The Texas House Elections Committee abruptly ended its meeting [Thursday] before about 200 people who traveled to the Capitol could testify on a controversial anti-voter fraud bill.
Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who chairs the committee and authored House Bill 6, had recessed briefly as he argued with the committee’s vice chair, Democrat Jessica González.
González wanted to hear from Rep. Nicole Collier, a fellow Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
“Vice Chair González, at this moment, you are not chairing this committee,” Cain said as he overrode González’s attempts to allow Collier to speak. “I’m not recognizing anyone but a member of this committee at this time.”
The meeting’s undoing came to pass for a procedural reason: Cain had not specified when the committee would reconvene, meaning the meeting would have to be rescheduled for a later date. He apologized to the hundreds who had made the trip to Austin to share their feedback on the bill.
“Even though I wish very much to continue today’s hearing, the rules prevent me from doing so,” he said. “Please forgive me for my error.”
This is the third-term GOP member’s first time chairing a committee during a legislative session.
Civil rights and voting advocacy groups slammed Cain, who had said it was committee practice not to allow non-members to ask questions, for blocking Collier’s testimony. There are no Black members of the elections committee.
“Today was further evidence of the GOP efforts to silence our voices. We can no longer stand by and allow them to shut us down,” Collier said at an informal, livestreamed “citizen’s hearing” in the Capitol rotunda. “We must speak up. Today shows why it’s important we have a seat at the table.”
Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said non-members participate in committee hearings “all the time.”
“This deviation from standard practice to prevent a Black woman from engaging in debate on a bill that would impact Black communities disproportionately is appalling,” Gutierrez said. “There is truly nothing more absurd than Briscoe Cain having to adjourn his committee hearing on his bill that would criminalize procedural mistakes people might make while voting because he made a procedural mistake.”
Those who had planned to speak Thursday immediately expressed their deep frustration.
“(Cain) has promised a future hearing on the bill, date yet to be determined,” Texas Civil Rights Project, a voting-focused advocacy group, said in a tweet. “But this is still deeply unfair to all the Texans who took time off of work and school to be there today. And it’s troubling that no effort was made to accommodate and listen to these Texans.”
Or to put it another way, give power and responsibility to malevolent incompetents, get malevolent incompetent results. Imagine being someone who took time off from work, drove however many hours to be in Austin to wait even more hours to be given three minutes to testify against this travesty, only to be told that because the committee chair screwed up you have to come back again at some then-unknown date. (Per the Trib, it’s been rescheduled for April 1, which seems a little on the nose.) You’d have Briscoe Cain to thank for that.
R.G. Ratcliffe thinks Cain (who calls himself a “parliamentary guru”, by the way) may have inadvertently done the opponents of his malicious legislation a favor. I say that remains to be seen, because if there are two things we know about the Republicans’ push to change the rules in their favor, it’s that they can always extend the clock and that they don’t much care about the niceties along the way. What do they care if a few rabblerousers didn’t get a chance to vent at them? They will not be deterred.
Also not to be deterred is the Senate, which had its own voter suppression bill hearings.
The 31-page Senate Bill 7 includes provisions that would limit early voting opportunities, such as drive-thru and overnight polls, and stop counties from mass-mailing unsolicited ballot-by-mail applications — all methods that Harris County officials debuted in 2020.
It would also require Texas counties to have ballots with paper trails and maintain online systems tracking the status of voters’ mail ballot applications and ballots.
The bill was scheduled to be heard on Monday, but Senate Democrats delayed the hearing with a procedural move. It contains many similarities to a bill that passed the Senate but died in the House when the paper-trail system requirement, which had bipartisan support, was removed at the last minute.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, raised several potential legal issues with the bill as she questioned Keith Ingram, director of elections with the secretary of state’s office.
Texas is one of 16 states that does not have universal, no-excuse-needed voting by mail. Mail voting is only allowed for people who are 65 years or older; traveling out of the county during the election period; in jail; or have a disability or illness.
SB 7 would require voters to show proof of a purported disability, such as a doctor’s note. Zaffirini asked and Ingram confirmed that no other group allowed to vote by mail would be required to provide backup documentation.
Making a visit to see a doctor costs money, Zaffirini pointed out. Unless the state would provide voters with financial help, she asked, “could that constitute a poll tax?”
“I don’t know,” Ingram said. “That’s a question for a court.”
Seems to me that’s a pretty big can of worms, and could run into issues with privacy laws relating to medical information. Anyone out there want to comment on the possibility that this could run afoul of HIPAA in some way? The lawyers will be busy, that much is for sure. The Texas Signal has more.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention, Chris Hollins wrote an op-ed calling on the business community (especially Texas businesses and those that relocated here) to get involved in this fight as they recently have for other social justice issues. He specifically singled out HEB, AT&T, CenterPoint, and Pizza Hut.