Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) signed civil arrest warrants for Democrats who refuse to return to their duties in Austin. The speaker accused the group of interrupting GOP efforts to pass election reform legislation in the Lone Star State.
The move came after the Texas Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officers can detain the 52 Democrats in question, and return them to the state Capitol. The state House also passed legislation that authorized the action. The warrants do not apply to 15 Democrats in the lower chamber.
State District Judge Brad Urrutia (D) had previously issued a temporary restraining order that protects the group from being detained. However, the GOP-controlled state Supreme Court overruled the order on Aug. 10.
According to the Texas Tribune, House Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Black will begin rounding up the absent lawmakers once he receives the warrants.
No criminal charges or penalties will apply to any apprehended Texas Democrat. Elected officials will simply be delivered straight to the House chamber. Their absence has repeatedly postponed the passage of GOP-led legislation.
Several group members have already returned to their home state but still did not arrive on the House floor at the time of publication.
The legislation session requires a quorum of at least 100 members to be present. The chamber is only four votes short of meeting the minimum number, with 96 reported in attendance according to the National Public Radio.
BL understands their return stirred some internal conflict as the 52 Democrats continue to resist passing the voting rights bill in Congress. In fact, group members keep urging each other to avoid performing duties and stall the voting process for as long as possible.
State Republicans tried to pass the bill since May, arguing the measure is essential for more reliable elections because it makes it harder to cheat. State Democrats claim the bill infringes on voting rights, and claim voters of color will be disadvantaged.
The standoff began on May 30, when Texas Democrats dramatically walked out of Congress to prevent meeting the quorum moments before the bill was passed.
They have since vowed to indefinitely block the legislation’s passage. However, their Republican peers refuse to give up on fostering more reliable and transparent elections.
On July 12, the group fled to Washington where they hoped U.S. Congress would pass a federal measure on voting rights.
After spending a month in the nation’s capitol this seemed less likely, causing at least one lawmaker to express frustration.
“You all threw us under the bus today! Why?” State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D) said on Twitter.
State Rep. Celia Israel (D) shared a similar level of disappointment.
“I did not sacrifice my business and my family over the last few weeks to just swing the door open for a civil warrant based on right-wing politics, and pandering to 5 percent of the voters,” she said according to the Texas Tribune. “It is sad that it has come to this.”
State Rep. Evelina Ortega (D) has returned home to El Paso, Texas.
“I pretty much feel that it is a shame that the governor and Republicans … are really using the dirtiest tactic available to them,” she said according to the paper. “To me it is all about a power grab. I am glad to stay away and continue to fight them.”