Texas Dems Return After 38-day Standoff, Paving Way for Vote on Election Reform Bills

August 20, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021

A 38-day standoff in Texas over a GOP-backed election reform bill came to an end on Thursday when some House Democrats, who fled the state, returned—a day after it was ruled that they can be arrested if they refuse to return to the state Capitol to conduct legislative business.

The return of Democratic state Reps. Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez, and Amanda Walle paves the way for Republicans to resume work on voting overhaul bills that they argue are needed to safeguard future elections and would restore the public’s confidence in them.

Last month, 52 state House Democrats broke quorum when they absented themselves from legislative business in order to block the measure and others like it. Democrats have argued that the GOP-backed election reform bill would place unfair restrictions on minority groups when they cast their ballots.

While only three Democrats returned to the Lone Star state, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan said enough were there to achieve a quorum, which in the House is normally 100 present legislators.

While Republicans control both legislative chambers in Texas, as well as the governor’s mansion, two-thirds of lawmakers must be present to constitute a quorum. Republicans only hold 82 seats in the 150-seat lower chamber.

“It’s been a very long summer. Been through a lot. I appreciate you all being here,” Phelan said. “It’s time to get back to the business of the people of Texas.”

Epoch Times Photo
Texas State Democrats (L-R) Democratic Chair Rep. Chris Turner (TX-101), Rep. Rafael Anchia (TX-103), Rep. Senfronia Thompson (TX-141), and Rep. Rhetta Bowers (TX-113) at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on July 13, 2021. More than 60 Texas House Democrats left the state to Washington to block a voting reform bill by denying a Republican quorum. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The three Democrats who returned to the Texas House from Washington D.C. issued a joint statement on Thursday defending their decision to leave last month.

“We are proud of the heroic work and commitment we and our fellow Democratic caucus members have shown in breaking quorum in May and again over this summer,” they said. “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.”

The lawmakers added: “Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on voter protection legislation. Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”

Their return came a day after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s House Democrats can be arrested if they refuse to return to the state Capitol to conduct legislative business.

The opinion (pdf) orders district courts to rescind their temporary restraining orders handed to state Democrats who have broken quorum since last month.

House members can be compelled by leaders to be present to conduct legislative business under the state Constitution, and those who refuse can be arrested and brought to the chamber, the ruling stipulates.

Previously, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, threatened that Democrats who broke quorum to prevent the start of the special legislative session would be arrested.

Abbott’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Republicans are now back on a path to pass new elections laws in Texas before the current special session ends on Sept. 5.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.