Texas Democrats are reportedly planning to flee the state in an effort to block the legislature from passing an election security bill supported by the Republican majorities and Gov. Greg Abbott (R).This would be the second time the Democrats have used a a walkout strategy to delay the bill's passage.
According to NBC News, at least 58 Democratic members of the state House of Representatives will leave Austin on Monday to block House Bill 3 from passing. By leaving, they will deny the legislature the required quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers present to conduct state business, effectively shutting the chamber down until they return to the state or the session ends.
Most of the Democrats will fly on two private jets chartered to take them to Washington D.C., where they will reportedly lobby federal lawmakers for national voting legislation. Other lawmakers will make their own way to the nation's capital.
The Republican-backed bill was blocked once before in May when Democrats staged a walkout from the state House chamber. Without a quorum present, Republicans were forced to end the legislative session without passing the bill. But Abbott, who considers the bill a priority, called a for special session of the legislature to take it up again in June.
Democrats say House Bill 3 and its companion Senate Bill 1, which implement new voter identification requirements for people voting by mail and ban election officials from sending unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters, would make it harder for minorities to vote. The bills would also end pandemic innovations like drive-through voting and extended hours during early voting, reforms Republicans say are needed to mitigate the risk of voter fraud.
Republican lawmakers worked over the weekend to advance the bills, holding overnight hearings and passing the bills out of their respective House and Senate committees to bring them to the floor this week.
To keep the legislature from considering the House bill, Democrats would have to remain out of state until the end of the special session, which could last up to 30 days. The Texas Constitution empowers the Republican majority to compel the return of absent lawmakers to the state Capitol, and Democrats expect GOP lawmakers to send the state Department of Public Safety to force them to return.
Democrats have apparently been planning their flight for weeks. "Initially, they considered decamping to West Virginia and Arizona, because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have opposed abolishing the filibuster to pass the For the People Act, federal voting legislation the state Democrats support," NBC News reports. "But they feared the states' Republican governors would aid in their arrest and return them to Texas."