Dade Phelan Takes A Softer Line On House Democrats’ Walkout; Greg Abbott Threatens Their Pay

Gov. Abbott is likely to call a special session that will include the so-called election security bill. He suggested he might cut House funding with a line-item veto.

By Rhonda Fanning & Shelly BrisbinJune 2, 2021 12:00 pm

In the aftermath of the legislative session, which ended with House Democrats walking out to prevent a vote on a controversial election-related measure proposed by Republicans, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he’ll call a special session to address the bill, and others left unvoted on by the walkout.

Abbott has also threatened to veto funding for the Legislature, docking not only the pay of lawmakers but the staff that keeps the statehouse running, in or out of session. Democrats say they’re happy to have derailed a bill they say would disproportionately harm voters of color by restricting the hours of Sunday voting, among other new rules, which were added to the bill behind closed doors during the last weekend of the session.

John Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. He was among a group of reporters who spoke with House Speaker Dade Phelan this week. Moritz called Phelan “a creature of the House,” whose work in the chamber, as a staffer and then a member, dates back to the 1990s. Moritz says that likely explains why Phelan expressed an understanding of what the Democrats did.

“He basically said Democrats were representing their constituents, and he had to respect that,” Moritz said. “He said they were within their rights and he was going to respect the way the Democrats sought to use the rules of the House.”

Phelan did not employ any punitive maneuvers to force Democrats back to the chamber.

But while Phelan made space for Democrats to express their views, Abbott remained committed to passing what Republicans call an “election security” measure, and punishing lawmakers for not getting it done during the regular session.

“The expectation [is], if he makes good on his threat, to draw a red line through the expenditures for the Legislature,” Moritz said.

Moritz points out that Abbott’s threat would affect not only lawmakers’ pay, but the paychecks of the year-round staff that works at the Capitol.

Abbott Signs Bills Into Law

The governor proudly signed a bill that prevents large cities from trimming their police budgets.

“The ‘defund the police’ slogan that Republicans have hung around the necks of the Democrats since last year is very important to Gov. Abbott’s base,” Moritz said.

A related bill signed by the governor enhances penalties for protesters who block traffic or prevent emergency vehicles from reaching their destinations.

Bills awaiting the governor’s signature include the so-called constitutional or permitless carry bill, which allows most adults to carry handguns without a license.

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