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A special session of the Texas Legislature ended Friday without any legislation making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature, and with House Democrats still camped out in the nation’s capital hinting that many may not return to Austin immediately as the next overtime round starts Saturday.
The House and Senate chambers adjourned Friday with little fanfare. Mostly Republicans were present on the House chamber floor as their Democratic colleagues held a news conference in Washington, D.C., declining to offer specifics on the group’s next steps but indicating that “a significant number of members” could remain there.
Over 50 Democrats flew to Washington on July 12 to block a GOP elections bill and have since spent their days meeting with congressional leaders and White House officials to push federal voting legislation.
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, said that while Democrats did not plan to “telegraph” their next steps, their focus was in Washington so long as Congress remained in town.
“Our job is here,” he said, “and we will have a significant number of members staying here and waiting day by day and engaging day by day.”
In a statement later Friday, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said the chamber "remains committed to fulfilling its responsibilities as soon as our Democratic colleagues return from Washington or from their vacations abroad," a nod to two Democrats reportedly vacationing in Europe this past week.
"While a bipartisan group of members honored their duty to their constituents and the legislative process by showing up day after day," he said, "the Texas House could not address important issues ... because a number of Democrats deliberately broke quorum."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the upper chamber, said Thursday after Abbott’s second special session announcement that the Senate will hold committee hearings over the weekend before senators begin debating legislation on the floor “beginning next week.”
“I want Texans to know the Texas Senate stands ready to begin our important work immediately,” the lieutenant governor said in a statement. “I look forward to a productive special session for the people of Texas.”
Abbott on Thursday ordered the Legislature to begin a second special session starting at noon on Saturday — and included 17 items on his agenda for state lawmakers to tackle in 30 days or less. The issues include Abbott priorities such as the elections bill and bail legislation — though there are several additions, including the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds and a change in the legislative rules regarding quorums at the Legislature.
The elections legislation would outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access and bolster access for partisan poll watchers, among other things. Republicans have championed the proposal as “election integrity” that would bring much-needed reforms to the state’s voting system, while Democrats and voting rights groups have criticized the proposal as a vehicle that would harm marginalized voters in the state.
While it’s possible that House Democrats don’t immediately return to the chamber, Abbott has vowed to call special session after special session until the Legislature completes his agenda.
Another issue facing the Legislature is the funding for over 2,100 legislative staffers and legislative agencies, which Abbott vetoed earlier this year after House Democrats orchestrated their initial walkout over the elections bill during the regular session that ended in May.
That funding was set to start Sept. 1, and while it remains on the governor’s second special session agenda, it’s unclear whether lawmakers will move past their impasse on the elections bill to reinstate those funds.
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