AUSTIN, TX – House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday signed 52 arrest warrants for Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state in July to put a halt to a voting bill and have yet to return, skipping the second special legislative session of the year in a row.
Texas House Republicans had voted 80-12 to direct the state’s law enforcement to find where the missing Democrats were and force them to return after they abandoned their posts and traveled to the nation’s capital in an effort to bring to a halt a bill overhauling state election laws, which the Dems allege encourages voter suppression against minorities.
According to the Texas Constitution, a minimum of two-thirds of the House and Senate are required to be present, otherwise business cannot be conducted. The absent Democrats were able to stay beyond reach of authorities when they skipped the House’s first special legislative session earlier this summer by crossing state lines.
Recently, some of the missing Democrats have started to return to Texas, but only four have since entered the House chamber; about half of the group is reportedly stayed put in D.C. to lobby for federal voting rights legislation, or have traveled to other, unknown regions.
The arrest warrants, after signed by Phelan, were delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday morning.
State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) announced that he was still in D.C., and would be remaining there for the foreseeable future; he noted that he did not think that the Texas House has the legal authority to arrest him and his fellow lawmakers for being absent.
“We’re united in staying away from the House as long as possible,” he said. “The court will have to make some kind of decision on whether that’s something that can be done or not.”