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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday began a hurried second attempt to toughen election laws in Texas, weeks after Democrats' dramatic walkout from the state Capitol thwarted one of America's most restrictive voting measures.
He demanded no specific voting changes to reach his desk this summer, but Republicans who fumbled their first try at passing a sweeping overhaul of Texas elections at the last minute in May are already promising to work fast, saying hearings will start this weekend.
The haste reflects the usual time crunch of a normal special legislative session in Texas — which last just 30 days — but also the GOP's eagerness to put behind them a rare and highly public defeat in America's biggest red state over what has been a priority for the party since the November elections. Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, has already shifted his focus toward picking up Donald Trump's mantle on immigration since the May walkout.
Republicans are also backing away from the two most contentious issues that fueled Democrats’ dramatic quorum break just before a midnight deadline over the Memorial Day weekend. Still, Republicans are expecting many of the sunken bill's provisions to return once the special session begins Thursday.
“The Senate and the House are both eager to work on this issue and get it done,” said Republican state Rep. Jacey Jetton, who helped negotiate the final version of the sweeping elections bill that Democrats blocked.
That previous bill, known as Senate Bill 7, included bans on drive-thru voting, 24-hour polling places and empowered partisan poll watchers. Jetton said he was hopeful that other items related to mail “ballot harvesting” — a term sometimes used negatively to describe the collection of completed ballots that are delivered on behalf of voters to polling places — and voter roll maintenance are also included.
Democrats who walked out have said they plan to show up at the state Capitol for work Thursday.
In addition to new election laws, Abbott is also ordering lawmakers to heighten security measures along the Texas-Mexico border and nearly a dozen other lightning rod issues for the GOP.
“These are items that primarily are designed for him to play to an extreme far-right as he gears up for a competitive primaries season,” Democratic state Rep. John Bucy said.
The GOP’s overwhelming majority in the Texas Capitol means an elections bill will probably pass, although Democrats have vowed to continue fighting and have not ruled out breaking quorum again. After the walkout, Abbott vetoed future paychecks for nearly 2,000 Capitol employees, but he made restoring that funding one of the items for lawmakers to address.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said hearings on a new elections bill in the state Senate will begin Saturday.
Jetton said he wasn't sure how the new voting legislation would look but expected many elements of Senate Bill 7 to return “in some form or fashion.” He said he hoped members of both parties could examine the new legislation without partisanship to find some common ground.
Meanwhile, Bucy said the Texas House Democrats have already seen their May walkout “pay dividends,” citing Patrick's intentions to leave out provisions limiting Sunday voting hours and lowering the threshold to overturn election results.
Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.