Texas House just short of quorum as order issued to keep members inside chamber

The Texas House of Representatives on Monday saw more members on the floor than when they gaveled in Sunday but didn’t reach the 100 members needed to conduct business.

There were 95 representatives at the Capitol — all 82 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The lawmakers voted to implement a “Motion for Call of the House” to help secure a quorum, meaning the representatives again need Speaker Dade Phelan’s permission to leave the House chamber. The motion was made by Rep. Tony Tinderholt, an Arlington Republican.

It’s been about a month since more than 50 House Democrats fled to Washington D.C. to block Republican-backed election legislation that opponents say would disenfranchise voters. The lawmakers were successful in killing the legislation as they advocated for federal voting rights bills, but now there’s a new special session with election bills again on the table.

The House didn’t have a quorum when a second special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott began Saturday, with 81 lawmakers present. Two-thirds of the 150-member body are needed for a quorum.

When attendance was taken again on Monday, there were 93 members present and 56 absent. Phelan said he expected more lawmakers to come to the Capitol and later announced that number was up to 95. Democrats newly on the floor included El Paso Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González and Joe Moody, as well as Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock.

“While I return to the floor to work on the real issues Texans face — addressing the COVID-19 resurgence, fixing the energy grid, providing adequate healthcare, paying our retired teachers, ensuring our students are taught an accurate version of our history — I trust that the US Senate will use the momentum we have given them to pass a federal voting rights act in the coming weeks that will override any voter suppression bill in Texas,” Talarico said in a statement.

Twenty-six Democrats have committed to staying in Washington “for as long as Congress is working and making progress on federal voting rights legislation.”

The lawmakers present Monday didn’t take up a motion to allow for the arrest of lawmakers who aren’t present, as they did in July during the first special session. The “Motion for Call of the House” passed on an 80-8 vote, with one lawmaker present not voting.

On Sunday night, a Travis County district court judge signed a temporary retraining order that blocks the arrest of House Democrats in Texas. The order expires in two weeks unless extended. A hearing is set for Aug. 20.

Enrique Marquez, a spokesperson for Phelan, said at the time the civil arrest warrants could not be served outside Texas. A civil arrest warrant was issued for state Rep. Philip Cortez, a San Antonio Democrat who went to Washington, returned to Austin and then went back to the nation’s capital.

Marquez said in a text Monday that the speaker’s office had not been served with the order and did not have a comment.

“The ruling by the Travis County judge is contrary to the Texas Constitution and violates the separation of powers between the different branches of government,” said Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in a statement. “We are confident that this overstep will be overturned. Texas Democrats need to stop the charades and get back to work.”

The order comes after 19 House Democrats filed a petition asking a judge to find that House rules and the Texas constitution do not allow for Abbott, Phelan or their agents to “detain, confine, or otherwise restrict a Texas House Democrat’s movement without his or her consent so as to interfere substantially with his or her liberty within the State of Texas if they have not committed a crime.”

“Angry Republican threats to dispatch troopers to arrest, cuff, shackle, drag in, and cabin duly-elected lawmakers isn’t just meant to chill our speech and impair our ability to represent our districts; it has left our families, friends, and neighbors anxious for our well being and safety,” state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin Democrat, said in a statement.

In a separate lawsuit, 22 Texas House Democrats argued efforts to bring them back to Austin violated their civil rights, The Texas Tribune reported. Some Democrats named on the suit, including State Rep. Nicole Collier of Fort Worth, have said they didn’t authorize the lawsuit.