Democratic lawmakers in Texas are reportedly set to pack their bags and leave the state in a daring strategy designed to prevent the passage of GOP-backed voting bills during a special legislative session.
Nearly 60 Democrats in the state House were expected to leave Texas Monday on two chartered planes. That would essentially cripple the legislative session, since the legislature would not have the two-thirds quorum needed to do business. To prevent the bill from passing, the Democrats would have to stay away from the Capitol until the special session ends, which could last as long as 30 days.
Most of the members are planning to fly to Washington, D.C. to rally support for federal voting legislation. The Texas bill calls for new new ID requirements for mail voting, it bans some early voting options and create harsh new criminal penalties for breaking election code as well as empowers partisan poll watchers. Supporters hope the lawmakers can renew the push for a federal voting rights bill.
It’s a gambit that Democrats haven’t done since 2003, but it’s the only option they have to try and stop the Republican-majority house from passing a voting bill many say will make it harder for people to vote. It comes with great personal risk for the lawmakers, however.
They could be arrested for leaving town. Under the Texas Constitution, absent lawmakers can be legally compelled to return to Austin. Some Democrats expect state Republicans to request authorities track down the legislators and bring them back to the Capitol.
If the Democrats do follow through with this, it will likely just be a delay of the inevitable. The Texas Tribune writes:
Ultimately, Democrats lack the votes to keep the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing new voting restrictions, along with the other red meat items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s 11-item agenda for the special session.
Some Democrats hope their absence will give them leverage to force good-faith negotiations with Republicans, who they say have largely shut them out of negotiations over the voting bill. Both chambers advanced their legislation out of committees on party-lines votes after overnight hearings, passing out the bills early Sunday morning after hearing hours of testimony mostly against the proposal and just a few days after making their revived proposals public. They are expected to bring the bills to the floor for a vote this week.
Governor Greg Abbott could also continue to add 30-day special sessions or even add voting restrictions to the legislative agenda this summer when redistricting maps are drawn up.
This is not the first dramatic move by Democrats to prevent the passage of Texas’ elections bill. They previously delayed the vote in May when they walked out of the Capitol and prevented the necessary quorum needed to cast the votes.
The special session is loaded with items that are considered Republican-friendly. They include a bill that would ban Critical Race Theory, another that would prevent trans kids from taking part in youth sports, bail reform, and another taking up the border wall Abbott has proposed.