Texas governor threatens to defund state lawmakers and staff after Democrats block voting restrictions bill

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

The Republican governor of Texas has threatened to defund his state’s legislature after state Democratic lawmakers effectively blocked passage of a sweeping elections bill that advocates have warned will significantly undermine voting rights in the state.

"I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature," Governor Greg Abbott said on Twitter on Monday. “Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities. Stay tuned.”

After midnight on Sunday, following the end of the state’s legislative session, Governor Abbott issued a statement reiterating his suppressive measure as a “must-pass emergency” item, which he will add to a special legislative session agenda when he calls lawmakers back to the state’s Capitol.

Democrats in the state’s House of Representatives broke quorum ahead of a vote on the measure on Sunday night, effectively forcing lawmakers to adjourn, and – at least temporarily – blocking passage of the measure before Governor Abbott can sign it into law.

The governor referenced Article X of the state’s budget, which covers both lawmakers and their staff, as well as legislative agencies. It is funded through the end of August. The next fiscal year begins on 1 September.

State lawmakers earn $600 a month, along with a daily per diem of $221 for days that lawmakers are in session.

“Punishing working class office staff, maintenance, and other support services because he didn't get every single one of his demands is very on-brand for Texas Republicans,” said Texas Rep Gene Wu.

“I don't give a s*** about my $600 a month,” he added. “But there are thousands of workers here with families to support. This is petty and tone-deaf even for Texas.”

State Rep Donna Howard said the governor’s move “would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy.”

The Texas bill seeks to make voting more difficult in the state by eliminating drive-through and 24-hour voting options, cutting the number of ballot drop boxes and limiting voting by mail – options that saw widespread popularity in some of the largest counties in the US, all with large minority populations.

The bill also would allow a judge to “declare the election void without attempting to determine how individual voters voted”, validating baseless claims of “illegally cast” ballots amplified by Donald Trump and his allies.

Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, called it “one of the ugliest anti-voter bills in the country.”

The Texas measure is among dozens of other restrictive voting bills supported by right-wing interest groups and pushed through by GOP lawmakers in nearly every state this year, after Republicans lost control of the White House and Congress with the election of Joe Biden and two Democratic senators in Georgia.

Republicans have sought to roll back or eliminate mail-in voting options and ballot drop boxes, hand more authority over elections to GOP-dominated legislatures, impose restrictive voter ID laws, and criminalise handing out food and water to people standing in long lines to cast their ballots, among other measures that would disproportionately suppress Black and Latino voters.

The proposals come after a wave of challenges following 2020 elections, including baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, conspiracy theories involving ballot manipulation and attempts to undermine and discredit elections and members of both parties who helped run them.

Governors in at least 14 states have signed into law 22 measures restricting access to voting, according to a recent analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, which has tracked the state of voter suppression across the US.

Roughly one-third of state legislatures are still in session, with at least 61 restrictive elections bills moving through 18 of them. At least 31 bills have passed at least one chamber, while another 30 have been considered in a committee hearing.

In total, at least 389 restrictive bills were filed in 48 states in 2021 legislative sessions.

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