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That’s our Lege

Four House members to step down

In order of announcement…

Rep. Scott Sanford.

Rep. Scott Sanford

State Rep. Scott Sanford, a Republican from McKinney, announced Sunday he is not running for reelection, citing his family, especially his grandchildren.

“As the legislature embarks on its third special session, I’m reminded of the seasonality of government. It ebbs and flows as it follows its constitutional guidelines, the needs of the citizens and the reality of political processes,” he said in a news release.

“Life also has its season, and Shelly and I are thrilled to now be in a new season as grandparents. Even more exciting, our second grandchild is expected to arrive soon. In the midst of changing life seasons and a personal evaluation of priorities, I have made the prayerful decision to not file for re-election,” he added.

Sanford represented the 70th District in the House since 2013. The 57-year-old also serves as a pastor at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen.

I have no clear impression of Rep. Sanford, he’s basically a generic Republican to me. His HD70 in Collin County is on the far outer fringes of competitiveness after moving moderately left over the decade. It’ll be interesting to see if the Republicans try to shore up a district like that or leave it more or less as is while they triage higher priority areas of need.

Rep. Celia Israel.

Rep. Celia Israel

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, announced Wednesday she will not seek reelection and instead explore a run for Austin mayor next year.

“The heartbeat of a city is people from all walks of life working together and learning from each other,” Israel wrote on social media. “That’s why I’m proud that the founding core of my exploratory committee is diverse, with a broad array of lived experiences.”

Israel has represented House District 50 since 2014. The Austin-based district is safely Democratic, though its boundaries are likely to change before the 2022 election due to the redistricting process that is currently underway in the Legislature.

Israel has been an advocate for the LGBT community in the lower chamber, helping start the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus in 2019. She has also been outspoken about abortion rights, and she was one of the House Democrats who left the state in July to protest the Republican elections bill.

The Austin Chronicle had the news earlier. I’m a big fan of Rep. Israel, and if I lived in Austin she’d be high on my list for Mayoral candidates. If she wins I hope she sees that as a potential step towards a future statewide run, because we could definitely use someone like her in the executive wing of the Capitol.

Rep. Chris Paddie.

Rep. Chris Paddie

State Rep. Chris Paddie, a Marshall Republican who chairs the powerful House State Affairs Committee, said Wednesday he will not seek another term in the lower chamber.

The news comes less than a month after Paddie, who has represented House District 9 since 2013, announced he would run for reelection.

In a statement, Paddie said that as the Legislature undergoes the redistricting process, he had “decided that the timing is right to spend more time with my family and allow my East Texas colleagues to spend time fighting for our values instead of having to make some of the tough choices required.”

“Serving in the Legislature is not a career, but a way to serve your neighbors,” Paddie said. “I remain fully committed to advocating for good public policy and will continue do so in non-elected avenues of public service.”

Rep. Paddie, like Rep. Sanford, is one term away from being vested in the generous legislative pension system. He must really be done. I know that the local wingnuts have had it in for him, so maybe this was just enough. He was certainly conservative, but he had policy chops and took the job seriously, and I give him credit for that much. The default Republican these days is Briscoe Cain, and Paddie’s successor will very likely be a Cain clone, so in that sense his retirement is a loss to the Lege.

Rep. Jim Murphy.

Rep. Jim Murphy

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, announced Thursday he will not seek another term to the Texas House.

Murphy, who represented House District 133 from 2007-09 and again since 2011, chairs the House GOP Caucus and the House Higher Education Committee.

He announced in June his intention to seek reelection, saying in a news release that while the Legislature “accomplished a lot” during the regular legislative session that ended in May, “unfinished business still remains.”

On Thursday, though, Murphy said he is “just looking forward to life’s next great opportunity” and that it had been “an honor and privilege” to serve the constituents of HD-133.

Maybe he reads my blog. Murphy is also in a fringe-competitive district, one that may be a bigger challenge to stay as red given the trends in Harris County and the need of Republicans to shore up some other districts. He was very helpful in getting pension reform passed a couple of years ago, and like Rep. Paddie more about doing things than posturing and complaining. We’ll see if his replacement, if Republicans hold the seat, is like that or not. I’d bet on “not”.

Finally, on a semi-related note, there are five candidates in the special election to replace former Rep. Leo Pacheco in HD118, three Dems and two Republicans. Early voting starts for it on Monday. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will get seated while the Lege is still in session, but for symbolic reasons if nothing else it would be nice for the Dems to not fumble this one.

First new SBOE map proposed

That’s two down, two to go.

The Texas Senate on Monday released its first draft of a new map for the State Board of Education, which attempts to reinforce the GOP majority within the 15-member, Republican-dominated entity that determines what millions of public school students in the state are taught in classrooms.

The map is likely to change as it makes its way through the legislative process, which began formally Monday as the Legislature kicked off its third special session of the year. Lawmakers have been tasked with redrawing district maps for the board, the state House and Senate as well as the state’s congressional seats. They will craft those maps using the latest census data, which showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade. The proposals will have to be approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Nine Republicans and six Democrats currently make up the State Board of Education. During the 2020 general election, seven of those 15 districts went to President Joe Biden — though, under the Senate’s proposed map, only five would favor Biden and one would be considered a toss-up seat.

Districts 6, held by Republican Will Hickan of Houston, and District 12, held by Republican Pam Little of Fairview, both went to Biden narrowly in the 2020 election. Those two districts would be retooled under the Senate’s draft to include more Donald Trump voters and give Republicans a more comfortable majority. District 2, which favored the Republican former president in 2020 by a few percentage points, would be evenly split among Biden and Trump voters. That district is currently held by Ruben Cortez Jr., a Brownsville Democrat.

The special session, which can last up to 30 days, is expected to focus largely on redrawing the state’s political maps, along with a host of other issues set by Abbott. Since the GOP holds majorities in both chambers, the redistricting process will be in the hands of Republicans, who will work to best position their party for the next decade.

You can see an image of the proposed map in the story, and in this Twitter thread, or you can get all fancy and look in the District Viewer, which lets you zoom as far in as a Google map would. You can see the current map here for comparison, and my 2020 precinct analysis is here. This person projects that the split would remain 9-6 based on 2020 data, though SBOE2 is close, with the Dems having about a four or five point advantage. SBOE5, the district we picked up in 2020, becomes more solid blue, while districts 6, 10, and 12 become redder.

The strategy, based on the shrinking rural areas plus the booming – and blueing – suburbs, is combining rural districts with pieces of suburban, and in some cases urban, counties. Look at SBOEs 9 and 14, for example, both of which now include pieces of Dallas County, with SBOE14 picking up much of Denton as well. Dallas County wins the “prize” of having the most districts in it with five – Harris only has three. On the other end is SBOE6, which is following the SD07 plan of carving out a piece of Montgomery County to fend off the blue tide in Harris. SBOE8 cedes most of Montgomery to SBOE6 and picks up a piece of Fort Bend in return. SBOE12 went from being all of Collin County and about a fifth of Dallas and nothing else to being all of Collin, a much smaller piece of Dallas, and a bunch of mostly Red River counties that had previously been in SBOE 9 and 15. I have think that SBOE9 incumbent Keven Ellis, who hails from Lufkin, is not too pleased to see so much of his district now in the Metroplex.

Anyway, this is the first map. The House will surely have its own maps on offer, and there will be revisions. I don’t see any other files on the Texas Redistricting site right now, but I’m sure they will appear soon enough. In the meantime, at least at first glance, this is more of a status quo map than anything else, in that the most likely scenario is the same 9-6 mix we have now. But SBOE2 could fall in a bad year or if the 2020 trends continue, and SBOE3 is more Republican at 43% than any of the currently red districts are Democratic (they all top out at 40 or 41), so the short-term potential for flips favors the GOP. We’ll see what happens from here.

Here’s your first proposed Senate map

Behold. This dropped on Saturday afternoon while normal people were running errands or watching college football, so commentary and coverage is limited at this time. Here’s one view:

Other data is here. I don’t see past election results, but it’s clear at a glance that SD10 would become Republican. As for the rest, and for other maps, we’ll have to see. Even with more sophisticated technology, the first map is never the final map, so expect to see some variations soon. Thanks to Reform Austin for the heads up.

UPDATE: Here’s coverage from the Trib. Sen. Powell, who is clearly targeted by this map, is not happy about it.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, immediately called foul on the initial draft of the map, which was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination,” she said in a statement. “The 2020 census revealed the population of Senate District 10 is nearly ideal. There is no need to make any changes to district lines. Moreover, since 2010, the minority population percentage within the district increased dramatically while the Anglo percentage has dropped. The changes now proposed are intended to silence and destroy the established and growing voting strength of minority voters in Tarrant County.”

[…]

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

“The release of the proposed map is only the beginning of the fight. I’m proud to be the candidate of choice of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and will do everything within my power to stop this direct, discriminatory, and illegal attack on their voting rights,” Powell said.

She has a point, and then-Sen. Wendy Davis was able to negotiate a settlement last decade that took the Senate map out of the litigation. I just don’t expect her to get much reception from the courts.

A gold-plated dud

Just a dumb story all around.

When state lawmakers decided in 2015 that Texas needed to be the only state to have its own precious metals depository, supporters said there were plenty of reasons the project would be a gold mine.

The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Co., which handles the schools’ endowment, owned hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of gold as an investment, stored for a fee in a New York City vault. A state-owned depository “will repatriate $1 billion of gold bullion from the Federal Reserve in New York to Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott said.

Citizens, too, were clamoring for an independent-minded location they could trust with their valuables. “When I first presented this, to be honest with you, we got hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world, really, who wanted to be able to put their gold in something that has the Texas banner above it,” said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, the bill’s author. “This doesn’t work in Wisconsin, it doesn’t work in Idaho.”

Best of all, because the state would find a private partner to build and own the physical depository, it would cost taxpayers nothing. The enterprise would even reap a big profit for Texas. “We estimate that we could raise tens of millions of dollars in fees,” Capriglione testified.

More than three years after the depository opened, none of those things has happened. Yet earlier this year state lawmakers quietly voted to let the state borrow millions of dollars to bail out a project created to fix a problem that didn’t exist, and which they had vowed would cost nothing.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, one of only two senators to oppose the bill. “I don’t think the State of Texas should be in the commercial real estate business, or the gold bullion business.”

The UT/A&M investment company liquidated its gold more than a year ago without moving any bullion back to Texas. A spokeswoman said the agency currently owns no precious metals and so has no need for storage. No other state entity has metal at the Texas depository.

In the time since state leaders created the Texas facility, two large private competing depositories have also opened, in Shiner and Dallas. Officials said Texas Bullion Depository is currently less than 10 percent full. Taxpayers, meanwhile, have yet to see a penny from the enterprise.

Worse, the state’s partner, Lone Star Tangible Assets, recently revealed it is looking to sell the new facility, placing the state at risk of losing control of the entire enterprise. In response, two months ago legislators gave Comptroller Glenn Hegar permission to borrow up to $20 million to buy it.

How a project touted as a golden opportunity for taxpayers devolved into a bait-and-switch that could instead cost millions is a classic tale of government mission creep. It also raises new questions about the odd-couple partnership between the State of Texas and the high-volume precious metals sales industry, a sector that has inspired numerous warnings and enforcement actions from federal and state regulators, including the Texas attorney general.

“When I saw this, I thought, ‘This is going to be embarrassing for the State of Texas,’” said Paul Montgomery, a precious metals dealer and appraiser who has worked with regulators to bring cases against coin dealers who scam investors.

I don’t think you can claim that people were “clamoring” for this without citing some evidence of said clamor. There are enough gold bugs in the state that I can believe some people wanted this, but in the big picture that would be little more than a murmur. Be that as it may, here we are. I remember this as it was happening, and I definitely remember thinking it was deeply dumb, but I figured it was the mostly harmless kind of dumb. I never bothered to blog about it because once you link to the story and say “this is dumb”, there’s really nowhere else to go.

This will cost us a few million bucks, but in the grand scheme of things that’s a rounding error in the budget. Compared to Greg Abbott’s border wall extravaganza, this is peanuts. Everyone should mock Rep. Capriglione for the rest of his life because of this, but beyond that it’s not worth the effort. Honestly, in some ways this is almost charming, like the kind of old-school dumbassery that powered a million Molly Ivins bon mots. We’d be in a much better place if this were the biggest outrage of the 87th legislative session.

Get ready for redistricting

The next special session starts Monday, and we should expect to see proposed redistricting maps. It’s going to be a rough few weeks, in part because the guardrails are gone, which will allow Republicans to run amuck.

The 2020 census captured a Texas that does not exist in its halls of power: a diverse state that is growing almost exclusively because of people of color and where the Hispanic and white populations are nearly equal in size.

But when the Texas Legislature convenes Monday to do the work of incorporating a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps, the Republicans in charge — nearly all of whom are white — will have a freer hand to cement their power and try to shield themselves from the change that growth represents.

The 2021 redistricting cycle will mark the first time in nearly half a century that a Legislature with a lengthy record of discriminating against voters of color will be able to redraw political districts without federal oversight designed to keep harmful maps from immediately going into effect.

And now, once those maps are enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that for decades have fought discrimination in the courts may face a federal judiciary less willing to doubt lawmakers’ partisan motivations — even if they come at the expense of Hispanic and Black Texans.

“I hate to be an alarmist. I want to look for the silver lining, but I don’t see one,” said Jose Garza, a veteran civil rights attorney who has represented the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus for a decade. ”I think that this is a time of great opportunity for the Republicans.”

You can read the rest – none of it is unfamiliar. Tensions are already high due to the quorum break plus the general unhinged racism from state leadership. The early word is that State Senators have already seen a draft map, which will be drawn to be 20-11 for the Republicans, a net loss of two seats for the Dems if it works out that way. The Cook Political Report expects the eventual Congressional map to add two Republican seats to the existing total. It’s going to be fun, just wait and see.

All this assumes that the Lege is allowed to draw non-Congressional maps, which remains a matter of dispute.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two Democratic state senators against Gov. Greg Abbott over his plan to redraw political districts during an upcoming special session of the Legislature.

In a Wednesday motion, the attorney general’s office argued that the lawsuit is “wrong about Texas law” and is “inconsistent with past practice and judicial precedent.” It asks that the lawsuit be dismissed or suspended until after the redistricting process is concluded.

The lawsuit — filed Sept. 1 by Sens. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, and Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio — argues that the state constitution explicitly requires political districts in the state to be redrawn during the first regular session after the publication of the U.S. census.

[…]

The lawsuit argues that a federal judge has the “exclusive obligation” to draw temporary maps to be used in the 2022 elections and that the legislative redistricting process should wait until 2023, when the next regular session is scheduled to occur.

The senators’ “theory — which seeks to exploit delays in the federal census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — turns the Texas Constitution on its head,” reads the motion from the attorney general’s office. “That provision prescribes what the Legislature must do, but neither it nor any other provision prohibits the Legislature from redistricting at other times when circumstances call for it.”

See here for the background. I have to assume some kind of ruling is close at hand, if only to prevent future messes. I have not seen any indication of a hearing date, however, so who knows. In any event, enjoy your last weekend before new maps get drawn.

Special session 3.0

Yeah, we knew it was coming. Still too soon.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced a third special legislative session that will begin on Sept. 20 and tackle redistrictingrestrictions on transgender student athletes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Texas Legislature now has the opportunity to redraw legislative and congressional districts in accordance with the new census numbers,” Abbott said in a statement. “In addition to redistricting, there are still issues remaining that are critical to building a stronger and brighter future for all Texans.”

Lawmakers, who will meet in Austin for the fourth time this year, will also be tasked with allocating $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds and with deciding whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Abbott also included on his five-item agenda a bill that would ban the tethering of dogs outside with heavy chains, which he had vetoed earlier this year. Abbott asked lawmakers to address concerns he had about the specificity of the bill and “over-criminalization.”

The Legislature just wrapped its second overtime round on Thursday, delivering on major conservative priorities like an elections law that restricts how and when voters cast ballots, a ban on how teachers can talk about race and history in classroomsbillions of dollars in additional border security funding and further restricting abortion access.

But lawmakers failed to deliver on two issues pushed by the GOP base: requiring transgender student athletes to play on teams based on the gender assigned to them at or near birth, and banning COVID-19 mandates.

Abbott had asked lawmakers to ban mask mandates in schools during the second special session but lawmakers could not get that proposal over the hump. Now, Abbott is asking the Legislature to decide whether state or local governments can mandate COVID-19 vaccines.

The bills about transgender student athletes and COVID-19 mandates will likely turn up the heat on an already contentious 30-day session. Lawmakers will take up their decennial redrawing of the state’s political maps, meaning some legislators will be fighting for their political lives. (Redistricting usually takes place during the first legislative session after the census, but it was delayed this year because of setbacks spurred by the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s handling of the census data.)

Like I said, we knew it was coming. I don’t know if the lawsuit that was filed by two State Senators to stop legislative redistricting will be successful, but I have to assume there will be a ruling of some kind before this session gets underway. The continued assault on trans kids is sadly unsurprising; the lack of a fraudit item is at least temporarily hopeful. I mean look, none of us want another special session. I’m sure that wearing us all down is part of the plan. But here we are anyway. Oh, and Abbott et al will try to do a bit of cleanup on the so-called “heartbeat bill” since none of them know how to talk about the lack of a rape or incest exemption. So we have that to look forward to as well.

The silence of the businesses

What if they passed a law that effectively nullified Roe v Wade and no one reacted? And by “no one”, I mean the businesses that had previously stood up for abortion rights in 2019 when multiple state legislatures were trying to pass other onerous restrictions?

In 2019, almost 200 corporate leaders stood up for abortion rights. Amid a rash of antiabortion legislation throughout the U.S. South, they said: no more. Abortion restrictions are bad for business.

On Wednesday, Texas enacted an abortion ban stricter than the ones that proliferated two years ago, thanks to its unprecedented “bounty hunting” clause that allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion conducted after six weeks of pregnancy. And yet this time around, the business backlash is missing.

“Their silence is shameful,” says Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy for Rhia Ventures who has worked to galvanize companies around reproductive rights. “Their very integrity is at stake.”

So why aren’t companies speaking up?

[…]

One reason companies have stayed silent is that—like their employees—firms have a lot on their plate in 2021. Their workforces are scattered remotely; the Delta variant is delaying return-to-office plans; COVID cases continue to rise. News about abortion bans didn’t dominate the news cycle leading up to this law in a way that pressured corporate leaders to respond. Texas’s abortion ban going into effect at midnight Wednesday—and the Supreme Court’s official decision not to intervene almost 24 hours later—took many people by surprise. “The overall level of corporate awareness around Texas is very slim,” says Jen Stark, senior director of corporate strategy for the Tara Health Foundation, an organization that advocates for gender equity and access to reproductive health care. “Some of this is pure bandwidth and capacity.”

But now that the Texas law is in effect, will companies finally speak up? Fortune reached out to about a dozen companies—from startups to Fortune 500 businesses—with a significant employee presence in Texas, including those that moved operations to the state over the past year. Most did not respond to a request for comment.

Bumble, the dating app business based in Austin, declined to comment but posted on Instagram that the company had created a “relief fund” to support people who seek abortions in Texas amid what the company called a “regressive law.” Bumble, led by CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd, is known for its outspokenness on issues of gender equity and has engaged in the Texas political process in the past, lobbying for legislation to penalize the unsolicited sending of lewd images.

The strongest Texas corporate response came from dating app competitor Match Group, which is headquartered in Dallas. Tinder, a Match company, signed the 2019 letter advocating against abortion restrictions. Match CEO Shar Dubey told employees on Wednesday that she would “set up a fund to ensure that if any of our Texas-based employees or a dependent find themselves impacted by this legislation and need to seek care outside of Texas, the fund will help cover the additional costs incurred.”

“The company generally does not take political stands unless it is relevant to our business,” Dubey wrote in a note to employees. “But in this instance, I personally, as a woman in Texas, could not keep silent.”

Employers are engaged on issues of gender equity; the challenge ahead for reproductive rights activists is to get companies to see abortion rights as part of their gender equity commitments. That’s a view already shared by large shares of their workforces; according to a new survey conducted in August by research firm PerryUndem, two-thirds of the college-educated workforce says Texas’s SB 8 would discourage them from taking a job in the state.

Companies that spoke out in favor of abortion rights in 2019 said that restricting access “threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our employees and customers.”

Stark, of Tara Health, rallied companies to sign the 2019 letter on abortion bans but has had mixed success in the years since getting businesses to speak up for reproductive rights at subsequent junctures. “If they don’t feel the squeeze, they try to run out the clock as long as they can,” Stark said of the challenges of getting companies to join these efforts.

There’s a Times story along the same lines. Companies respond to pressure, and right now they’re not feeling enough of it. There’s a lot of other news out there – 2019 was before COVID, after all, so the environment was different – and people are dealing with a lot. But we could also talk about the lack of response following the passage of the voter suppression bill, whose introduction earlier this year generated a lot of pushback as well but nary a peep this time around. (Same for the various anti-trans bills, though at least they still have not passed.) It’s hard to maintain energy and focus against an enemy that never quits. It’s never too late to start responding – we will have elections next year, remember – and of course the federal government could respond as well – like the business community, they also act when they feel the heat. But we do need to put that heat on all of them, because the next thing you know we’ll be onto whatever the next thing is. Daily Kos has more.

Sine die’d

Special session 2.0 is over. And what a lousy thing it was.

The Texas Legislature adjourned its second special session Thursday evening, ending a nearly 30-day stretch that was called to pass a GOP elections bill after House Democrats carried out a weekslong quorum break to block the passage of that legislation during the summer’s first overtime round.

The two chambers gaveled out minutes apart after giving final approval to a number of Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda items, including so-called critical race theory legislation and a bill that will, among other things, restore funding for the Legislature itself.

The House adjourned first, with House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, wishing members a happy Labor Day weekend before gaveling out.

Over in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told senators he was proud of their work and nodded to another yet-to-be-called special session that will focus on the redistricting process in the coming weeks — where lawmakers will draw new political maps for the state’s congressional delegation, the Legislature and the State Board of Education.

“We’ll be back soon,” he said. “There’s a little bit of unfinished business yet to be done.”

Earlier Thursday, state lawmakers passed legislation that restores funding for the Legislature — including salaries and benefits for some 2,100 state employees — that was set to run out at the end of the month after Abbott vetoed those dollars earlier this summer. The governor’s veto was intended as retribution for House Democrats who walked out of the Capitol in the final hours of the regular legislative session to block a GOP elections bill in May.

In addition to restoring the funding, the Legislature this week passed a similar version of that controversial GOP elections bill. State lawmakers also reworked the process for releasing accused criminals on bail, beefed up border security fundingexpanded virtual learning for studentsrestricted use of abortion-inducing drugs and banned the storage or disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas.

The small bit of good news is that the transgender sports bill and the last-minute fraudit bill did not pass, though as noted there will be another shot at that. Redistricting is up next, and the rumor mill suggests we will have two weeks off before the machinery cranks up again. I suppose it’s possible there could be a temporary restraining order in the lawsuit filed against doing legislative redistricting, but as Congressional redistricting would still be on the menu that would not stop the session from being needed. Anyway, enjoy the brief respite before the next bout of madness begins.

Of course there’s time for a stupid election “audit” bill

Of course there is.

Fresh off their success passing legislation to tighten Texas voting laws, Republicans in the Texas Senate are working to hastily push through a bill filed just two days ago that would pave the way for county audits of the 2020 general election and set new rules for handling charges of irregularity in future elections.

The Texas Senate signed off on Senate Bill 97 on a 17-14 vote Thursday to create a new county-level auditing process for elections and give all state or county party officials the ability to trigger mandatory reviews. It was filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who has acknowledged the Senate is “operating a little bit at warp speed” to move the legislation in the waning days of the special legislative session.

The bill was filed Tuesday, the same day the Senate suspended three rules so the legislation could be considered in committee the next morning. It was voted out Wednesday by the Republican-majority committee, setting it up to reach the Senate floor Thursday, where more rules were suspended to grant it swift passage.

It’s unclear whether the bill will make it to the governor’s desk before the end of the special session on Sunday. An identical bill was filed in the House on Wednesday but has not yet moved forward in that chamber.

“This bill, SB 97, is about election irregularities, giving a chance for the people involved to ask questions,” Bettencourt said before the Senate’s vote. “This is not about anything else except what gets measured gets fixed because if we know why they’ve had that discrepancy, we can fix the problem in the future.”

[…]

Under SB 97, state or county party chairs could mandate a review of the 2020 election simply by submitting a request in writing to a county clerk. Those election officials would then be responsible for forming an “election review advisory committee” based on a list of voters in the county submitted by Republican and Democratic county chairs.

The review would generally include all in-person and mail ballots from Election Day in randomly selected county precincts and some early voting ballots, giving committee members access to all of the ballots cast in three to five races, one of which must be for a federal office, a statewide office or a county office.

The Texas secretary of state would be charged with setting an “acceptable margin of error” between ballots and the final vote counts. Discrepancies outside the margin of error would trigger additional reviews, including a countywide audit for races for federal, statewide or county offices.

Audit results outside the margin of error would prompt an analysis by the secretary of state to determine likely causes for the discrepancies and recommended corrective action.

In future elections, a second part of the bill would allow candidates, county party chairs, presiding polling place judges or heads of political action committees that took a position on a ballot measure to push for audits if they suspect irregularities.

That process would begin with a written request to the county clerk for an “explanation and supporting documentation” for alleged irregularities or election code violations. If the person requesting the review is not “satisfied” with the response, they could request “further explanation.” If they are still unhappy, they could turn to the Texas secretary of state to request an audit of the issue.

If the secretary of state determines the county’s explanations are inadequate, it must immediately begin an audit of the issue at the expense of the county. If a violation is identified, the state can issue $500 penalties for each violation that is not corrected by the county clerk within 30 days.

It’s not as stupid and cynical as the fraudit proposed by Rep. Steve Toth, but it’s still stupid and cynical and completely unnecessary. It’s designed to sow doubt and uncertainty, and it’s going to be another hassle and unreimbursed expense for county election officials to deal with. Specifically, this is aimed at the big urban Democratic counties, though I suppose there’s nothing stopping Democrats in the other counties from doing the same thing. There may or may not be time for this to get a vote in the House even with the ridiculous speed this was given in the Senate, but there will be at least one more special session, and Greg Abbott wants to put this on the agenda, he can.

Final passage of the voter suppression bill

That’s all for now, we’ll see you in court for what will likely be a frustrating and unsatisfying denouement.

A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.

[…]

On Tuesday, Democrats decried the Senate’s objection to the Mason amendment, with state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, stating he hoped it was “not because they believe that more people in situations like that of Crystal Mason should be prosecuted or imprisoned.”

[Rep. Garnet] Coleman and Turner were part of the panel that worked out the final version of the bill in backroom talks. Despite their support for the amendment, House Republicans on that panel also signed off on removing it.

The amendment — offered by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud.

“We’re just ensuring that people who do innocent things are not harmed from their past mistakes,” Cain said before it was quickly adopted by the House last Thursday.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Her vote was never counted, and Mason has said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward to land the conviction, which was upheld by a state appeals court that ruled that the fact Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.” Her case is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters.

Cain’s amendment would have clarified existing law that currently defines illegal voting as an instance in which a person “votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote” by emphasizing that a person must be aware of the “particular circumstances that make the person not eligible” and also that “those circumstances make the the person not eligible” to vote.

Mason’s case has played out as Republicans’ baseless claims of rampant illegal voting have intensified. But with lack of widespread evidence, her case has landed among the handful of high-profile prosecutions of people of color.

Mason, who is Black, is appealing her case as the Texas attorney general’s office prosecutes Hervis Rogers, who is also Black, after he was featured in news coverage of the March 2020 primaries for being the last person to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston at 1 a.m. His registration was active even though he was a few months away from completing his parole as part of a 25-year prison sentence for burglary and intent to commit theft in 1995.

Hughes on Thursday said the amendment raised concerns for “people in the building” and “outside the building” that the language could go farther than intended, and noted he believed non-citizens who vote in elections should be prosecuted even if they were not aware they were ineligible. Notably, the Mason amendment could have also affected the state’s prosecution of Rogers, who was charged with two counts of illegal voting.

Hughes also noted the bill still includes language that would require proof beyond a provisional ballot for an attempt to cast an illegal vote to count as a crime.

See here and here for some background. Credit to Briscoe Cain (a phrase I am unlikely to type again anytime soon) but in the end it was more important for the Republicans to keep going after the likes of Hervis Rogers and Crystal Mason because there aren’t any real voter fraud cases for them to tout. Look, either we get the John Lewis Act through the US Senate, or this is our reality until Democrats have full control of state government and sufficient awareness that even the watered down two thirds rule is a trap that (like the filibuster) will not allow them to pass anything of substance. I don’t care to speculate when that might be.

“Big boy pants”

Some hot Dutton on Patrick action going on here.

Another partisan stalemate has broken out in the final days of the second special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott this year, again imperiling the jobs of 2,100 legislative staffers along with two key conservative priority bills.

On Monday night, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, abruptly adjourned the House Public Education Committee, which he chairs, without voting on two bills prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Senate: a bill that would limit how educators can teach social studies and talk about race at Texas public schools, referred to as the “critical race theory bill,” and another that would require transgender students to participate in sports based on the gender listed on their birth certificate instead of their gender identity.

“We have gotten to the point now where the Senate has adopted certain principles and practices that I don’t think bode well for this Legislature. I think that what’s happened is we have allowed them to do certain things and they disrespect the House in certain fashions,” Dutton said. “It has gotten worse to the point where today, what I am told, is that if we don’t pass these two bills — the [critical race theory] bill and the transgender bill — the Senate is not going to consider trying to fix the funding in Article X. So, I want to see if he has his big boy pants on. This meeting is adjourned.”

Article X refers to the section of the state budget that covers funding for the state Legislature and other independent agencies that support its work. Abbott vetoed legislative funding in June in retaliation for the defeat of his priority election and bail changes bills when Democrats first walked out of the House in May during the final days of the regular legislative session.

The Legislature was set to lose its funding this month, as the new fiscal calendar starts Wednesday, but Abbott and legislative leaders extended its funding through the end of September. Still, the Legislature has not passed a long-term solution for the rest of the next two-year budget cycle, putting in peril the livelihoods of the staffers funded through the Legislature. Lawmakers salaries are constitutionally protected and therefore not affected by Abbott’s veto.

House Bill 5, a wide-ranging bill that includes funding for a 13th check for retired schoolteachers and the restoration of legislative funding, was set to be heard on the chamber floor Monday, but its author, Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, suddenly postponed its consideration until Wednesday. On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, asked the House to reconsider the motion by which the bill was postponed, which would allow lawmakers to take up the bill immediately. The vote failed by a vote of 74-49.

Dutton did not say who had told him that the Senate would not pass the legislative funding bill until the House passed the two bills in his committee. His office has not returned a request for comment from The Texas Tribune. Patrick’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

I’ll never complain about someone spitting on Dan Patrick, but Harold Dutton is hardly a hero here. He has already shown that he doesn’t care about trans kids, and it’s clear that his interest here is in not getting rolled by the Senate. That said, no one with any power in the House has stood up for the restoration of Article X funding, which continues to be in jeopardy and clearly isn’t anything Dan Patrick cares about. It’s pathetic how little pushback Dade Phelan and the House Republicans have given to Greg Abbott on this, which leaves that task to the likes of Dutton, who does know what to do with the power he has. There’s no one to cheer for in this story, and I feel confident that Dutton will give Patrick what he is demanding if Patrick plays ball, but at least for now he’s standing for something worthwhile. The Chron has more.

It doesn’t matter what the polls say about the voter suppression bill

Here’s another poll to demonstrate why.

A new survey from Rice University underscores the deepening partisan chasm over provisions in the controversial GOP priority elections bill.

For example, 46 percent of Harris County Republicans polled who participated in the county’s 2020 innovation of drive-thru voting said they supported the bill’s proposal to ban the method, despite 70 percent rating their experience as “excellent.”

The poll confirms other research that has found that confidence in the 2020 presidential election was closely linked with a voter’s political party. The poll also shows that preference for provisions in the GOP elections bill scheduled to be debated in the Texas House today follows the same pattern, said Bob Stein, Rice University political science professor and a co-author of the poll.

“It’s the persistence of partisan polarization,” Stein said, adding that he was surprised that so many Republican drive-thru voters who said they would be interested in drive-thru voting again also said they would support outlawing it.

[…]

The majority of Harris County voters who used drive-thru and 24-hour voting, 53 percent and 56 percent respectively, are Black, Hispanic or of Asian descent, county data shows. Democrats say banning the methods will discourage minority participation in future elections.

Republicans, meanwhile, say the methods were never supposed to be allowed under Texas law and point to their lack of popularity.

For example, while drive-thru voting was the highest-rated method of voting, according to the poll, it was also not an option used by many in the county. About eight percent of Harris County voters, or more than 127,000, voted from their cars.

Still, political leanings influenced opinions, even among those who hadn’t used drive-thru voting themselves: 95 percent of Democratic voters opposed a ban on drive-thru voting while 71 percent of Republican voters approved.

Democrats and Republicans were also far apart on the issue of 24-hour driving, another target of the GOP elections bill. Ninety-two percent of Democrats did not want to see it banned, but 75 percent of Republicans did.

Polling data can be found here. This discussion has long since a meta-argument about rote talking points, but it’s still worth noting how ridiculous some of this is. It’s true that the 127K people who used drive through voting last year were a small fraction of the total number of voters, but that was the first time we ever tried that, and by any measure 127K people is a lot. It’s more than the number of people who voted by mail in 2016 or 2018, and we’ve had vote by mail for decades. I would bet decent money that if we continued to offer drive through voting, more and more people would take advantage of it, just as more and more people are now taking advantage of early voting. Back in 2002, fewer than one out of four voters voted early in person. In 2020, more than three out of four voters did so.

But like I said, none of this matters. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t even a suggestion of why drive through voting or 24-hour voting might be even slightly more susceptible to the microscopic amount of “voter fraud” that we currently experience, nor does it matter that all of these ideas, in addition to being useful and convenient and well-executed, were put in place as a way of making it easier and safer to vote in the midst of a global pandemic. None of these things were thought of by the previous Republican county clerks, and they hurt Donald Trump’s feelings, so they are Bad and they Must Be Stopped. That’s all you need to know. KHOU has more.

It’s fine

Some things never change.

The Texas House Democrats who bolted for roughly six weeks to stop the Legislature from passing new laws would have racked up about $20,000 each in fines under a rule change proposed to stop such quorum breaks in the future.

The rule, debated Saturday in a committee meeting, would not be applied retroactively, but it would add a $500 fine in the future for each day that a member skips a session without an excuse, leaving the House without the 100 members it needs to vote on bills. The rule would also allow the House to conduct some business even in the absence of a quorum. Committees and subcommittees could still meet and receive legislation, and the chamber could still receive messages from the governor and Senate.

“This rule is designed to keep members in their chairs. To stay, to talk, to debate, to not leave. But if they do leave, there are consequences associated with that,” said Rep. Drew Darby, a San Angelo Republican who is carrying the resolution.

There have only been a handful of quorum breaks in modern Texas politics, though the Democrats used walkouts in May and July to freeze the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Fines could be paid out of personal accounts or campaign accounts, and Darby noted that members could also use the $221 per diem they can collect when the governor calls them to Austin for a legislative session.

[…]

The change would last until House members return to Austin in 2023, at which point the Legislature would adopt new operating rules.

“Folks who left, I do not question their motive and their effort to represent the constituents they have. That is their duty and they operate under their duty as they perceive it,” Darby said, adding that what they did was in line with the rules at the time. Now it’s time to change those rules so it won’t happen again, he said.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 2003 Senate walkout will recall that the remaining Senators voted to impose a $5000-a-day fine on the quorum busters. That was never made official, since it was a vote taken in the absence of a quorum. I don’t remember if there were any significant rule changes made in either chamber for the 2005 session. The House votes on its rules at the start of each session, and surely someone can propose this. It would almost certainly be adopted if Republicans remain in charge. Heck, if Democrats manage to gain control they might be happy to enact such a rule change themselves, as it would be a way to blunt the impact of the hypothetical Republican minority. They wouldn’t, for temperamental and other reasons, but it would be hilarious to see the arguments about it if they did at least consider it. Anyway, the point is that there’s nothing that can or should be done this session. But each new session begins with a more or less clean slate, and so we’ll see what if anything the 88th Lege cares to do about this.

Other things the Lege has been up to

A brief roundup, to clear some tabs…

Bad Bail Bill 2.0 moves forward.

A sweeping revision of the process for releasing accused criminals on bail won initial approval from the Texas House on Friday night, nearly three months after the GOP-priority legislation stalled in the regular legislative session.

Senate Bill 6, which would require people accused of violent crimes to put up cash to get out of jail, tentatively passed the House on an 82-37 party line vote. The Senate passed the legislation earlier this month on a 27-2 vote.

A House committee advanced the bill Monday after taking out a controversial provision that would have restricted charitable groups from posting bail for defendants, a practice that gained popularity last summer when groups posted bail to release people arrested while protesting the death of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer.

On Friday, House members added a related provision back into the bill that does not limit the ability of such groups to post bail. Instead, the amendment would require charitable bail funds to be certified by county officials as nonprofit organizations and file reports on who they bond out of jail.

“The original bill that came over [from the Senate] was essentially going to outlaw … the charitable bail process,” said state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, on his amendment. “We made it very clear to the other side of the building that this would not stand.”

The bill still needs to pass the House a final time before it is sent back to the Senate, which can either accept the House changes or enter into closed-door negotiations. State Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who authored the bill, did not respond to questions about House changes this week.

See here and here for some background. This is bad, and there’s a decent chance parts if not all of it will eventually be found unconstitutional, but in the short term it will do some damage. Go read Grits for Breakfast or follow him on Twitter for a deeper dive.

Some virtual learning gets funded.

After months in limbo, Texas lawmakers took a step toward expanding and funding virtual learning as the pandemic still proves a threat to families not yet comfortable sending their children back to classrooms.

The Texas House approved Senate Bill 15 on Friday night in a 115-3 vote. The bill will go to a final reading and vote in the House before making its way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The House’s initial approval of the bill will give some parents a measure of relief that there could be more virtual learning options as the pandemic once again strains the state’s resources. Hospitalizations and cases are surging due to the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus.

Necessary, albeit regrettable. We wouldn’t be revisiting this topic if we had a better handle on COVID, but given that we are not we need to acknowledge reality where we can. This is one reasonable place to do so.

More border boondoggling.

The Texas House approved nearly $2 billion in additional funding for border security operations, giving Gov. Greg Abbott more state dollars to implement his plans to build a border wall and incarcerate migrants for state criminal offenses in an effort to deter migrants from coming to the state.

Lawmakers gave initial approval Friday to a funding bill by a vote of 81-38 that would triple what the state allocated for border security during the last biennium. The $1.88 billion appropriated by House Bill 9 is in addition to the $1.05 billion lawmakers approved for border security this spring.

“There’s a crisis on our southern border with serious consequences extending throughout our state,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who authored the bill. “Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep.”

In June, Abbott announced Texas would build a state-funded border wall to decrease the number of migrants entering through its border with Mexico. Earlier this year, the two-term Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star, an effort that directed state military and police resources to the border to aid local and federal authorities fighting the smuggling of people and drugs across the border.

Abbott, who is seeking reelection next year, had previously said he expects the state to build hundreds of miles of wall along the state’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico, but had not specified where the wall would be or how much it would cost.

This message has been paid for by the Greg Abbott campaign.

More money for “temporary” hospital workers.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that for the second time amid a recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations that Texas will increase the number of state-funded relief workers it will be sending to Texas hospitals, bringing the total to 8,100.

The Texas Department of State Health Services had previously authorized contracting 5,600 medical personnel, and Thursday’s announcement adds 2,500 more.

During the state’s winter COVID-19 surge, more than 13,500 temporary medical workers were deployed across the state, according to DSHS. Those numbers began to dwindle once cases started to decrease and vaccinations became more widely available.

Now, the highly-contagious delta variant has pushed the state to reverse course and again take the lead in alleviating staffing shortages as hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients and intensive care unit beds are becoming scarce. On Aug. 9, Abbott directed DSHS to use staffing agencies to secure out-of-state medical personnel for Texas hospitals and asked hospitals to voluntarily halt elective medical procedures.

The state will fully fund the temporary health workers through Sept. 30.

Not technically a Lege thing, but Lege-adjacent. See my previous point about things we wouldn’t need to be doing if we had handled COVID better. I have no idea where we will find all these relief workers, but that’s yet another mess Greg Abbott will have to clean up for himself.

And finally, one thing the Lege hasn’t been doing:

And yet here we are. Still not too late, I suppose, but with every passing day this becomes more and more true.

Voter suppression bill passes the House

It was always to be, it was just a matter of when.

After months of drama and political resistance, the curtain has lowered on Democratic attempts to stave off a far-reaching rewrite of the state’s voting laws coveted by Republicans seeking to retain their hold on power in a changing Texas.

One week after finally regaining enough members to conduct business, the Texas House slogged through a 12-hour floor debate Thursday before signing off on a slightly revised version of the Republican legislation that first prompted Democrats to stage a nearly six-week absence from the Capitol. The late-night 79-37 initial vote on Senate Bill 1 moved the state closer to enacting new voting restrictions, including limits on early voting hours and other measures opponents say will raise new barriers for marginalized voters, especially voters of color, who tend to vote Democratic, and those with disabilities.

The House returned Friday to give the bill final approval, 80-41, leaving the House and Senate to resolve their differences before the legislation heads to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“You largely did what you wanted in this bill. You kept changing the bill in the dark, and you backed off agreements we had from time to time that you made with some of us,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told the chamber’s Republicans before the Friday vote. “But make no mistake this is your bill, your idea, and you will be responsible for the consequences.”

Unlike in the spring regular legislative session, the two chambers are much more aligned in their proposals, with the House legislation embracing proposed restrictions it had not included in its previous version of the bill. On Thursday, it further amended various sections of the bill to more closely match the Senate’s version.

You can read the rest for the gory details. One hopes that a whole bunch of crap that was never debated or vetted will not be crammed into the conference committee version of the bill, as it was during the regular session, but as I’ve said before, Dan Patrick gets to have a say in that. There will be litigation, there will be hard questions and hard feelings for the Dems who came back and created the quorum, which was always going to happen eventually but which could and should have been done in a consensus manner, and there will be hope that the filibuster fanatics in the US Senate will figure out the existential nature of this crisis and pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would offer a strong bulwark against this kind of assault. That’s where we are, and now we get to try and stop the rest of the Greg Abbott Primary Campaign Agenda. Have a nice weekend. The Texas Signal has more.

Voter suppression bill passes out of House committee

Here we go again.

A Texas House committee on Monday advanced the GOP-backed voting restrictions bill that first prompted Democrats to stall legislative work during a weekslong quorum break.

The 9-5 party-line vote on the revived legislation, Senate Bill 1, is part of a third bid to enact proposals that would outlaw local efforts to make it easier to vote, ratchet up vote-by-mail rules and bolster protections for partisan poll watchers. It comes just days after the House regained enough Democrats to restart business following a nearly six-week exodus over the minority party’s opposition to the voting legislation.

With the second special legislative session past the halfway mark, the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies opted to replace the Senate’s bill with language from its own bill, House Bill 3. That means the House is essentially starting over with the same exact proposals that instigated a stalemate in the chamber following Democrats’ departure to Washington, D.C., in early July.

State Rep. Andrew Murr, the Junction Republican authoring the legislation, indicated he could “foresee” at least some changes to the legislation when it reaches the House floor, though it remains unclear how expansive those amendments could be.

“We’re picking up right where we left off from and so those changes are yet to come,” Murr told the committee.

He had faced questions from Democrats over possible revisions in light of an overnight hearing last month that garnered more than 12 hours of deliberations and public testimony, largely against the legislation, during which there seemed to be some tenuous consensus, including on possibly mandating training for poll watchers.

[…]

As they returned to the Capitol in larger numbers Monday, Democrats indicated they remained optimistic about successfully fighting the bill during the House’s floor debate. State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, pointed to Democrats’ ability to cut a deal on what was a pared down version of the bill during the regular legislative session. After the House approved that version in May, lawmakers reshaped the bill behind closed doors so that it swelled beyond what each chamber initially approved.

That reworked version of the bill instigated Democrats’ first quorum break at the end of the regular legislative session; it also served as the blueprint for the current legislation under consideration.

“We had a version of what was SB 7 leave this House in far better shape than it got here,” Anchía said. “We expect to be part of the process just like we were during the regular session.”

I mean, I dunno, maybe. It might take a little of the sting out of the restoration of the quorum, or at least provide the argument for doing so. Maybe this time they’ll at least listen to what all the advocates for the disabled community were saying about how the bill harms them. I just know that Dan Patrick is still going to get a say in what the final bill looks like, and there’s no reason to be optimistic about that. But the train has left the station, and all we can do is try to keep it from going off the rails.

The bail bill and the quorum

Now that there’s a quorum (or a “quorum”, if you prefer) in the State House again, bills other than the voter suppression bill are getting hearings and will be moved forward for votes. Nearly all of them are terrible, and most of them will breeze on through, but some of them may run into some resistance. These bills may actually have trouble passing if there are enough Democrats to vote against them. I say all that as preamble to say that there are reasons why legislators who had previously held firm on breaking quorum may want to reconsider.

A Texas House committee controlled by Republicans held off on advancing their party’s priority bail reform bill after a four-hour hearing Saturday, during which lawmakers from both parties took aim at a provision that would bar most charitable organizations from posting bail for certain defendants.

The news came as a pleasant surprise to opponents who expected the controversial measure to advance after state Rep. Trent Ashby, a Lufkin Republican in charge of the committee, announced at the outset of the hearing that he would call for a vote before adjourning.

Reversing course hours later, Ashby said the committee would probably consider the bill at its Monday hearing on unrelated legislation, citing the need for lawmakers to address issues raised during public testimony Saturday. He did not say how lawmakers might amend the 35-page bill, though a majority of committee members — including two Republicans who voted to advance prior versions — appear to oppose the restrictions on charitable bail organizations.

“What difference does it make where the money comes from?” said state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. “If this is a way just to pay the bail bondsmen, let’s just say it.”

While Geren and state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, expressed newfound criticism of that portion of the bill, Saturday’s hearing otherwise closely resembled one held six weeks ago, when the same committee advanced an earlier iteration of the measure on a party-line vote.

Those who support the bill, most of whom are Republicans, continued to argue that the measure would crack down on the growing number of defendants charged with new felonies and misdemeanors while out on bond — a tally that has tripled in Harris County since 2015 — by limiting the opportunity for defendants to be released on no-cost personal bonds and giving judges more information about a defendant’s criminal history when setting bail.

The mostly Democratic opponents of the bill also rehashed their argument that the limits on no- and low-cost bonds would do nothing to curtail violent crime, with some pointing to a Houston Chronicle analysis that found most people accused of murder while out on bond in Harris County had secured their release by paying bail — a circumstance not directly addressed in the bill. They also say the proposed restrictions on personal bonds are overly expansive and would further overcrowd Texas jails, exacerbating an already massive backlog of cases that they say is mostly what’s driving the problem.

See here for the previous update. Let’s be clear about a couple of things. There’s plenty more about this bill that’s bad than just the ban on charitable organizations paying for bail. It would be simple enough for the Republicans to remove that provision (as they did with the “souls to the polls” and “make it easy for a judge to overturn an election” parts of the voter suppression bill), then pat themselves on the back and have it all declared to be fixed and vote it forward. They could also strip that provision from the House version, then have it added back in when it goes to conference committee. Dems have extremely limited power here, but if they are in full attendance that at least reduces the margin of error Republicans have, and allows for the possibility that the bill could just die because there weren’t enough votes for it. That’s a victory that has a chance to be longer-term. There are no guarantees – indeed, I’d call this scenario against the odds – but it could happen. But only if there are enough Democrats present to make that an actual possibility.

I’m not arguing for or against what any individual member should do at this point. There are still legitimate concerns for the remaining holdouts, and there needs to be a lot of work done to repair relationships where possible. All I am saying here is that now that there is a quorum, and other bills are being brought up for hearings and votes, the decision to attend or not at this point is more complex and nuanced than it was before. Please take that into consideration when other members of the Democratic caucus do or do not announce their return.

Is it really a quorum?

It is if no one is counting too closely.

Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP’s priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity,” Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum” and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way.”

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern.” He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House next meets on Monday.

[…]

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor’s edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can’t do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey’s seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco’s seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members that effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leadership actually counts how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement” of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?” one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

See here for the previous entry. Monday is a hearing day for the voter suppression bill, so if there is going to be a quorum challenge, that would be the day to do it. It’s also possible – likely, perhaps – that more Dems will be there on Monday on the grounds that once the session has begun and business will be conducted, there’s little value in continuing to stay away. At that point, you may as well fight it out in person as best you can. It’s a fight you’ll lose, of course, but the alternative is losing by forfeit. There is definitely a big conversation to be had about why some members decided now was the time to return, but that’s for another day. This is the task at hand. Stace, who focuses on the latest voting rights bill in DC – it is very much not too late to pass that bill, and as an extra added bonus it would defang the Supreme Court and its ability to rubber stamp voter suppression – has more.

We have a quorum

Welp.

For the first time in nearly six weeks, enough lawmakers were present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that prompted Democrats to flee the state in July in an effort to shut down the legislation.

[…]

Although the House reached the minimum number of lawmakers to conduct official business Thursday, it’s unclear whether the chamber will be able to maintain those numbers for the duration of the second special session, which ends Sept. 5.

The House’s return to regular order was boosted by the return of several Democrats who had opted to stay away during the first special session. Democrats like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville had boosted the chamber’s numbers after holding out during the first special session.

On Wednesday night, Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman told The Dallas Morning News that he would be returning to the chamber, bringing the House one lawmaker closer to the 100 lawmakers it needed to conduct business. When San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco’s resignation went into effect Thursday, the quorum requirement dropped to 99 lawmakers. (Pacheco is reportedly resigning to teach public administration at San Antonio College).

Houston Democrats Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez joined Coleman in his return Thursday evening, with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman who’d recently undergone surgery on his leg.

In a joint statement, the three Democrats said they were “proud of the heroic work and commitment” their caucus had shown in breaking quorum.

“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access. Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation,” the statement read. “Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”

The lawmakers pointed to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, an overwhelmed hospital system and the return of children to school as efforts that the Legislature needed to work on.

“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events,” the statement said.

Suffice it to say that the reaction I’ve seen from folks on Twitter is not particularly positive to this. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I don’t understand the thinking here. Maybe it will make more sense in the coming days, but right now you can count me among the puzzled and disbelieving. The Senate has already passed all of Abbott’s bills, so at any time the House will be able to finish the job, and that will more or less be that.

This was going to have to happen sooner or later, it was just a matter of how. I would have preferred it to be a consensus decision, but here we are. There is another voting rights bill queued up in Congress, with our friend Sen. Manchin as a co-sponsor, and while it will get an August vote there’s still no indication that it will get a waiver on the filibuster. Maybe that does pass, and the Texas Dems are cited as an inspiration, and I’ll feel differently. Right now, I’m not sure what was accomplished. The Chron has more.

Still no Dems arrested yet

Finally, a story that points out the same thing I’ve been saying about those arrest warrants.

More than a week after Republicans in the Texas House voted to authorize arrests of their quorum-busting Democratic colleagues, no such roundup has come to fruition.

As of Wednesday, there were no known cases of absent Democrats being arrested, and the chamber was still shy of the 100 members it needs for a quorum to conduct official business. That is despite its Aug. 10 vote to proceed with the arrests, Speaker Dade Phelan’s signing of 52 warrants later that day and his announcement two days later that the House sergeant-at-arms had deputized state law enforcement to track down the missing Democrats.

So far, it appears that their bark is worse than their bite: Grand Prairie Rep. Chris Turner, the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday that “the only thing that [he’s] aware of is that the House sergeant-at-arms has paid a visit to some members’ homes.”

Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said Wednesday that the House sergeant-at-arms and law enforcement had “already visited several major metropolitan areas” to try and locate absent members “and will continue to do so until quorum is reached.”

But it’s still unclear whether the situation will escalate to the point of actual civil arrests, which Rep. Jim Murphy of Houston, the chair of the House Republican Caucus, acknowledged during a caucus news conference on Monday at the Capitol.

“I don’t know that they’re gonna go to that level,” Murphy said. “At this point it’s more like a jury summons … a paper that’s delivered, and that’ll be another conversation down the line.”

Law enforcement, Murphy added, is “still out there talking to people, visiting homes and businesses, and then hopefully we get enough of them to come back. We don’t need all of them to come back, just more.”

[…]

One of the quorum-breakers, Rep. Vikki Goodwin of Austin, said a paper arrest warrant was left on her front porch last week. She said lawyers have told Democrats that if law enforcement tries to arrest them, they should not resist but should make clear they would not be willingly going to the House floor.

“I think it’s just an intimidation tactic, trying to get members to come back because there is this outstanding arrest warrant,” Goodwin said. “I think it doesn’t really show well if they physically detain us.”

A House sergeant visited the Houston home of another quorum-breaker, Rep. Jon Rosenthal, on Tuesday, according to his chief of staff, Odus Evbagharu.

Both Goodwin and Rosenthal have declined to share any details about their locations, other than that they are no longer in Washington, D.C. More than 50 Democrats fled to the nation’s capital at the start of the first special session last month, protesting the GOP’s priority elections bill.

Yeah, I don’t think anyone is afraid of a “jury summons”. It’s like I’ve been saying, what are the mechanics for actually getting a quorum-busting Dem to the House floor? It always struck me as wildly implausible that there would be handcuffs and a potentially hours-long ride in a police car to accomplish this, but in the absence of that how would it work? I’m just glad to see it be acknowledged as such.

SCOTx confirms quorum-busting Dems can be arrested

I thought this had been settled already, but I guess not.

Texas House Democrats who refuse to show up to the state Capitol in their bid to prevent Republican lawmakers from passing a voting restrictions bill can be arrested and brought to the lower chamber, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The all-Republican court sided with Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan — and ordered a Travis County district judge to revoke his temporary restraining order blocking the civil arrest of Democratic lawmakers whose absences have denied the chamber the number of present members needed to move any legislation.

“The legal question before this Court concerns only whether the Texas Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote in the court’s opinion. “We conclude that it does, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw the TRO.”

The state Supreme Court already has blocked court rulings in Travis and Harris counties to shield the quorum-busting Democrats from arrest — but Tuesday’s ruling signified that it’s legal under the state Constitution for House leaders to compel members to be physically present in the House, even if it means their arrest.

See here and here for the background that I had. I feel like I must be missing another story or two, but there’s been so much news the past couple of weeks who can even tell? Anyway, to me the question remains will any law enforcement officer actually do this? It’s not just the arresting part, it’s the transporting them to Austin part. I know that things like “norms” and “precedent” are basically meaningless these days, and that we have all been experiencing too many things we once thought could never happen, but I still have a hard time believing this. One way or another, I guess we’ll find out.

Still no quorum, and no Dem legislators rounded up yet

And I’m still not sure what exactly will happen when and if a law enforcement officer stumbles across one of the wayward legislators.

The hunt for missing Democratic Texas House members escalated late Thursday and Friday, as the sergeant-at-arms and law enforcement visited some of the absentees’ homes with the aim of bringing them to the Capitol.

Earlier this week, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan issued civil arrest warrants for 52 Democrats who have refused to report to the House for a month now, depriving the Republican majority of the 100-member quorum needed to vote on legislation during two special sessions.

The warrants allow law enforcement to order, and even escort, members back to the chamber. But given that they are not guilty of a crime, members are not at risk of going to jail.

The first step in the search came Wednesday, when the sergeant-at-arms stopped by the Democrats’ Capitol offices and left copies of the warrants with their staffs.

On Thursday and Friday, law enforcement visited the homes of at least a few Austin Democrats, with the aim of bringing them back to the chamber, but found none of them.

[…]

Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, returned to Texas last week but has not disclosed his location. He said Friday that he was unaware of any widespread effort to “physically collect folks” and was for the most part going about his life.

“I’m certainly not running around wearing Jon Rosenthal campaign gear or anything like that,” he said. “But I feel comfortable being outside and doing the things that normal humans do.”

An engineer by training, Rosenthal said he was still having meetings with constituents by phone or Zoom, as he has throughout much of the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t engage in anything like this if it wasn’t such an important, fundamental core issue,” he said.

Also Friday, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urged the Justice Department in a letter to intervene in Texas and determine that Abbott and Republican lawmakers were engaging in a civil rights conspiracy and violating Democratic members’ constitutional rights by using the threat of a civil arrest to compel attendance. The process for restoring a quorum is outlined in rules of the House that were unanimously adopted by members, including the Democrats, in the spring.

Johnson said he’d spoken with Black lawmakers — Reps. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, Joe Deshotel of Beaumont and Ron Reynolds of Missouri City — and all of them supported Justice Department intervention.

See here and here for some background. The NAACP intervention is spurred in part by some yahoos offering a bounty to police officers for catching the Dems, which is very much the sort of thing no one should be encouraging. Again, I have no idea how this all plays out. How much does law enforcement even care about this? And what is the plan if and when they find someone? I don’t think anyone knows. I think when a police officer happens to encounter one of the quorum busters, no one has a clear idea of what happens next. I mean, given that it’s not a criminal warrant and there’s no threat of arrest, what is to stop the legislator from just walking away? All of this is completely half-baked, and is headed for a farce. Whatever the Republicans think they’re going to get out of this, I doubt they will be satisfied.

Alvarado’s filibuster ends

It was a strong effort, and she deserves credit for it.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

After 15 hours of speaking nearly nonstop against the GOP’s priority elections bill, State Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, concluded her filibuster on Thursday morning.

“Voter suppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere,” Alvarado said in her closing remarks, as fellow Democrats surrounded her to show their support.

Yet, as expected, after Alvarado got some hugs and took a seat to rest her feet, the Senate voted 18-11 along party lines to advance the bill and send it to the House, where it will be stalled by a Democratic walkout that has lasted a month.

While Alvarado’s filibuster could not — and did not — kill the bill, it exemplifies the at-all-costs attitude the Democrats are bringing to their opposition to it. Alvarado acknowledged that the tactic was a temporary measure in an interview with the Texas Tribune.

“I’m using what I have at my disposal in the Senate,” Alvarado told the outlet. “The filibuster isn’t going to stop it, but a filibuster is also used to put the brakes on an issue — to call attention to what is at stake — and that is what I am doing.”

See here for the background. The point here isn’t about winning – Dems know they’re outnumbered and cannot hold off any of these bills if they come to the floor. The point is about fighting, and showing your voters that you’re fighting. Midterms are about turnout, and you can’t win if your voters aren’t engaged. It’s the same principle as with the quorum-busting, though that also had other purposes, such as directly lobbying Congress and focusing national attention on the issue. You do what you can so that in the end you can say you did all you could. Sen. Alvarado did all she could.

As for the quorum-busters, they’re back on the lam.

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday overruled a Houston judge who had provided Texas House Democrats with the legal shelter they requested to avoid civil arrest for absconding from the state Capitol.

After Houston Rep. Gene Wu successfully challenged his warrant in Harris County state district court on Wednesday, 44 additional Democrats had followed in his footsteps, hoping for the same outcome.

The stay from the state’s highest civil court came swiftly, potentially scrambling the plans of those Democrats and others who’d made plans to return home.

A dwindling number of House members remain in Washington, D.C., where they have spent a month rallying for federal voting rights legislation that would supersede existing Texas elections laws as well as bills that Republicans are pushing in Austin. The Democrats have until Monday to respond in court.

“Despite the high court’s ruling, Texas House Democrats remain committed to fighting back with everything we have to protect Texans from Republicans’ repeated attacks on our freedom to vote,” Wu said in a statement on behalf of the caucus. “Instead of trying to calm the situation and find ways to peacefully resolve the situation, Texas Republicans continue to add more fuel to this fire. We will not be deterred. If anything, this action continues to solidify our resolve to stand up for Texans.”

In his motion to the high court, the state’s Solicitor General Judd E. Stone had warned that Wu’s court order could have a domino effect.

“Without this court’s intervention, every truant member of the House will follow the lead of Representative Wu, file habeas petitions in trial courts throughout the state, disrupt the ability of the Legislature to obtain a quorum, and undercut this court’s ability to achieve an orderly and efficient resolution of identical issues presented,” Stone wrote.

[…]

Several Houston-area representatives, including Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Hubert Vo, were pre-emptively released from potential custody on Thursday as a result of the newest writs, attorney Romy Kaplan said.

Three hearings tomorrow concern non-Houston-area representatives, who will be appearing via Zoom to put themselves in Harris County’s jurisdiction, Kaplan said.

A hearing is also scheduled for next Thursday in district Judge Chris Morton’s court. He said his approval of Wu’s writ on Wednesday was conditional, and he will further explore his jurisdiction over the case and over the House of Representatives’ sergeant-at-arms in Austin.

See the same link for the background; I’m trying to conserve resources by combining some of these stories into single posts. The Trib adds some details.

Texas law enforcement was deputized Thursday to track down Texas House Democrats still missing from the chamber and bring them to the state Capitol in Austin, a process that Speaker Dade Phelan’s office said “will begin in earnest immediately.”

The news came as the Texas Supreme Court cleared the way for their civil arrests after it temporarily blocked Harris County judges’ orders protecting 45 Democrats from such a move.

Law enforcement was tapped “to assist in the House’s efforts to compel a quorum,” Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said in an emailed statement. Earlier this week, Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, signed warrants for those missing lawmakers, many of whom have refused to return to the chamber for weeks to block a GOP elections bill. Their absence has prevented the chamber from having a quorum, the number of present lawmakers needed to move legislation.

If lawmakers are arrested, they will not face criminal charges or fines and could only be brought to the House chamber.

[…]

After Wu was granted his request for temporary protection Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made clear he would fight that order in a similar manner to how the state fought a previous temporary restraining order by a state district judge in Travis County that also sought to block the arrest of the quorum-breaking Democrats.

In that case, the Supreme Court voided the order temporarily on Tuesday, though Democrats have said they plan to push forward in their request for a temporary injunction on Aug. 20. If granted, that injunction could again grant them protection from arrest.

I mean, the real question at this point is what exactly happens when a law enforcement officer finds a wayward lawmaker? Are they going to slap cuffs on them, throw them in a car and drive them to Austin? Call Speaker Phelan and tell him to, I don’t know, send an Uber? This may wind up being a lot of commotion over nothing, because I just can’t quite see how any of this brings a currently absent member to the House floor. Maybe we’ll find out – I hope we don’t, but we are in completely uncharted waters. I just have no idea what to expect.

In the meantime, as the Senate passed SB1, the House prepped HB3 to bring to the floor, with no public hearings because why would they want to do that. We know what will happen if there is a quorum again. Until then, I have no freaking idea.

The Alvarado filibuster

Wear comfortable shoes, Senator.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

The GOP voting restrictions push that left the Texas House scrambling to round up absent Democrats also shut down work in the Texas Senate on Wednesday evening as state Sen. Carol Alvarado launched into a filibuster against the GOP’s priority voting bill.

“I rise today to speak against Senate Bill 1,” Alvarado said, beginning her filibuster just before 5:50 p.m. as the chamber approached a final vote on the target of the Houston Democrat’s efforts.

Though Democrats are outnumbered in the chamber, they are occasionally able to foil legislation by speaking on it indefinitely — usually ahead of a key deadline or the end of the legislative session. Alvarado’s filibuster, however, likely will end up being more of a symbolic gesture than a credible attempt to block passage of the bill. The Legislature is on just the fifth day of a 30-day special session, called as Democrats have left the House without enough members present for the Republican majority in that chamber to pass legislation.

“Senate Bill 1 slowly but surely chips away at our democracy. It adds rather than removes barriers for Texas seniors, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Asian and Latino voters from the political process,” Alvarado said at the start of her filibuster. “[President Lyndon B. Johnson] said the Voting Rights Act struck away the last major shackle of the fierce and ancient bond of slavery. Senate Bill 1 is a regressive step back in the direction of that dark and painful history.”

Ahead of her filibuster, Alvarado told The Texas Tribune she would be using a “tool in our box that is a Senate tradition” just as House Democrats were using their quorum break to block the bill and vowed to keep going “as long as I have the energy.”

“I’m using what I have at my disposal in the Senate,” Alvarado said, acknowledging the bill would eventually pass in the Senate. “The filibuster isn’t going to stop it, but a filibuster is also used to put the brakes on an issue — to call attention to what is at stake — and that is what I am doing.”

To sustain the filibuster, Alvarado must stand on the Senate floor, without leaning on her desk or chair, and speak continuously. If she strays off topic, her effort can be shut down after a series of points of order.

I trust we all remember that from the Wendy Davis filibuster of 2013. As the Chron story reminds us, Davis talked for 11 hours, which wound up being just enough. Of course, the omnibus anti-abortion bill she stalled out wound up passing in a subsequent special session, so “victory” in these matters is somewhat ephemeral. The longest filibuster, according to that same story, was 43 hours. Maybe we could get a few more Senators to follow her in doing this? I don’t know what the rules allow. In any event, I wish Sen. Alvarado all the best with this, I appreciate what she is doing, and I hope her fellow Democrats are there to support her.

Meanwhile, over in the House:

State Rep. Gene Wu is expected to temporarily avoid arrest after he legally challenged a warrant for his apprehension, also issued to 51 other House Democrats absent from the special session in protest of voting restrictions legislation.

The rare action over a civil warrant led to some head-scratching Wednesday in the 230th Criminal District Court, including from presiding Judge Chris Morton. After a brief recess, he determined that he did have jurisdiction to grant a “writ of habeas corpus” in the case, essentially trumping the state’s civil warrant for Wu and releasing him from potential custody until the court determines the legality of the warrant.

Wu’s attorneys added that they are part of a group of lawyers across the state who came together to fight for the right to vote. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg surmised that she also expects to see more cases like Wu’s appear in local courts.

“This is a reminder to Gov. Abbott that we still live in a democracy,” Wu said after his court appearance. “We will do everything we can to make sure the right to vote is protected for all Texans.”

When asked whether he has any plans to return to Austin, Wu responded, “Hell no.”

[…]

Morton on Wednesday acknowleged the unusuality of the case before him. He questioned whether he has jurisdiction in a criminal court, and whether his court had jurisdiction over the sergeant-at-arms who distributed the arrest warrants to the 52 Democrats’ offices Wednesday at the Capitol.

He also told Wu’s attorneys that they should have contacted the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and his decision could change depending on their response.

“This is a novel issue to say the least,” Morton said.

Ogg on Wednesday represented her office at the hearing, where she said she didn’t oppose any sort of bond or continuance in the case. But, she made clear that she doesn’t believe this is a criminal issue.

“We don’t believe that the courts, the criminal courts, should be a place where political differences are litigated,” she said.

She added later that she personally supports what the Democrats have done related to the voting legislation.

Attorneys Stan Schneider, Romy Kaplan and Brent Mayr additionally asked for a personal bond to be issued for Wu in the event he was arrested. Morton did not grant a personal bond because he said Wu hasn’t been charged with a crime.

The trio hoped that eventually Morton would take up the issue of the warrant’s constitutionality. The Republicans’ actions on Tuesday were illegal, they said, because they did not have a quorum.

“We have an oppressive order from a tyrannical king,” Mayr said to the judge. “And we are asking you to say no.”

Schneider added Wednesday that Wu’s case should be in criminal court because “an arrest is an arrest,” even if it’s labeled as a civil one.

I don’t know what to make of all this, but unprecedented situations can and do lead to weird questions arising. Also, Rep. Wu was an assistant DA before he was elected to the Lege, so he has some insight into this, and I’m sure filed this writ with some strategy in mind. But we’ll see what comes of it.

Supreme Court tosses no-arrest order

Things just got more interesting.

House Democrats who refuse to show up for the Legislature could soon be detained by law enforcement and brought back to the state Capitol, after the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday voided a state district judge’s temporary restraining order barring their arrest.

The all-Republican high court’s order came at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, also both Republicans, who petitioned the court on Monday to overturn a recent ruling by a Travis County district judge that blocked them from ordering the arrest of quorum-busting Democrats, who were in Washington, D.C., for about a month. The House Democrats in the suit have until Thursday at 4 p.m. to respond to the court. Democrats who are arrested would not face criminal charges and could not be jailed or fined. Law enforcement officers carrying out arrest orders by state officials could only try to bring them to the House chambers.

[…]

Without the Supreme Court’s intervention, Abbott and Phelan would have had no assurance whether the temporary restraining order would be lifted, and such orders are not appealable. The first scheduled hearing in district court is set for Aug. 20, when Judge Brad Urrutia would decide whether to grant Democrats a temporary injunction. Waiting until then “virtually guarantees that no significant legislation will be passed during this session,” Judd E. Stone II, the state’s solicitor general, argued in his emergency motion to the Supreme Court.

The state also argued that the Supreme Court’s action is warranted because the House speaker is immune from suits for legislative acts.

“Compelling the attendance of absent members by the House is a quintessential legislative act,” the state’s motion read, adding that Urrutia’s “hasty” order “ignores this fundamental principle.”

The state also argued that the House Democrats’ claims are “quintessential political questions” that lie beyond a court’s power to decide. The House’s rules allow for present members to compel the attendance of missing lawmakers, and at least 41 other states have similar provisions in their constitutions, the motion read.

In a response, lawyers for the House Democrats who received the temporary restraining order said the state sought an order that will free it to “to forcibly arrest political opponents who have committed no crime.”

Unlike other states, whose rules only require the presence of a majority of members to reach quorum, Texas requires a two-thirds supermajority “because the framers of the Texas Constitution prioritized high levels of participation and consensus-building in legislative decision making, even if it increased the costs of the process and the possibility that the process could deadlock,” the Democrats’ lawyers argued.

“In other words, the architects of the Texas government fully expected, and even encouraged, the power of a cohesive minority of members to ‘bust the quorum’ as a means of participation in the decision-making process,” their response read, adding that the Democrats were “acting like true Texans.”

They also argued that the state did not prove it would be harmed if the Supreme Court did not grant a stay, while the House Democrats — some of whom had already returned to the state on the understanding that Urrutia’s order protected them from arrest — would suffer harm.

Once one of those lawmakers was arrested “without a premeditating crime or due process, the Court cannot un-ring that bell,” the Democrats’ lawyers argued.

See here for the background. I don’t care for this ruling, and I agree that the power to arrest political opponents, even in this limited circumstance, is one we should be extremely reluctant to allow, but I can see the state’s argument, at least from a procedural perspective. I could also note that as Abbott has unlimited power to call special sessions, the “nothing can get done till we get a ruling on the TRO” assertion rings a little hollow. I mean, other than the Article X funding, which could have been done and dusted in the first session, before the quorum break, if Dade Phelan and Dan Patrick had chosen to prioritize it, none of these items needs to happen any time soon.

As noted, the Dems have until tomorrow to respond, and I guess then SCOTx will either let this order stand or revise it. The still-quorumless House voted to send law enforcement out for the absentees, though who knows what will come of that. I really don’t expect anyone to actually be arrested, but we’ll see. That later Trib story mentions a couple of Dems – Reps. Celia Israel and Jon Rosenthal – who are apparently in the state but not at the Capitol. Maybe they should avoid being at home for the next few days, or at least not answer the doorbell. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Warrants have been signed for 52 missing Dems. Place your bets on how many actually get arrested and/or dragged into the Capitol.

Supreme Court upholds Abbott’s power grab

Ugh.

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from several Democratic House members and state employees asking the justices to overturn Gov. Greg Abbott’s veto of legislative funding in the upcoming two-year state budget.

Abbott vetoed the funding in June after House Democrats walked out during the final days of the regular legislative session in May, killing two of his priority bills on elections and changing the state’s bail system. Abbott then brought the Legislature back for a special session to get the bills passed, but more than 50 House Democrats again broke quorum — denying the lower chamber of the number of present members needed to move bills — by decamping to Washington, D.C., until the 30-day session ended Friday.

Democrats challenged Abbott’s veto in court, saying it stripped their power as a “co-equal branch of government.” But the Texas Supreme Court on Monday sided with Abbott on his veto that will effectively defund the Texas Legislature, its staffers and legislative agencies later this year.

[…]

In an unsigned opinion, the all-Republican court said the lack of funding for the legislative branch “continues to exist not because of a dispute between the Governor and the Legislature, nor even because of one between the Governor and a minority of House members. Rather, the principal dispute is among the members of the Legislature.”

“This political dispute within the legislative branch is not an issue of separation of powers that we can decide,” the court said in its opinion.

[…]

The court said House Democrats could have worked with other lawmakers during this year’s first special sessions to reinstate Article X of the state budget, which covers legislative funding, without having to pass any other bills. They also could have worked with their fellow lawmakers to pass the bill more than 10 days before adjournment, which would have made it veto-proof. But they chose not to do so.

“Relators argue that the Governor is unconstitutionally coercing them to vote for legislation that he favors. But the Governor has not forced the Legislature to enact his priorities before addressing its own funding,” the opinion read. “The Legislature was free to use the special session to reinstate Article X funding. It could have done so without addressing any of the other items listed in the Governor’s call.”

“[T]he Governor’s veto of Article X followed by his call of a special session neither prevents the Legislature from funding itself nor forces the Legislature to enact legislation of the Governor’s choosing,” the opinion read.

The court noted that Abbott was trying to advance his favored pieces of legislation but that a majority of lawmakers in the GOP-dominated Legislature also supported those bills.

The court said the Democrats’ alleged injury may have started with Abbott’s veto, but continued only because they could not agree with their fellow lawmakers “over the order in which to consider legislation.”

You can read the unsigned opinion – there’s a load of political courage, I tell you – here. I didn’t expect the Supreme Court to wade into this, when it would be so much easier to avoid it, but this is just sophistry. The only reason there was a special session is because Abbott called one, as he has the sole power to call them. Would the Supreme Court feel differently if he hadn’t, or if he hadn’t added Article X funding to the special session agenda, another thing he has control over? Or is it now the case that constitutional separation of powers is entirely dependent on the calendar?

It is what it is at this point. The Article X funding will get restored, likely pretty soon at this point, and we’ll all go on our merry voter-suppression way. Just don’t come crying to me when a future Governor zeroes out Supreme Court funding. The Chron has more.

You can’t arrest the quorum-busters, at least not yet

Good to know.

A state district judge in Travis County issued an order blocking the arrest of House Democrats who have broken quorum by leaving the state, paving the way for those who remain outside of Texas to return home without threat of apprehension.

State District Judge Brad Urrutia, a Democrat, granted the temporary restraining order late Sunday night restricting Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan from “detaining, confining or otherwise restricting” the free movement of House Democrats within the state or issuing any warrants ordering their confinement.

The order expires in 14 days unless extended by Urrutia. The court will hear arguments on a temporary injunction on Aug. 20 where Abbott and Phelan must show why a temporary injunction should not be filed against them.

[…]

The petition for the restraining order appears to be preemptive in nature, as the House has not yet voted to renew a call of the House in the second special session which began Saturday.

“[T]he Speaker thinks he can wave his hand and have his political opponents rounded up and arrested. We’re watching a major political party backslide in real time from fair representation, the rule of law, and democracy itself,” said Dallas State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Enrique Marquez, a Phelan spokesman, said Monday morning the speaker’s office had not yet been notified of the suit or restraining order. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 19 House Democrats by attorneys Samuel E. Bassett, Jeremy Monthy and Megan Rue.

“No matter what the Governor or Speaker have said, it is a fundamental principle in this country that no one has the power to arrest their political opponents. That is why this action had to be filed,” Bassett said in a statement.

The plaintiffs are Reps. Gina Hinojosa, Alma Allen, Michelle Beckley, Jasmine Crockett, Joe Deshotel, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Vikki Goodwin, Celia Israel, Ray Lopez, Armando “Mando” Martinez, Trey Martinez Fischer, Ina Minjarez, Christina Morales, Mary Ann Perez, Ana-Maria Ramos, Richard Peña Raymond, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez and Ramon Romero, Jr. All of the plaintiffs broke quorum and left the state in July.

It is the second lawsuit filed by House Democrats in an attempt to avoid arrest if they returned to Texas. The other was filed Friday by attorney Craig Washington in federal court in Austin on behalf of 22 House Democrats. It was riddled with problems, including subsequent statements by at least four of the plaintiffs that they had not authorized the suit on their behalf.

The lawsuit in federal court also named State Rep. James White, R-Hilister, as a defendant. White is not named as a defendant in the case in state court.

In his order, Urrutia said Abbott and Phelan erroneously interpreted Texas law and legislative rules to allow the apprehension of members of the House in response to a call for quorum. He barred the defendants from detaining or restraining the Democrats’ movement in any way and from issuing warrants or other documents ordering their apprehension. Urrutia also barred the defendants from ordering law enforcement to arrest the lawmakers.

A copy of this lawsuit is here, and of the judge’s order is here. As the story notes, this has nothing to do with that other lawsuit, filed in federal court, which did not seem to make much sense. This one at least I can understand, and it has bought the Dems some time. Whether they choose to remain out of the Capitol during this time or not remains to be seen, but at least now they have the option. KXAN, the Current, and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Though more Dems did show up yesterday, the Lege still fell short of a quorum. Tune in again today at 4 PM to see the next episode.

Dissension in the ranks

sigh

Some of the Texas House Democrats who are still in Washington, D.C., did not hold back Monday as they watched more of their colleagues return to Austin and bring the chamber within single digits of a quorum.

“You all threw us under the bus today! Why?” Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos of Dallas said in a tweet addressed to three of her Democratic colleagues who came back to Austin.

The House had as many as 95 members on hand at one point Monday afternoon, five members short of quorum but the nearest the chamber has gotten to being able to start business since most Democrats fled last month over the Republican elections bill. It was the third day of the second special session, and the GOP-led House again issued a “call of the House,” procedural move to lock the doors of the chamber and prevent members from leaving without permission.

The 95 members who were present included at least four new Democrats: El Paso-area Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González and Joe Moody, as well as Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock. Moody is the former speaker pro tem, a title that House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, stripped from Moody in retaliation for the quorum break during the first special session.

Talarico was the most open about his return, announcing it on Twitter and issuing a statement explaining his decision, saying he was coming back to work on “real issues Texans face” after a productive time in Washington.

[…]

While the quorum-busting Democrats were able to maintain a largely united front during the first special session, which ended Friday, it was clear they reached a fork in the road when the second special session began a day later. A group of them released a statement saying that 26 House Democrats would be staying behind in Washington to keep up their fight to pass federal voting rights legislation in Congress.

Another House Democrat still in D.C., Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin, also scrutinized the Democrats who returned Monday afternoon on Twitter, calling out Fierro, González, Moody and Talarico as the House was waiting to see if it could still reach quorum for the day.

“Quorum is still not met,” Hinojosa tweeted. “Praying no other Democrats willingly go to Floor.”

I’d prefer not to throw any lighter fluid on this fire, so I’m going to keep this short and simple. Sticking together and not having people wander back to Austin was a key to not losing the political and PR battle in the first special session. With that behind us, members will once again have to make their own decisions about what to do, but only to a point because restoring the quorum or not needs to be a strategic decision, made with everyone’s buy-in. I don’t know what happened here, but this obviously ain’t a great look. There’s still no quorum, though the more Dems that make like these colleagues, and the more Republicans who come off the COVID quarantine list, that may not be the case for much longer. Pick a plan and stick with it, that’s all I’m asking, And iron this stuff out behind closed doors, none of us needs to see this.

Abbott goes back on the attack against trans kids and their families

Bullies are cowards.

Gov. Greg Abbott delivered Friday on a recent promise to use his political weight to try to halt medical interventions for transgender children, which are considered standard of care for adults. He wants state officials to redefine reassignment surgery — which is very rarely used for children — as a form of child abuse.

The governor said he intended to craft his own approach after state lawmakers failed a second time this year to pass an array of laws that would penalize health care providers for providing and parents for seeking gender affirming care and curtail transgender children’s medical and educational rights.

Abbott’s new plan came in the form of a letter to the state agency tasked with protecting children from abuse. Abbott asked the director of the Department of Family and Protective Services to “please issue a determination of whether genital mutilation of a child for purposes of gender transitioning through reassignment surgery constitutes child abuse.”

The term “genital mutilation” is traditionally used among human rights workers to refer to a procedure for young girls that prevents them from experiencing sexual pleasure. Abbott — who does not have a medical background — reframes the definition, stating as fact that “subjecting a child to genital mutilation through reassignment surgery creates a ‘genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child.’”

If the child protection officials ultimately determine these surgeries to be a form of child abuse, Abbott goes on to say, DFPS would be duty bound to investigate a child’s parents, and other state agencies would have to investigate medical practitioners who carried out the surgeries.

See here for the background. The good news is that as offensive and hurtful as this is, it may not actually amount to much.

[M]edical experts say gender affirming care for transgender children rarely, if ever, includes use of the surgeries — orchiectomies, hysterectomies and mastectomies — Abbott cited in his letter Friday to DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters. Most care for transgender children includes social transitioning and puberty blockers.

Experts also took issue with Abbott’s language in the letter, which repeatedly referred to gender confirmation surgery as “genital mutilation.”

Andrea Segovia, Transgender Education Network of Texas’ field and policy coordinator, said the move by Abbott is a continuation of Republican Texas leaders bullying marginalized children.

“It’s literally the harshest language possible, because he wants a reaction from his side,” she said. “And they can gain supporters in that of like, ‘Oh, that sounds awful. Yeah, we shouldn’t be doing that to our minors.’”

Equality Texas released a statement criticizing Abbott’s letter.

“This is nothing more than another political attempt to stigmatize transgender people, their loving families, and the healthcare providers who offer them lifesaving care,” CEO Ricardo Martinez said.

[…]

Texas doctors and advocates see Abbott’s letter as more of a political move than as having much of an impact on gender affirming care as it’s currently practiced in Texas.

“That just sounds like something to placate the base, but it doesn’t really do much of anything,” said Seth Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society.

Segovia agreed.

“This is not a cause for alarm,” she said. “Our organization does not want community or parents or anybody to think that this is a letter saying that medical sort of appointments and anything like that should stop.”

One would hope that if this request needs to be approved by actual medical professionals before it can be implemented, they would be doctors first and put their medical knowledge and ethics above crass political motives. That’s far from a sure thing, of course, but at least it’s a consideration. This is also a reminder that the reason Abbott is doing this is because Democratic quorum-busting actions, in the regular session and now, have thwarted the bills that would enshrine this crap into law so far. The fight matters. Mandy Giles has more.

Special Session 2.0: Still no quorum yet

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Texas Democrats on Saturday blocked a quorum in the House for the third time this year as the Legislature kicked off its second special legislative session called to pass the GOP elections bill, among other legislation — though it’s unclear this time whether those members intend to remain absent for the entire overtime round.

Both the House and Senate convened at noon, a day after gaveling out from the first 30-day special session, which began in July and ended in an impasse when over 50 Democrats in the lower chamber left the state for Washington D.C. to prevent the passage of a elections bill. That departure meant the House could not have a quorum to conduct official business. Democrats broke quorum for the first time in May when they walked out of the chamber in the final hours of the regular session to prevent passage of a similar version of the bill.

[…]

On Saturday afternoon, at least 26 House Democrats announced that they intend to remain in D.C. to continue pushing Congress to act on a federal voting bill, but that number alone is not enough to break quorum in the Legislature.

“Texas Republicans can only succeed in their nationally coordinated assault on our democracy if Democrats are present at the state capitol,” read a statement from state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, Gina Hinojosa of Austin, Alma Allen of Houston and others. “26 Texas House Democrats will be part of an active presence in Washington maintained for as long as Congress is working and making progress on federal voting rights legislation to see this fight through.”

The House adjourned for the day minutes after gaveling in on Saturday afternoon, but they did not yet adopt what’s known as a “call of the House,” a procedural move that would lock the chamber doors and enable lawmakers to send law enforcement after the Democrats who don’t show up. During the first special session that ended Friday, the chamber voted overwhelmingly to issue the call, though it carried little weight since state authorities lack jurisdiction outside of Texas. Ultimately, no Democrats were arrested.

Two of 57 Democrats who left during that first special session were on the House floor Saturday — Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville and Bobby Guerra of Mission.

After the chamber adjourned, Lucio told reporters he returned to Austin for both professional and personal reasons. He said he anticipated several of his Democratic colleagues to also come back to the chamber in the coming days, which could help the House make quorum “as early as this week.”

“I made my personal choice to bring the fight back to the Capitol, and I think everyone needs to make that decision for themselves,” Lucio said. “For those that are gone, I applaud them.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Whatever happens with the Democrats happens at this point. They did what they could in DC, and I doubt there was much value in staying around while Congress is on recess. And at least in the short term, there’s another factor that will limit what the House can do:

Looking at the picture (a copy of the official summary is here), I see seven names that I know are Republicans who are not present, and another four or five that I don’t recognize and would have to check. Doesn’t mean they are in quarantine, though one of them surely is, but that could be another delaying factor.

Also of interest from this story: Senate shenanigans.

The Republican-dominated Senate then pushed through two rule changes that indicate the chamber’s desire to move through its agenda quickly. The first change takes away the “tag rule,” which is a delaying tactic for Democrats in the minority party because it allows members to demand 48 hours of written notice before a bill gets a hearing. The other change allows committees to skip public hearings on House bills that have the same subject as Senate bills the committee had already considered.

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R- Georgetown, said the temporary rule change, which will be in effect for the entire special session, would benefit senators by expediting the legislative process during the 30-day period. But Democratic lawmakers said it could deny constituents the opportunity to express their opinions on important issues.

“We are not giving people the opportunity to be heard,” said Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

Schwertner said the move allowed the Senate “maximum flexibility” to complete its work, particularly because it is unclear when the House will regain its quorum and many of the bills on the special session agenda were heard before during two earlier legislative sessions this year.

The Senate then suspended its rule requiring 24-hour notice before a committee hearing and announced three committee meetings on Saturday that immediately started hearing bills without public testimony.

The Senate did not immediately take up the elections bill, which was one of the main drivers for the special session. That bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday at 9 a.m. in the Senate State Affairs committee.

Hey, the Senate and Dan Patrick were never interested in public input on any of their crappy bills, that much has been clear from the beginning. As for the rest:

Yeah, that’s your Texas Senate and your Lite Guv, Dan Patrick. What are you going to do about it? (Hint: It should involve getting way involved in the 2022 elections.)

Meet the new special session

Same as the old special session, at least at first.

It appears likely that not enough Democrats will show up for the Texas House to conduct business when a second special legislative session convenes Saturday.

Some of the more than 50 Democratic representatives who fled Texas to foil the first special session began trickling out of their Washington, D.C., hotel and heading home Friday. But 27 members have committed to staying in the nation’s capital. At the same time, Democrats were working to confirm that at least 50 members will pledge to not return to the House floor on Saturday even if they are back in Texas.

If that happens, the chamber would again be deprived of a quorum to conduct business for at least a few days. And it could set up a showdown over whether House Speaker Dade Phelan has the authority, and political will, to compel Democratic representatives in Texas to show up at the Capitol.

The ongoing absences would further delay any consideration of the 17-item agenda Gov. Greg Abbott has set for the 30-day special session, including a contentious voting bill, which Republicans have vowed to pass into law, that motivated Democrats to leave the state last month. Two-thirds of the 150 member chamber must be present to conduct business. One seat is currently vacant.

“If you’re looking for us to telegraph exactly what we’re going to do over the next couple days, we’re not going to do that at this time,” state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic caucus chair, said earlier in the day. “The governor would love us to do that, but we’re not going to.”

The House Democratic caucus would not confirm any details about its next move as of Friday evening after marking the last day of the first special session that was derailed after 57 members broke quorum.

The number of Democrats actually in Washington had appeared to dwindle to about 40 members over the last few days. But with 27 Democrats planning to stay behind, even some of the Democrats seen departing from their hotel in Washington on Friday indicated the House floor may not be their destination.

[…]

“If Congress is in session, we’re in session,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said earlier in the day. “Our job is here, and we will have a significant number of members staying here and waiting day by day, engaging day by day, finishing the fight.”

Well, we’ll see. We ought to know early on what the head count is. In one of the earlier stories I saw, it was noted that the Republicans are also not quite at full strength, as some are on vacation or otherwise not available – Jake Ellzey is now in Congress, so right there they’re down one – and that means they need that many more Dems to show up to get to 100. We don’t know if Speaker Dade Phelan is going to follow through on the threat to use DPS to hunt down wayward Dems in the state and drag them to Austin. We may eventually get a quorum, but it won’t happen right away.

Later on Friday, this happened.

Twenty-two Texas House Democrats sued some of the state’s top Republican leaders in federal court in Austin late Friday, alleging that GOP officials’ efforts to bring them home for a special legislative session infringed on their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The lawsuit was filed on the final day of the first special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott — and on the eve of a second specially called legislative session — and names as defendants Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan and State Rep. James White.

[…]

It’s unclear why White was listed as a defendant. White said Friday night he was not aware he’d been sued or why he was named as a defendant. The lawsuit also did not use Phelan’s legal name, which is Matthew McDade Phelan.

Abbott and Phelan did not immediately have a statement on the lawsuit.

The Democrats’ attorney, Craig Anthony Washington, a former Democratic lawmaker, did not respond to a request for comment. Washington is practicing law under a probationally suspended license, according to the State Bar of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that some Democrats are being targeted because of their race and skin color, but then provides no evidence.

It also claims the three Republican lawmakers acted together under the “color of law” to cause the harm alleged in the suit, but then points no specific harmful actions other than “public statements.” The lawsuit also says some individual plaintiffs experienced “retaliatory attacks, threats and attempts at coercion relating to the exercise of their First Amendment rights” but again does not provide specifics.

The plaintiffs listed in the case are state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Trey Martinez Fischer, Gene Wu, Vikki Goodwin, Ron Reynolds, Eddie Rodriguez, Jon Rosenthal, Jasmine Crockett, Mary Ann Perez, Alma Allen, Christina Morales, Nicole Collier, Celia Israel, Ana-Maria Ramos, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Terry Meza, Donna Howard, Jarvis Johnson, Ray Lopez, Shawn Thierry, Elizabeth Campos and Gina Hinojosa.

The lawsuit alleges that the three Republican lawmakers have attempted “by public statements and otherwise, to attempt to deny, coerce, threaten, intimidate, and prevent” the Democrats and their constituents from voting in all elections, petitioning the government for redress of grievances, speaking publicly about their constitutional rights, exercising their right of association and their right to not being arrested without probable cause. The Democrats allege that in acting together, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive them of their constitutional rights.

Because of the defendant’s actions, the complaint alleges, the plaintiffs have been “deprived of liberty for substantial periods of time, suffered much anxiety and distress over separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment.” They also have suffered damages to their reputations and have had to spend time traveling to Washington to lobby Congress to pass laws that would protect voting rights.

That sounds pretty unlikely to me, even without the issues noted for attorney Craig Washington. You can read a copy of the lawsuit and come to your own conclusions, but this seems like an extreme longshot. And as to why Rep. White was named as a defendant, my guess is it stemmed from his request for an AG opinion suggesting that the quorum-breaking Dems had “vacated” their seats. Even if you could count on Ken Paxton’s office to give an honest answer, that seems like a big escalation of the stakes.

And in other desperation moves, there’s this.

Texas Republican leaders said Friday they were extending “an additional month of funding” for the Legislature as a deadline to reinstate those dollars vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott nears, which could cost some 2,100 state workers their salaries and benefits.

The announcement Friday by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan comes a day ahead of the beginning of a second special session, where it’s still unknown whether enough state lawmakers in the lower chamber will convene in time to restore the funding long term.

[…]

Citing an emergency, the Legislative Budget Board requested the transfer of funds, according to a memo dated Aug. 6 from Abbott responding to the LBB’s proposal. Funds amounting to at least $12.6 million will be transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to the Senate, the House, and legislative agencies such as the LBB, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Library.

Abbott referenced his veto in that memo, reiterating his position that “funding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early and leave the state with unfinished business, exposing taxpayers to higher costs for additional legislative sessions.”

“However, in order to ensure the Legislature is fully resourced to do the work of the next special session,” he wrote, “I recognize that the partial restoration the Legislative Budget Board had proposed is necessary.”

The extension announced Friday means that those legislative employees and legislative agencies will have funding intact through Sept. 30 instead of Sept. 1, when the next two-year state budget takes effect.

I thought the LBB could only meet when the Lege was not in session, which is certainly was on Friday. If this is all it took, then why not act sooner? And why not free up more money? This has the feel of something half-baked, though I suppose if no one challenges it in court there’s nothing to stop it. And hey, even if someone does challenge it in court, the Supreme Court will just sit on it until the matter becomes moot anyway, so what difference does it make? We’re off to a roaring start here, that’s for sure.

Special session 2.0 coming right up

Here we go again.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that the second special legislative session will begin at noon Saturday — and with an expanded agenda.

The 17-item agenda still includes well-known Abbott priorities like the election bill that caused House Democrats to flee the state at the start of the first special session, which ends Friday. But it also features six additions, including the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds and potentially changing the legislative rules regarding quorums.

[…]

The start of the second special session is approaching amid continued uncertainty over the fate of paychecks for over 2,100 legislative staffers. Abbott vetoed their pay after House Democrats staged a walkout over the elections bill in the regular session that ended in May, and the funding was set to start Sept. 1.

The reinstatement of that funding remains on the agenda for the second special session.

The new items on the call also include legislation to protect Texans from radioactive waste and to change the timeline for the 2022 primary elections. The latter item is likely a nod to the fact that the primaries will have to be pushed back due to delays in the redistricting process.

The item on changing the rules around quorums comes after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on Abbott to add something like it to the agenda for the second special session. The lieutenant governor wants to lower the threshold for each chamber to conduct business from two-thirds of members to a simple majority. That would require a state constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

As for education during the pandemic, Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass legislation that “in-person learning is available for any student whose parent wants it.” He also wants legislation that ensures that masks and vaccinations are not mandatory in schools, which he has already ordered through executive action.

Not anything here that would make it more enticing for the Dems to come back, that’s for sure. The item about changing quorum rules is cute, but if it needs a 2/3 vote to pass as a constitutional amendment, I would not expect it to go anywhere, for all the obvious reasons.

What will the Dems do? They haven’t said yet, and as before I don’t know. Looking back, they didn’t get a voting rights bill passed, not that anyone could have expected that, though it’s fair to say there’s a lot more pressure being applied on President Biden and the Senate Dems to make that happen. Perhaps the new “Right to Vote” bill by Sen. Ossoff has a chance – it wouldn’t address everything – redistricting reform would be a key omission – but it would help. As expected, between the infrastructure bill and the January 6 committee hearing and our national fruit fly-level attention span, they’re getting maybe one percent of the press coverage they got when they first left, but again, I don’t know what could have changed that. They successfully killed off the first session, and for the most part the Republicans have been able to do little but sputter and post the occasional juvenile photo on Instagram, so I’d call this a draw. A draw that still inevitably ends with them back in Texas and the odious bills they have been able to stop so far getting passed anyway. Again, it was always going to be this way, barring a miracle from Sens. Manchin and Sinema.

Two other points: One is that redistricting data is soon to arrive.

Ideally for the Republicans, they breeze through this session, finish up all the business they want to get done, then get a short break before embarking on this much more involved task. They want to get to this quickly to foreclose even the minimal possibility of a federal voting rights bill that includes preclearance and redistricting reform being enacted. The ideal scenario for Dems is less clear to me, but running more time off the clock so that the original special session items have to take a back seat to this is probably better than what I just laid out as being best for the GOP. In short, the best outcome is still bad unless there’s some federal action to mitigate the damage.

As for restoring legislative funding, the Quorum Report posted an item just before the new special session was announced that suggested the possibility of the Legislative Budget Board moving some money around to fix that problem. Unfortunately, the LBB can only meet when the Lege is not in session – the QR report speculated that they would have this weekend to do that, with Special Session 2.0 being called for Tuesday – so that is off the table. That means that either the Dems show up and the Lege fixes it, the Supreme Court rules that Abbott’s veto was unconstitutional (AS THEY SHOULD ANYWAY), Abbott himself uses his emergency powers to plug the hold he dug, or the funding runs out and who knows what happens to redistricting. You know that sequence from “Animal House” where the Deltas have sabotaged the marching band and the parade they were in has devolved into chaos? That’s the energy I’m getting from all this now. I’ll leave it to you to decide who Bluto and Niedermeyer are in this analogy. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: More here from the Trib, reiterating that House Dems have not committed to a specific action just yet.

“I’ve lost track of what day it is” quorum-busting post: What next?

Hey, guess what: The current special session will be over soon, like this Saturday. What happens next?

Uncertainty is running rampant among Texas Democrats and Republicans as the final days of the special legislative session dwindle away.

The session officially ends Friday, and lawmakers are already gearing up for a second special session as House Democrats show zero interest in returning from Washington, D.C., and restoring quorum in the lower chamber for this session.

Abbott has promised to call a second special session to pass the GOP’s priority voting bill, but the exact timing is uncertain. Abbott also has yet to detail what other items, if any, he intends to include on the agenda for the next special session. And House Democrats have not yet revealed what they have planned after the session ends this week.

At stake is the fate of the elections bill, which prompted Democrats who object to the legislation to leave in the first place, as well as the livelihoods of some 2,100 state workers and legislative agencies that are set to lose funding next month.

Everyone agrees Abbott will call another session, likely for next week. Abbott says it will have all of the current items on it for Special Session 2. No one knows yet what the Democrats will do. No one knows when or if the Supreme Court will rule on Abbott’s line item veto of the legislative budget. Which, by the way, is something he had thought of before, because he’s a wannabe autocrat and much like Trump knows that the Republican sycophants in charge of the Legislature will never hold him accountable for anything. No one knows if there will be redistricting repercussions of the legislative budget veto, or if its funding can be restored in time for that work to begin. You can read the rest of the story for more details, but that’s the big picture. Hasn’t this been fun?

Big XII visits the Lege

It’s something to do, anyway.

As the University of Texas prepares for a jump from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, state lawmakers are working to determine how the move will affect the rest of the state — and whether they might be able to intervene in such a move in the future.

The first hearing of the committee on the future of college sports in Texas on Monday produced more questions than answers. Senators, economists and representatives of the universities left behind brainstormed how the Big 12 could remain viable — perhaps by adding up-and-coming Texas programs such as the University of Houston and Southern Methodist University.

But with the exits of UT and the University of Oklahoma sealed, there was little lawmakers could do but commiserate and propose potential solutions.

“I think there are options for us to partner with other conferences, there may be opportunity for mergers, there may be opportunities to add members,” said Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference. “There may be other opportunities that are currently unforeseen. … The multitude and severity of the challenges that are out there right now is likely to cause lots of changes.”

The eight remaining schools — which include Waco’s Baylor University, Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University and Lubbock’s Texas Tech — agree that “staying together is probably our best approach in the near-term,” Bowlsby said.

[…]

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound and the chair of the newly formed committee, said she’d invited representatives from UT and ESPN to testify on Monday, but they declined. Texas A&M, which left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, also rejected an invitation.

See here for some background on the committee. Nothing is going to happen, as this issue isn’t on the special session agenda and of course there’s a quorum break going on, but everyone got to express their feelings, and I’m sure that helped. As for UT, they weren’t there to share their perspective, but they still had something to say.

University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell on Monday publicly defended the school’s decision to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference along with the University of Oklahoma in 2025 and denied Texas lawmakers’ claims that the school violated Big 12 bylaws in doing so.

“This future move is the right thing for our student athletes for our student athletes, our programs and our University in the face of rapid change and increased uncertainty,” Hartzell said.

[…]

“It is timed to avoid the legislature in its legislative session, where it is structured with the power to make decisions,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Hartzell said that he initiated discussions with the SEC in the spring — while the regular legislative session was going on.

He disputed claims made by lawmakers and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the Texas school violated the league’s bylaws by not giving advance notice of their departure.

“I want to set the record straight — we have and will continue to honor all agreements,” Hartzell said. “We have not violated any Big 12 bylaws.”

Lawmakers argue that the process was done in the dark, and would have far-reaching effects on the remaining schools in the conference, notably the three that reside in Texas.

See here for more on the accusations of UT and OU’s alleged duplicity along with ESPN. Lord knows, this Legislature knows how to do things in the dark. Game recognizes game.