WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Weeks after Texas Democrats left the state for Washington, D.C., to halt GOP-backed election reform legislation, the Democrats are testifying before Congress on voting rights.
The Democrats believe the legislation restricts the rights of voters and are pushing for federal voting rights legislation. Texas Republicans believe the election reform legislation ensures the integrity of elections.
On Thursday, July 29, Texas lawmakers testified before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
In powerful testimony, Rep. Senfronia Thompson recalled having to pay a poll tax because she is Black and she recalled not being allowed to vote in primaries.
She said she left Texas to protect her constituents' right to vote.
"You damn right I left Texas,” Thompson said. "I left Texas to give my people the right to be able to vote without them being infringed upon.”
Rep. Diego Bernal explained how the bill would practically impact voters with a story. Every year he takes his neighbor, a senior citizen who isn’t comfortable speaking English, to the polls.
On Election Day, he took her to vote after she told him she had not voted yet. When they arrived at the polls and got to the front of the line, he filled out a form, stating who he is and why he helps his neighbor. He said that under House Bill 3, he would have to sign an oath, under the penalty of perjury, saying he didn’t coerce her to come vote and can only translate. And he’s nervous because he did ask her if she voted yet. He said he would also be worried about the poll watchers if HB 3 passed.
A Republican lawmaker testified remotely, telling his Democratic colleagues, “You’ve had your fun, it’s time to come home."
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said he salutes the Texas Democrats for coming to "urge us to protect their voting rights." He said voting has been a long-time struggle for Americans.
"The struggle for the right to vote has been a struggle against all political parties in our history, and nobody has clean hands here when you look at it historically," Raskin said. "The question is whether we are willing to commit ourselves to a struggle that extends the right to vote for everyone. It’s not a partisan question, it’s a question of small-d democracy.”
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Waco) said, "Republicans don’t walk out. We don’t go and accuse people of things just because we’re losing."
The Democrats have been in D.C. since July 12. While in D.C, the lawmakers are doing dozens of interviews every day, social media Q&As and anything to get the word out about why they fled to Washington to halt progress on what they call a "voter suppression" bill. They are also urging the U.S. Congress to pass federal voting protection bills.
In Texas, Republicans are still moving along with plans to push more legislation through the special session. These are the bills they have passed in the Senate so far:
- Senate Bill 1 amends the state's election code to clamp down voting-by-mail rules and limit initiatives Harris County took in 2020 to widen access to voting. Passed by 18-4 vote.
- Senate Bill 3 bans critical race theory in Texas schools. Passed by an 18-4 vote.
- Senate Bill 4 is an abortion-related bill focused on “the regulation of drug-induced abortion procedures.” Passed on a 19-3 vote.
- Senate Bill 6 would keep more people who have been accused but not convicted of violent or sexual crimes in jail unless they have enough cash. It would also restrict charitable bail groups’ ability to pay to get people out of jail.
- Senate Bill 7, or the "13th Check," gives retired teachers, counselors and school staff in the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRST) who retired on or before Dec. 31, 2020, an additional, one-time retirement check. Passed unanimously.
- Senate Bill 8 and Senate Bill 12, both related to property tax.
However, action can't be taken on any of these Senate bills until a quorum is restored in the Texas House.
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