State

Texas Republicans Order Sergeant at Arms to Return Democratic Lawmakers ‘Under Warrant of Arrest if Necessary’

The gloves came off on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday when Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) ordered the chamber’s sergeant at arms, Rod Welsh, to secure a quorum and, if necessary, arrest the Democrats who fled the state to kill a Republican election reform bill.

The chamber fell quiet after state representatives voted 76 to four to initiate a “call of the house” to force the attendance of absent members, who have gone to Washington, D.C. in protest of the election integrity law. The four votes against the motion were the remaining Democrats: Reps. Tracy King (D-Batesville), Eddie Morales Jr. (D-), Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), and John Turner (D-Dallas).

Phelan advised members that they were not allowed to leave the House without written permission. Morales and Turner reportedly said as the House stood at ease that they were opposed to the elections bill, but decided being present in the chamber was the best way to fight the bill.

“I believe my district, its constituents would expect me to be here […] Everyone can fight and they can fight differently. My way of fighting is being here [because] that’s what my constituents expect,” Morales said.

In the past, Turner has also been involved in orchestrating the parliamentary maneuvers of Democrats. With Turner nearby, Democrats have an advocate as Republicans exercise the limited authority the House rules and Constitution confers to them during the absence of a quorum.

It is the latest snag in the election integrity bill’s odyssey through the legislature, which is currently in a special session that Gov. Greg Abbott called to advance items of business that did not pass during the regular session.

This is the second time Democrats have taken this course of action. An earlier version of the elections bill was lost when Democrats left the capitol the day before Memorial Day, which was the deadline to pass conference committee reports.

In a reprimand of the Democrats who skipped town, Abbott pledged Tuesday morning to “call special session after special session after special session up until next year’s election” if necessary. The Democratic walkout has irked Republicans and jeopardized the success of the policy objectives Abbott hopes to to get across the finish line this summer.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) introduced a resolution last week that would amend the House rules to allow state representatives to level sanctions against absent lawmakers, including stripping them of some committee assignments and revoking their seniority privileges. In addition, Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) introduced a resolution that would dock members’ pay for unexcused absences.

The call of the House is reminiscent of what occurred in 2003 when Democrats fled the state to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to scuttle a Republican redistricting plan. At that time, the Texas Department of Public Safety participated in an unsuccessful attempt to round up Democrats and bring them back to the capitol.

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