As Texas Legislature Calls It Quits For Now, Voting Bill Blame Game Continues

With the bang of his gavel, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan adjourned the Texas House Monday afternoon.
With the bang of his gavel, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan adjourned the Texas House Monday afternoon. Screenshot
Now that the 2021 regular session of the Texas Legislature is officially wrapped-up, state lawmakers are waiting to hear when Gov. Greg Abbott will call them back to work for overtime as he promised to revive Senate Bill 7, the controversial Republican election reform bill Texas House Democrats killed over the weekend with a last-minute walkout.

In the waning hours of the 87th Legislative Session, Texas’ Republican leaders began laying out who they each thought should be blamed for the chaotic last few days of lawmaking, while Democrats celebrated their state House allies’ success in defeating what they considered an unprecedented attack on Texan voting rights.

Late Sunday night, Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a statement criticizing House Democrats, who he argued “have chosen to disrupt the legislative process by abandoning the legislative chamber before our work was done.”

Phelan said the Democratic walkout also doomed the passage of bills “to ban no-knock warrants, reform our bail system, and invest in the mental health of Texans.”

“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction — especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure,” Phelan wrote.

But in a speech to his colleagues right before the House officially adjourned its regular session Monday afternoon, Phelan praised the House as a whole for their work over the past several months and didn’t lash out against Democrats by name. “No matter the external forces that tried to distract us or diminish the work of this body, we are the Texas House,” Phelan said. “In this House, we work hard. And our rules matter.”

Phelan’s focus on his rule-abiding representatives could be interpreted as a ding at Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who several times over the session twisted the arms of his Senate’s Republican majority to override the chamber’s regular procedures to muscle-through his preferred bills, as when he oversaw and approved Senate Republicans’ effort to fast-track the Senate vote on SB 7 over the weekend.

Late Sunday night following the House Dems’ walkout, Patrick laid the blame for SB 7’s demise on Phelan’s House. Patrick claimed the “clock ran out on the House [for SB 7] because it was managed poorly,” in reference to how Phelan let the House stop work for multiple days a week ago out of protest for how slowly the Senate was moving to approve House-backed bills.

“I can’t even blame it on the other party for walking out,” Patrick said. “They got an opportunity to walk out because of the deadline.”

Abbott attempted to blame the Legislature as a whole for its failure to pass SB 7, first on Sunday by calling for a special session to revive the election bill as well as bail reform legislation he’d named as an emergency priority earlier this year, and then on Monday by promising to use his veto power to cut off the two-years of funding for the entire Legislative branch approved by lawmakers in the recently-passed state budget.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” Abbott tweeted Monday.

If you believe Don Huffines, Abbott’s hard-right foe running for the Republican nomination for governor, Abbott himself is the one who abandoned responsibility by not pressuring his Republican allies in the Lege to force through the election reform bill before the absolute last minute.

“Last night, the Republican-led Texas House of Representatives allowed Democratic lawmakers to kill election integrity legislation,” Huffines wrote in a statement Monday. “A critical bill like this can only fail in a Republican-led chamber when there is a failure of leadership from the Texas governor.”

Huffines vowed that if he were to become governor, “we will introduce and pass bills that are in the best interest of Texans at the beginning of a legislative session, rather than cowardly putting off our most important work until the final hours of a legislative session.”

Fort Bend County Judge KP George on Monday joined his fellow Democrats in celebrating the death of SB 7. “The election restrictions presented in SB 7 would profoundly affect people of color,” George wrote in a statement. “The unity our state [Democratic] leaders showed at the Capitol was the right thing to do. We must work together and stand against efforts that obstruct the right to vote.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted late Sunday in celebration of SB 7’s failure to advance before the session ended. After thanking House Democrats for killing “the most suppressive voter suppression bill in the nation,” Hidalgo cautioned her allies that “The fight continues. Those who’ve been pandering, pretending that there was massive voter fraud, are in too deep now.”

George echoed that sentiment Monday: “Governor Greg Abbott has made clear his intentions to bring this legislation back up as part of a special session of the Legislature. We must continue to shut down partisan falsehoods of voter fraud and use our voices to speak against this attack on voting rights and our democracy.”

Phelan acknowledged Monday that the fight surely will continue, even if he can’t pinpoint when Abbott will declare the next round will start. “We will be back,” Phelan said. “When, I don’t know, but we will be back. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you.”
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards