House Speaker says lawmakers who left Texas should return per diem stipend, Democrats ‘anticipate’ members will decline payments

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The latest tussle between Texas Republicans and their Democratic colleagues who left the state centers on the status of additional payments that lawmakers are supposed to receive since they’re in session again.

State legislators currently receive $600 per month for holding their positions, according to Article 3 of the Texas Constitution. They also get a per diem, an extra $221 stipend, for each day that any regular or special legislative session is held.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan released a statement Wednesday afternoon demanding that the Democrats “return” those per diem payments since they walked out earlier this week and flew to Washington, D.C. as part of a procedural move to kill the Republicans’ elections bills. Gov. Greg Abbott deemed the legislation a priority when he included it among the 11 agenda items for this special session.

“Texas Democrats currently in Washington continue to collect their legislative per diem of $221 during regular and special sessions, which equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars during the course of this special session,” Phelan said. “While these Texas Democrats collect taxpayer money as they ride on private jets to meet with the Washington elite, those who remain in the chamber await their return to begin work on providing our retired teachers a 13th check, protecting our foster kids, and providing taxpayer relief. Those who are intentionally denying quorum should return their per diem to the State Treasury immediately upon receipt.” 

The Democrats addressed the per diem payments during a news conference in D.C. Wednesday afternoon. When a reporter asked about legislators collecting a per diem, several responded by saying “absolutely not” and shaking their heads.

Texas Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, then said he expects his colleagues will decline receiving those payments.

“Those per diems are paid out at the end of the month, so that would be several weeks away,” Turner said. “I anticipate members are going to decline them.”

It’s unclear how that process of either returning or declining per diem would work exactly. KXAN is working to find out more information from administrative staff at the Texas House and Senate.

Guidance about the use of per diem from the Texas Ethics Commission states, “The Texas Supreme Court has interpreted this constitutional per diem as being a compensation payment to a legislator in consideration for all services rendered throughout his or her term. Accordingly, legislators are entitled to a per diem for
each day of session, regardless of how many days were actually attended. Similarly, legislators
are not required to provide evidence of actual expenditures to receive this per diem.”

During the news conference Wednesday, Turner also reiterated that he and the other Democratic lawmakers are paying for their trip to D.C. with donations, not state funds.

“We’re actively raising money to be able to support transportation, lodging, the necessities while we’re away from Texas,” he said.

After the Democrats’ walkout, the Texas Republicans in the House also voted Tuesday for law enforcement to round up lawmakers if they return to the state before the end of the session. While state law enforcement has no jurisdiction in Washington, D.C., the call for arrest merely means Democrats would be forced, upon their arrival, to return to the Texas Capitol for business. Lawmakers would not go to jail.

Democrats repeated they’re going to remain out of the state for a few more weeks.

“Our commitment in the House Democratic Caucus is that we’re going to stay out until this session is over to kill this bill,” Turner said, “and we’re going to use the intervening time to shine a harsh, national spotlight on the Republicans’ vote suppression efforts and use that pressure to encourage and urge and implore Congress, specifically the U.S. Senate, to pass HR 1, the For the People Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. That’s our stated goal. That’s been our goal since we left on Monday, and that remains our goal today.”

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