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May 31st, 2021:

The House is working on the omnibus voter suppression bill.

They started last night, and who knows when they may finish. If it comes to a vote, I expect this Trib story will be updated to reflect it. One of the justifications given by Republicans for banning all-night voting hours is that “nothing good happens after midnight”. In this one specific instance, I would agree.

If it doesn’t come to a vote, you can thank Democrats and their ability to wield the rulebook.

Hoping for the best. We should know by the time we wake up. I’ll add an update when we do.

Meanwhile, there was another dose of poison in SB7 that I hadn’t mentioned before:

Despite no evidence of substantial voter fraud in Texas, Republicans are preparing to pass sweeping voting legislation with new provisions that make it easier to overturn an election in which fraudulent votes are suspected and to lower the standard for proving fraud in criminal court.

The burden of proof for voter fraud charges in Texas is “clear and convincing evidence.” The bill would change that standard to “preponderance of the evidence.”

A related measure would allow a judge to overturn an election if the total number of ballots found to be fraudulent exceeds the margin of victory. In such cases, a judge could “declare the election void without attempting to determine how individual voters voted.”

“If you don’t have to show that they would have made a difference, then even ‘illegal votes’ or ‘fraudulent votes’ for your side get factored into that equation,” said Tommy Buser-Clancy, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “This is just a perpetuation of the Big Lie, and as we’ve seen throughout the nation, this is a further weakening of the institutional strength of our democracy.”

The new provisions are last-minute additions to Senate Bill 7, legislation that has drawn the ire of Democratic and civil rights groups that have called it voter suppression since its first draft. The final version of the bill hadn’t been posted online as of early Friday evening — and was not made available to the public — but the Houston Chronicle obtained a copy.

Nothing says “election integrity” like making it easier for the loser of an election to get a judge to throw out the result of that election.

And nothing is certain but death, taxes, and litigation over this abomination of a bill if it passes.

If the bill passes the state House of Representatives and is signed by Gov. Greg Abbott—both of which are expected—the Texas chapter of the NAACP will immediately file a lawsuit against it, chapter President Gary Bledsoe said at a news conference Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Morning News reports.

The bill would ban drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, both of which were used extensively last year in and around Houston, according to the New York TimesAmong its many restrictions, the bill would limit voting by mail for people with a disability, add new ID requirements for mail-in voting, and make it a felony for election officials to send mail-in ballots to voters who did not request them. And it would set limits on early-voting hours, such as requiring polls to open at 1 p.m., not 9 a.m., on Sundays—which could impact popular “Souls to the Polls” held by many Black churches, the Morning News notes.

As it happens, early voting hours in Harris County were 1 PM to 6 PM for Sundays, at least before 2020. I imagine that was more out of tradition than anything else, and there may have been some issues with getting enough poll workers for the Sunday-morning-go-to-church hours, but that is a surmountable challenge and there’s no real reason beyond that. As Sen. Royce West noted during the debate over SB7, we can now buy booze on Sundays starting at 10 AM. Why can’t we vote earlier than 1 PM? (Spoiler alert: We all know the reason for that.)

Anyway. As I sign off, the status of SB7 in the House is unknown. Look for an update below if you didn’t stay up all night following the action live or on Twitter. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Well, this was dramatic.

The sweeping overhaul of Texas elections and voter access was poised from the beginning of the session to pass into law. It had the backing of Republican leaders in both chambers of the Legislature. It had support from the governor.

Democrats who opposed the bill, chiding it as a naked attempt of voter suppression, were simply outnumbered.

But on Sunday night, with an hour left for the Legislature to give final approval to the bill, Democrats staged a walkout, preventing a vote on the legislation before a fatal deadline.

“Leave the chamber discreetly. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building,” Grand Prairie state Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a text message to other Democrats obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Senate Bill 7, a Republican priority bill, is an expansive piece of legislation that would alter nearly the entire voting process. It would create new limitations to early voting hours, ratchet up voting-by-mail restrictions and curb local voting options like drive-thru voting.

Democrats had argued the bill would make it harder for people of color to vote in Texas. Republicans called the bill an “election integrity” measure — necessary to safeguard Texas elections from fraudulent votes, even though there is virtually no evidence of widespread fraud.

Debate on Senate Bill 7 had extended over several hours Sunday as the Texas House neared a midnight cutoff to give final approval to legislation before it could head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.

In between their speeches opposing the bill, Democrats seemed to be trickling off the floor throughout the night, a number of their desks appearing empty. During an earlier vote to adopt a resolution allowing last-minute additions to the bill, just 35 of 67 Democrats appeared to cast votes. Around 10:30 p.m., the remaining Democrats were seen walking out of the chamber.

Their absence left the House without a quorum — which requires two-thirds of the 150 House members to be present — needed to take a vote.

By 11:15 p.m. about 30 Democrats could be seen arriving at a Baptist church about 2 miles away from the Capitol in East Austin.

The location for Democrats’ reunion appeared to be a nod at a last-minute addition to the expansive bill that set a new restriction on early voting hours on Sundays, limiting voting from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Over the last two days, Democrats had derided the addition — dropped in during behind-closed-door negotiations — raising concerns that change would hamper “souls to the polls” efforts meant to turn out voters, particularly Black voters, after church services.

Standing outside the church, Democrats said the walkout came only after it appeared Democrats’ plan to run out the clock on the House floor with speeches wasn’t going to work because Republicans had the votes to use a procedural move to cut off debate and force a final vote on the legislation.

“We saw that coming,” said state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “We’ve used all the tools in our toolbox to fight this bill. And tonight we pulled out that last one.”

With about an hour left before the midnight deadline, House Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged the lost quorum and adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning. Midnight was the cutoff for the House and Senate to sign off on the final versions of bills that have been negotiated during conference committees.

A couple of things to note here. One is that this is almost certainly a temporary victory. There’s going to be at least one special session already for redistricting, and so this will be on that session’s agenda or there will be another special session, possibly right away, just for this. We know that this is a top Republican priority and they are not going to just accept defeat, in the same way that they are not accepting Trump’s loss in 2020. They have the power to try again and they have the numbers to make it happen.

But the only reason the Republicans are in this position in the first place is because it took them so long to produce the final version of SB7. They had to suspend their own rules in the Senate to bring the bill to the floor for a vote there on Saturday because they were running out of time. The quorum break happened at 10:30 last night – I actually saw a tweet or two to that effect before I went to bed – which meant they were down to the last 90 minutes of available time. You wait till the last minute, things can happen, you know?

I had been wondering why this obvious priority of theirs had been seemingly stuck in conference committee for so long. Surely the Democratic amendments that had watered down some of the more stringent provisions that were later reinstated didn’t have enough supporters in the committee to make this difficult. My thinking was that the Republicans were sitting on this bill, which by now was as bad as the original SB7 that had begun to draw strong criticism from the business world, precisely because they wanted to sneak it through over the holiday weekend, when fewer people would be paying attention. It’s the explanation that makes the most sense to me, because they had to know that the Democrats would do everything they could to make them miss the deadline. Why risk that if you didn’t have to? They had full control over the schedule. Cover of darkness is the best explanation. And it deservedly blew up in their faces.

As noted, they’ll get their second shot at this. But now there’s time for everyone to pay attention again, and for the activists to get businesses and other organizations engaged. The Republicans will get their bill but the Democrats bought themselves some time, and gave their base a big feel-good moment. That’s a trade I’ll take.

Small revisions to medical marijuana law passed

You know what I’m going to say about this, right?

A watered-down expansion of Texas’ medical marijuana program is headed to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott after the state House voted to accept significant changes to the bill made in the Senate.

House Bill 1535 expands eligibility for the Texas Compassionate Use Program to people with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Senate stripped out a provision that would’ve allowed any Texan with chronic pain to access medical marijuana.

The bill also caps the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient that produces a high, at 1%. That’s only a nominal increase from the 0.5% allowed under current law. The bill as passed by the House capped the amount of THC at 5%, still far lower than most states that have authorized the plant for medicinal use.

The measure falls short of what many advocates had hoped for. Its sponsor, state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, said on the House floor that her counterparts in the Senate were unwilling to budge. She begrudgingly asked the House to concur with the overhaul, rather than reject amendments tacked on in the upper chamber and send the bill to a conference committee.

[…]

Fewer than 6,000 Texans have enrolled in the Compassionate Use Program. About 2 million people are eligible under current law.

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, lamented that the proposal in its final form was “unreasonably restrictive,” despite wide bipartisan support for legalizing cannabis. A February poll from the University of Texas at Austin and The Texas Tribune found that 60% of Texans said small or large amounts of marijuana for any purpose should be legal.

“While we are glad to see the Compassionate Use Program being expanded, it’s disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states, like Alamaba for example, are moving forward with real medical cannabis programs,” Fazio said. “It’s doing so little and we wish [lawmakers] were doing more.”

See here for the previous entry and a clear explanation of my position, if for some reason that was a mystery to you. The problem is super simple to state: Dan Patrick will not allow any significant loosening of the state’s restrictive marijuana laws, even for medical marijuana, as long as he is Lt. Governor. The solution is obvious. Making that happen is harder, but that’s really all there is to it. The Chron has more.