Special Session Strategy: Will Democrats Break Quorum Again Or ‘Forcefully Amend’ GOP Voting Bills?

Democrats also hope national attention on Texas could persuade Congress to pass new federal voting rights laws.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinJuly 5, 2021 4:48 pm

The contentious battle over voting rights in Texas will continue in the legislative special session that is set to begin July 8. Democrats killed a Republican bill in late May that they say would make it harder for people of color to vote. Texas Republicans say the measure would strengthen election security.

Glenn Smith is senior strategist for Progress Texas and a longtime Democratic political consultant. He told Texas Standard that for Democrats, “all options are on the table.”

He says members of the Legislature could break quorum as they did in May to prevent the House from taking a vote on the measure. They could also “forcefully” try to add amendments to the bill proposed by Republicans.

“I think it’s important, in this session, to look at something that happened before, however,” Smith said. “And that’s when Governor Abbott decided to veto the budget of the entire Legislature.”

Smith says such a veto has never happened before and amounts to one branch of government threatening to eliminate another branch unless it does what the governor wants.

“And that’s kind of poisoned the well as we get closer to the session starting,” Smith said.

Democrats have sued Abbott to stop the veto which eliminated the budget that pays for legislative staff salaries beginning in September.

Smith says Democrats, rather than Republicans, could benefit politically from another walkout. He bases that hypothesis on the 2003 legislative walkout in which Democratic members of the Legislature left the state to protest a sweeping redistricting bill.

“It takes courage and it’s a perfectly legitimate, in the Constitution – a thing you can do by not making a quorum,” Smith said. “I think when they’re doing it, they’re representing me, and working harder than if they just gave up, showed up and did what they were ordered to do.”

Last week’s Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case, which significantly weakens the Voting Rights Act, could embolden Texas Republicans to pass new rules with less fear of court challenges based on their impact on people of color. Smith says efforts to pass federal voting rights laws in Congress could put a stop to that. But though Smith is optimistic, the federal bills currently face an uphill climb to get the number of votes needed to become law.

“One of the reasons to fight this tooth and nail in the special session, with every tool we have, is to create enough delays, enough attention, that we could move Congress to move on our behalf and vote to protect voting rights nationwide,” Smith said.

What Else The Special Session Could Bring

Beyond voting rules, Smith says legislators could take up changes to the state’s electric grid, following February’s winter storm. He hopes so, in any case.

Smith would also like to see improvements to health care access, but doesn’t expect Abbott, who controls the agenda for the session, to include that item.

Smith says Abbott is more likely to add so-called “culture war” topics, like laws that affect transgender children.

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