Hundreds Visited Texas Capitol Over The Weekend For Voting Bill Hearings

Bills in the House and Senate propose bans on 24-hour voting, drive-thru voting, expanded authority of partisan voting observers and stricter penalties for election workers who break the rules.

By Jill Ament & Caroline CovingtonJuly 12, 2021 11:24 am

Over the weekend, lawmakers heard hours of public testimony about the voting bills at the heart of the current special legislative session agenda.

Houston Chronicle state bureau reporter Taylor Goldenstein told Texas Standard that the Capitol was packed with hundreds of people there to watch the hearings – more people were on site since before the pandemic.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House heard testimony about proposed changes to voting rules in Texas, and Goldenstein expects that legislation to be the primary focus of the 30-day special session that began on July 8. But it isn’t the only priority on Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda.

“Gov. Abbott has a pretty ambitious agenda for this special session with 11 items on it,” Goldenstein said. “So it will be interesting to see how many they’re able to get through.”

Here are two priority pieces of legislation Goldenstein expects to be the focus of the current special session:

Voting Bills

The Senate and House both passed their version of the voting bill out of committee over the weekend. Goldenstein says the most controversial parts of the bills that were proposed during the regular legislative session have been removed, including making it easier for judges to overturn elections and restricting Sunday voting hours that could have disenfranchised Black voters during “souls to the polls” voting events on Sunday mornings.

Still, Republican lawmakers are pushing for new restrictions, including a ban on 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting sites, limiting assistance provided to voters, expanding the authority of partisan voting observers and raising the penalties for election workers who violate the rules.

Goldenstein expects both bills to reach the House and Senate floors this week.

“It’s clear from the way that the lawmakers have been talking about this that they’re trying to get this done as soon as possible with only 30 days in a special session. I know that they’re on an expedited timeline,” she said.

She also expects that the governor and lawmakers will come to an agreement about lawmaker salaries and the legislative budget, which Abbott vetoed at the end of the regular session as a penalty for the voting bill’s failure.

Changes To The Bail System

Abbott continues to prioritize changes to the cash bail system during the special legislative session. Bills that would make it harder for people accused but not yet convicted of crimes to be released on bond without paying cash are moving swiftly through the House and Senate.

“[These bills] would change the requirements that judges have for setting bond without cash for certain kinds of offenders,” Goldenstein said.

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