AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate Republican Caucus held a news conference Wednesday morning regarding its controversial elections bill.
The bill has caused a huge rift within the House and Senate, compelling Democrats to break quorum during the special legislative session and go to Washington, D.C. in an effort to get election-related bills passed at the federal level. It also keeps Texas lawmakers from voting on anything since a quorum is not available.
“Senate Bill 1 makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” bill author State Sen. Bryan Hughes said during the press conference.
The special session version of the voting bill prohibits drive-thru voting, bans 24-hour voting, creates stiffer penalties for voter fraud and adds ID requirements to mail-in ballots.
It gets rid of some of the more controversial items included in the bill during the regular session, like a ban on early voting on Sunday mornings, which Democrats said was an attack on getting ‘Souls to the Polls.’
“We looked into Souls to the Polls. Sunday, voting in Dallas County has always been one o’clock, in Harris County, it’s historically been one o’clock. And so the one o’clock timeframe was putting the bill by the House. We didn’t think much about it,” Hughes explained, “Just to make sure there’s no questions about it, we’ve removed that completely.”
New amendments were added Tuesday on the Senate floor that addressed some issues brought up by voting advocacy groups.
One would require all poll watchers to have a training manual and require the Texas Secretary of State to publish it online. Another would strike the requirement for an assistant to take an oath that a voter with disabilities is eligible for assistance.
Still, Democrats in D.C. said that’s not enough.
“Things like drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting help working people, people who work during the day and can’t get off to go vote. It also helps families with lots of kids, and you can’t bring them on to the polling booth,” Democratic State Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock said from D.C. Wednesday.
But Republicans point to other parts of the bill that cater to shift workers.
“During early voting, your employer has got to let you off work to vote. We’ve had that protection for Election Day, but never before for early voting,” Sen. Hughes said.
For now, neither side is willing to back down.
“We’ll never compromise on the rights of our fellow Texans to vote,” El Paso Democrat Rep. Cesar Blanco said Wednesday.
“We’re going to stay here as long as it takes and come back as many times as it takes to get these protections in place for every Texas voter,” Sen. Hughes said.
Democrats intend to stay in D.C. until the special session expires, but Gov. Greg Abbott said he’d call another one to make sure one of his priority bills is passed. Abbott also said he’ll have the fleeing lawmakers arrested as soon as they come back to Texas and taken to the Capitol grounds to “do the job they were elected to do.”
Texas Democrats said they are willing to come to the table before the end of the session if Abbott reverses his line-item veto on Article 10 in the state budget to restore funding to the state’s legislative branch. Abbott vetoed the portion of the budget in retaliation to the Democrats walking out on the elections bill during the regular session.
Right now, because Democrats have broken quorum and stalled all legislation, Capitol staff will lose funding on Sept. 1, which is when that Article 10 funding runs out. If Democrats still haven’t returned by then and the governor does call another special session, lawmakers will need to figure out how to ensure their staff returns to the Capitol each day until it’s passed.
“I’m sure the members of the Senate, I know I would help my staff from personal funds or campaign funds or find a way to help them so they can keep going. But it would be a mess,” Sen. Hughes said.