Despite continued wooing from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and redistricting map author Sen. Todd Staples (R, Palestine), Senate Democrats continue to make hints and allegations that they will not stick around for another, blocker-bill-free, special session. Testimony from a defense attorney who asserted that the state Constitution says they can't be arrested for not showing up can only bolster them.
Criminal defense attorney Keith Hampton also told the Senate Democratic Caucus that an arrest by a Senate sergeant at arms or a private security agency to force senators to the Senate floor for a vote might be prosecutable as kidnapping under state law.
"And it gets worse than that. If someone in the Legislature directed them to do that, there is the crime of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping," punishable by up to life in prison, Hampton told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.
Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, evaded questions about whether he would order the Democrats arrested if they broke the Senate quorum.
"I will continue to follow state law. I understand that (Campbell's) ruling has been appealed by the attorney general," Dewhurst said.
Campbell's ruling applied state law, and Hampton said it will provide a starting point for any challenge to Department of Public Safety authority to bring in legislators who break quorum.
Several Senators have explicitly declared their intentions.
"I'm ready to walk," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the Senate's longest-serving member.
"For me, there is no benefit to staying for another special session," said Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston. "I can tell you as far as breaking a quorum, 11 will break it."
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said some senators are afraid Perry will call a new special session immediately after the current session ends on Tuesday, while Democratic senators are still in the Capitol.
"You get a strong paranoia or concern that they are going to sine die (adjourn) at noon and call us back an hour later so they can lock us up in here," Whitmire said.
Mr. Gallegos, a former firefighter, said Democrats are aware that Mr. Dewhurst could lock members in Senate chambers, especially if a special session is called immediately after the current one adjourns. It can end no later than midnight Tuesday.
"I do keep ties with my firefighters that have the Jaws of Life," Mr. Gallegos said. "They can bolt any door open here in the Capitol."
We will know soon what the Democrats plan to do, and then presumably what if anything the GOP will do in response.
Democrats are expected to meet within the next day to discuss the logistics of skipping a second special session.
"I think there are 11 who are extremely firm in their view that this is not an issue that warrants us coming in for a special session," said Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
"All senators need to make their own decisions, then we will make a collective decision."
The continued fuss prompted government watchdogs, voter groups and religious groups to push for a proposal by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, to have redistricting done in the future by an independent commission rather than lawmakers.
The groups include the League of Women Voters, Campaigns for People, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Independent Texans, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and Texas Impact.
"In a democracy, the voters are supposed to be supreme and they're supposed to choose their representatives," said Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People. "Under our redistricting process in Texas, the politicians are supreme and they choose their voters" through the way they draw districts.
UPDATE: Redistricting is officially dead this session, without a map being brought up for a vote. A second session will be called (my guess: next week) and there will be no blocker bill. The Chron just has an AP wire story right now, but the Statesman has a slightly fuller staff report. I'll survey the news stories tomorrow morning.Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 25, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack