Multiple reports indicate several statehouse Democrats have made their way back to Texas, after spending more than a month in Washington D.C. in protest of a Republican-sponsored voting bill. The question now is whether the quorum break caused by the Democrats’ departure during the first special session of the summer, will end when members return.
Rebecca Deen is chair of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington. She told Texas Standard that some Democrats likely faced pressure from constituents to return to Austin to address items on the second special session agenda.
“The governor, in his second special session call, included some items that weren’t in the first,” Deen said. “And I think that’s a pointed prod to these Democrats to come back and do the business of the Legislature.”
Aside from Republican priorities, like voting restrictions, issues on the agenda include funding for virtual learning in schools, bail reform, allocation of federal pandemic funds, extra payments for retired teachers and restoration of funding for the Legislature and Capitol staff that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed.
Deen says items in Abbott’s second special session call are in part designed to force Democrats to pay a political price if they don’t return to the capitol.
That pressure has increased as the delta variant of the coronavirus has strained public health resources. Abbott, meanwhile, hasn’t used all the tools at his disposal to provide more funds or create regulations that might stem the infection tide.
“[Abbott’s] facing pressure from the right not to do the very things that Democrats, or perhaps progressives, in the state would wish him to do with regard to the pandemic,” Deen said.
Deen says that Democrats returning to Texas are likely to come back to the House floor voluntarily, making it unnecessary for Republicans to carry out their threat to arrest wandering lawmakers. When they were in Washington, Democrats were outside the jurisdiction of Texas officials who were charged with arresting them under the state’s civil law.
The second special session could once again end in a stalemate, though, Deen says, as its 30-day clock bumps up against another expected session this fall, during which the Legislature will tackle redistricting.