AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House gaveled in Thursday evening, with finally enough members on the House floor to have a quorum. That’s a first this second special session.

Enough of the Democrats who had been absent from the chamber for 38 days returned to the Capitol to resume legislative business. They initially fled the state to fight a controversial, GOP-backed elections bill during the first special session earlier this summer.

One key member who returned Thursday was Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

He’d been absent since the end of the regular session, because he had his right leg amputated for health reasons. He was pushed to his desk in a wheelchair. Coleman led the opening invocation with a unifying tone.

“This is my prayer — one of the things in life is we have to know what our responsibilities are, and we have to work to move something in the direction where we want it to be, and that has a lot to do with civility,” he said. “…I pray that we look, all of us, look inside about where we want this world to go, this state, this house. And look at it from the perspective of trying to find as much common ground as could be found.”

Coleman, along with fellow Houston Democratic Reps. Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle, called for the legislature to come together in a press release explaining why they chose to return.

“We are proud of the heroic work and commitment we and our fellow Democratic caucus members have shown in breaking quorum,” they said. “…It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge.”

The three Democrats said they were proud of their efforts fighting for voting rights by bringing “national attention to the partisan push in our state to weak ballot access.” Republicans have continued to say their elections bill will not suppress the vote but increase elections security.

Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, thanked Coleman and the two other Democrats who returned.

“This has been a very long summer. We’ve been through a lot. I appreciate you all being here. And I appreciate the members who made quorum today,” Phelan said.

House GOP caucus chair Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, echoed the speaker’s sentiments in an interview with Nexstar. 

“Feels great, we’re ready to get the people’s work done. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been here for six weeks. And it’s a relief.”

Despite the rather unified tone on the chamber floor, some Democrats who were still not present expressed anger about the move by their colleagues.

Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, took to Twitter to express her frustration with her colleagues.
Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, expressed respect and support for her colleagues who returned to the Captiol. However, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, implied she wished she knew about the decision beforehand.

Earlier Thursday, the number needed for quorum dropped from 100 to 99 House members, because San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco resigned. He’d announced those plans earlier this year, as he’ll be leaving to teach at San Antonio College.

The first order of business was reading and referral of bills to committees. It’s not clear when the House will take up the elections bill that led to the walkout. The House will stand at ease until 4 p.m. on Monday.