AUSTIN, Texas — Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday evening signed civil arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats still missing from the state Capitol as he aimed to regain the quorum needed for the chamber to begin moving legislation during the second special session.
The move was confirmed by Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez, who said the warrants "will be delivered to the House Sergeant-at-Arms tomorrow morning for service."
The warrants were first reported by The Dallas Morning News. Democrats who may be arrested would not face criminal charges or fines and could only be brought to the House chamber.
Earlier Tuesday, the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to authorize law enforcement to track down Democrats absent from the chamber and bring them back to the state Capitol, “under warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
The 80-12 vote came hours after the Texas Supreme Court ordered that those missing Democrats, many of whom left the state last month to block a GOP voting bill, could soon be detained by state authorities. The order by the all-GOP court came at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, fellow Republicans who had asked the court Monday to overturn a ruling from a state district judge that blocked those leaders from ordering the arrest of the quorum-breaking Democrats.
Since the Legislature gaveled in Saturday for its second special session ordered by Abbott, the House has been unable to make a quorum as dozens of Democrats have remained absent from the chamber.
When the House was unable to meet its 100-member threshold for a quorum Monday, members adopted a procedural move known as a “call of the House” in an effort to secure a quorum. That move locks doors to the chamber and prevents members on the floor from leaving unless they have permission in writing from the speaker.
On Monday, lawmakers ended the session after two hours of waiting. Some Texas House Democrats have been in Washington, D.C. since the beginning of the first special session, which was for 30 days and ended on Friday. Abbott immediately called for a second special session, which began on Saturday. Only 81 members were present on the first day of the second special session. While in D.C., at least six House Democrats tested positive for COVID-19.
On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court voided a state district judge's temporary restraining order barring the arrest of the Democratic lawmakers who refused to return to the Legislature, putting in jeopardy the liberty of some Democrats who have returned to the state. The TRO would have prevented Democrats from being arrested.
Rep. Ron Reynolds, who is in D.C., said if arrest warrants are issued again, the Democrats could be forced to return to Austin. It would force them to return to the special session and would allow for a quorum to be met so voting could take place.
"And then we wouldn't be able to leave without getting a pass that gives us access out of the chambers. The chambers would lock and we would not be able to leave without a note, which is essentially a pass, saying that we could be freely leaving, and that's what's currently happening right now," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he hopes to have a full hearing on the matter before a judge within the next week, but if enough Democrats return and a quorum is met before then, the holdouts would have no choice but to return to the Capitol to participate in the legislation.
"I don’t believe that there are enough Democrats to make quorum yet, but they’re still eagerly trying to twist arms and put pressure on my colleagues," Reynolds said. "That is happening daily. That’s been happening since we left. But we have been resolved, and we’ve been strong and united in our efforts to solidify and not break ranks.”
Republicans said the election bill in question will protect elections and said the special session became a huge waste of money.
“A special session costs us over $1 million of additional cost to the taxpayers of Texas,” Rep. Jim Murphy said. “In this case, they paid $1 million and got pretty much nothing.”
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