Texas Democratic lawmakers staged a planned walkout Monday in their latest effort to block Republican elections overhaul bills. Not since 2003 have state lawmakers crossed state lines to break quorum, as more than 50 House Democrats boarded two private jets from Austin to Washington DC on Monday.
The Texas Constitution requires a quorum, two-thirds of lawmakers present, in order to conduct state business in the House and Senate. Texas Democrats walked out of the Capitol in May in order to prevent a vote on the controversial voting bills.
The move comes amid a wave of voting restrictions in Republican-led states. Republicans argue the measures are essential for election security, but the Democrats see them as an attack on the right to vote.
The Bill, Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3, would ban 24-hour polling places and expand the authority of poll watchers. A first vote is planned later this week, after Governor Greg Abbott called for a special session.
Under Texas House rules, absent politicians can be arrested and returned to the house floor. However, the authority responsible does not have jurisdiction outside Texas.
The House lawmakers took off on Monday afternoon and said they would not return until the 30-day special session had ended next month. In response to the exodus, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, said the House would use “every available resource” to secure a quorum.
Governor Abbott has gone on record saying that those lawmakers who fled the state can and “will be arrested” upon their return. Abbott added, “In addition to that, I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session all the way up until election next year.”
Other priorities in the special session include legislation focused on access to abortion, social-media companies, transgender youth, and the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
As for the issue of voting bills, not everyone was unhappy with the staged walk out on Monday in Texas. Vice President Kamala Harris voiced her support by saying, “I applaud their standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered.”