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More than a dozen Democrats return, signaling more assured end of quorum bust in the Texas House

Roll call is tallied on the House floor on Aug. 23, 2021..JPG
Posted at 9:03 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 22:04:25-04

Quorum-breaking Texas House Democrats saw a large break in their ranks Monday as over a dozen members returned to the floor, while others remained away in protest over the GOP voting bill — but not enough to halt chamber business.

The development meant that a new high of 113 members were present for the second special session. A quorum in the Texas House is typically 100 members, however, there are currently two unfilled seats which means a quorum is 99 members.

On Thursday, the House made quorum for the first time in nearly six weeks, since Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., in July in an attempt to stop the elections bill. But some Democrats outside the Capitol called it into question, saying there were members marked present who were not physically on the floor.

When the House met Monday evening, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced that a quorum was present, but Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Dripping Springs, requested a vote verifying that. The vote yielded a quorum of 100 members, one more than needed.

After that vote, though, 13 new Democrats checked in. The group included the caucus chair, Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

“We’re in the next phase of the fight now, which means fighting here in the committee process and on the House floor,” Turner told reporters after the House gaveled out. “Obviously, we always have every tool at our disposal, but right now the fight is here in the Texas Capitol.”

The burst of arrivals was not entirely expected. While some Democrats had released statements since Thursday that they were coming back to the Capitol, there were only a handful of them and some did not specify whether they planned to actually return to the floor and contribute to quorum.

On Sunday, Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, sought to get those Democrats to reconsider, sending a letter asking them to “not go to the floor until there is a calendar of bills.”

The elections legislation that the absent Democrats were aiming to block would outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access, further tighten the voting-by-mail process and bolster access for partisan poll watchers, among several other changes to state elections. Republicans have championed the proposal as “election integrity” that would bring what they argue are much-needed reforms to the state’s voting system, while Democrats and voting rights groups have criticized the proposal as a vehicle that would harm marginalized voters in the state.

If the 113-member attendance count — or something like it — holds up, the House may be on a path to more assuredly resume business after days of uncertainty. However, time is limited, as there is roughly two weeks left in the 30-day special session.

In total, there were at least 15 Democrats who appeared on the floor Monday evening who had previously not been there since the quorum break started. They included Zwiener and Turner, as well as Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas, Ann Johnson of Houston, Alex Dominguez of Brownsville, Vikki Goodwin of Austin, John Bucy of Austin, Julie Johnson of Farmers Branch, Lina Ortega of El Paso, Rafael Anchía of Dallas, Jon Rosenthal of Houston, Sheryl Cole of Austin, Toni Rose of Dallas, Mary Ann Perez of Houston and Donna Howard of Austin.

Even with quorum decisively restored, there was still a sizable bloc of Democrats missing from the floor. Earlier Monday, a group of 32 Democrats released a statement emphasizing that a quorum is "not perpetual" and saying that even though some of their colleagues were returning to the Capitol, "any Member, at any time, has the right to break quorum should they deem it necessary." A few of the 32 Democrats ended up checking in on the floor Monday evening.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/23/texas-legislature-house-quorum-democrats/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.