Senate Republicans slam absent Democrats for evading duty, letting voter fraud and crime escalate
AUSTIN – Senate Republicans on Wednesday blasted fellow Democrats – and more than 50 House Democrats who have also fled to Washington – for crippling Legislative action on pending legislation they say deters electoral fraud and violent crime.
Additionally, President Dade Phelan R-Beaumont demanded Democrats return their “per diems” of $ 221 per day – paid to lawmakers for living expenses during the session.
And an Arlington state official said he is working with House parliamentarians to try to be recognized so he can ask members in Austin to raise the bar – by removing the chairing committees for missing colleagues.
It’s unclear, however, whether ruling Republicans can take official acts that could force absent Democrats back. Yet they will try to influence public opinion – as Republicans in the Senate attempted on Wednesday.
“The work we do for the people of Texas is wasted and wasted,” said Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Larry Taylor of Friendswood. during a press conference at the Capitol.
“I find it very interesting that they talk about the democratic process when they chose to bypass the democratic process, which involves elections, and then people are elected and they come here and they serve, and they do their job,” , he said of Democrats breaking the quorum.
Taylor, flanked by his 17 fellow Republicans, spoke on the third day of the Democratic walkout. The condemnation of the Republican senators was significantly more emotional than the grievances expressed by the leaders of the House GOP Caucus at a press conference a day earlier.
While House Republicans have spoken more of sadness than anger, caucus chair Jim Murphy, appealing to Democrats’ “best angels,” Taylor, and Senate Jurisprudence Committee chair Joan Huffman of Houston, failed. do not hide it: they are upset.
“We are angry,” Huffman said. “I am and I think I can speak for many senators here. We are angry because we have come here to work.
Huffman, the author of a bill revising bail procedures, said five Texans have been killed by violent offenders released on bail since House Democrats came out in late May to scuttle a electoral bill. The bail bill is also dead.
“These five people were all murdered by multiple bail defendants for felony offenses, the exact kinds of people we are targeting,” she said. Speaking loudly, Huffman also spoke of a recent shooting in a domestic violence case in which there was not only a protective order, but the shooter had seven outstanding felony warrants.
“Doesn’t that horrify you? It certainly should, ”she said. “And that should horrify House Democrats languishing in Washington, showing us their selfies.”
On the election bill, Taylor and Mineola, Republican Senator Bryan Hughes, rebutted Democrats’ claims that, in promoting such legislation, GOP lawmakers and Governor Greg Abbott gave credence to the baseless claims of the former President Donald Trump that there was widespread voter fraud in last year’s presidential election. competition.
Taylor denied suggestions that Republicans would legislate to perpetuate a “big lie” about Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden.
“We know this is happening,” he said, referring to voter fraud. “It’s not about Trump 2020. It’s about what’s right for Texas.”
Hughes, author of Senate Bill 1, which the Senate passed and sent to the House on Tuesday, said greater transparency at polling stations, checks on postal ballots and more penalties strict rules for “collecting the ballots” are necessary to ensure that the elections are safe and have integrity.
“Voters fall prey to ballot collectors, people who try to cheat for political and monetary gain,” Hughes said.
“Sadly, it is our most vulnerable constituents, the elderly, those with limited English, who are most often the prey.”
Later Wednesday, the Senate passed bills it approved in the regular session – on bail and trying to deter “censorship” from conservative views by allowing lawsuits against social media companies.
It also passed two bills granting land tax relief. Homeowners would be allowed an exemption from ownership immediately, rather than January 1 of the following year. The other, if voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment, would give elderly and disabled homeowners a “continuous tax cap adjustment” that would maintain their school property taxes.
In a written statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned that “before Texans can benefit from this property tax relief” Democrats must return and the House must resume its activities. Senators will, however, continue to adopt the measures “until the House finally has a quorum,” Patrick promised.
In the House, Phelan sent the 150 members a note on Wednesday afternoon with his per diem claim.
“I ask all members who are intentionally absent in order to prevent the House from conducting business during the special session to return your constitutional indemnity to the Treasury upon receipt,” the speaker wrote.
However, as his memo suggested, payments are sent automatically to members, “regardless of the member’s presence or not.”
Also on Wednesday, Phelan and House Credit Committee Chairman Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, met with the leadership of the main group of retired teachers. Offering retirees a one-time additional payment of up to $ 2,400 is one of 11 items Abbott added to the special session agenda. While Bonnen and other budget writers failed to insert money for the so-called 13th state budget check they drafted and approved in May, GOP leaders criticize Democrats for having prevented its adoption during the extraordinary session.
Earlier on the House floor, dozens of Republicans and four Democrats who remained in Austin gathered for about three hours. But because they don’t have 100 of the 150 members present, they can’t do business.
Phelan said the House was mimicking a “Congressional precedent” that “the only business allowed is daily prayer.” He hasn’t developed.
“Lord, we come to you during a difficult time in Texas,” prayed Republican Representative Ben Leman of Iola in Grimes County.
Members, who are accustomed to pledging allegiance to the flags of the United States and Texas immediately after the opening prayer, began to shout, “Promise, promise!
Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, who has enthusiastically led the House in engagements this year, stood up and began leading members in flag engagements.
Phelan must sign authorization notes for members to be allowed to leave the chamber. Wednesday’s notes were on yellow paper. He asked the members to return Thursday at 11 a.m.
Also on Wednesday, Arlington GOP Representative Tony Tinderholt said he and some like-minded colleagues were pushing House leaders to allow a vote on a plan he said would increase the pain of absent lawmakers for having halted activity in Austin.
Although the State constitution requires that two-thirds of the members of each chamber be present for any business to be conducted, the same provision also allows “a smaller number” – it does not say how many – to “adjourn from one day to the next and to oblige the presence of absent members, in the manner and under the penalties which each Chamber can foresee.
Tinderholt said he was pressuring Phelan and MPs Hugh Brady and Sharon Carter to interpret this as allowing a “minority quorum” to approve a motion to compel attendance.
Committee chairs and vice-chairs, the post of interim chair (now held by El Paso Democrat Joe Moody) and certain “privileges” such as positions on administrative committees should be taken away from members who have unjustified absences , Tinderholt said.
“We have to get our peers to come back and do our job for Texas,” he explained in an interview.
House rules that were passed in January, however, are silent on penalties for breaking the quorum – other than to allow for actions already taken, such as a “House appeal” and a directive that the sergeant-at-arms brings back the missing members, using other law enforcement officers and arrest powers as necessary.
Tinderholt said that until 1993, House rules stipulated that chairs and vice-chairs of standing committees sat at the pleasure of the chair, meaning the chair could remove them at any time.
Since the current rules make no provision for removing such committee heads, Tinderholt is almost certain to face reluctance from his colleagues. They would probably say he would have to change the rules to do what he suggests – and without a quorum that can’t be done.