of the 34 standing House committees, 10 of them are chaired by Democrats who broke quorum.
The Texas House Democrat Caucus Chairman State Rep. Chris Turner (Grand Prairie) responded to Cortez’ return.
“In the Texas House Democratic Caucus, our unity is our strength. We welcome Rep. Phil Cortez, who is a valued member of our Caucus, back to Washington D.C. with open arms. All 57 Democrats breaking quorum are just as firm in our commitment to seeing this through until the end as we were the day we left. We are united and unrelenting in our commitment to protect the freedom to vote.”
How House Leadership Has Responded
Some Republican lawmakers took to Twitter to express their frustrations, tacitly admitting that nothing was done to compel Cortez to stay.
“After registering with the House Clerk this past week, Chairman Phil Cortez broke his promise to return to the House on Monday, July 26th. By his own admission, he returned to Washington D.C. The Texas House is no different than anywhere else: your word is your bond.”
“This Chairman should’ve been arrested, retained for purpose of a quorum, and not allowed to leave the state. A majority of the Texas House voted to ensure that would happen. Why he wasn’t I don’t know. But Texas House members – and all the people of Texas – deserve an answer.”
Thus far, nothing has been done to compel the attendance of absent lawmakers. Speaker Phelan maintains that he does not have the authority to strip absent lawmakers of things like their chairmanships, vice chairmanships, committee memberships, or seniority privileges.
What Does it All Mean?
The Texas House of Representatives will attempt to gavel in without a quorum, or the adequate attendance needed to conduct legislative business, for the 14th time on Monday.
With merely 12 days left in the maximum allotted 30-day special legislative session, it appears the remainder of the term might all be a wash, wasting the time of lawmakers and money of the everyday Texas taxpayer.
Though Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated he would continue calling special sessions until his agenda is considered, it is unclear what will change to compel absent lawmakers to remain in Austin to participate in the process in the future.