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Texas House Speaker Signs Arrest Warrants For Democrats Still Refusing To Return

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan reportedly has signed off on dozens of civil arrest warrants for Democratic lawmakers.
Eric Gay
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan reportedly has signed off on dozens of civil arrest warrants for Democratic lawmakers.

Remember when protesting Texas House Democrats abandoned the state Capitol, then fled the state to Washington, D.C., to block proposed voting restrictions during a special session?

Well, major developments late Tuesday mean they might not be able to escape the long arm of the law for much longer.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan signed off on dozens of civil arrest warrants for Democrats late Tuesday after a majority of the remaining representatives in the chamber voted to authorize this step, The Dallas Morning Newsfirst reported.

The move came hours after a ruling by the all-Republican state Supreme Court that said law enforcement can round up rogue legislators and bring them back to the state Capitol's House chambers. The state Supreme Court's decision undid a lower court ruling that said lawmakers couldn't be arrested.

The 52 warrants seeking the arrest of the fugitive Democrats will be delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday, according to Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez, who spoke to The Dallas Morning News.

Critically, it wouldn't take many arrests for the House to return to business, the newspaper reported. A quorum is reached when two-thirds of the 150 members are in the chamber. Since Monday, 96 House members have recorded themselves as present, leaving it just four votes short of a quorum.

On Monday, state Rep. Gina Hinojosa called out Democrats who had returned to the chamber and urged her party colleagues still absent to stay away.

"Quorum is still not met. Praying no other Democrats willingly go to Floor," she tweeted.

If the Democrats are successful in denying the House its quorum, Republicans could be forced to end their second 30-day special session without voting on any bills.

Tensions flare up in both parties

The U.S. and Texas flags fly outside the state Capitol last month in Austin.
Sergio Flores / Getty Images
Getty Images
The U.S. and Texas flags fly outside the state Capitol last month in Austin.

This protracted battle started when Democrats fled the state last month to deny the chamber a quorum that would allow the Legislature the ability to vote on Senate Bill 7. The proposal, which had appeared poised for passage, would cut back polling hours and reduce access to mail-in voting.

Democrats and voting rights advocates say those and other provisions of the bill would make voting more difficult in Texas and could disproportionately burden people of color.

Texas Republicans maintain the bill is meant to reenforce election integrity, but there's been no evidence of significant voter fraud in the state or elsewhere.

Some members headed to Washington to avoid returning to Austin and lobbied for federal voting reforms while there. A federal bill would limit the state's ability to enact local legislation.

Many Texas Democrats remain defiant against efforts to bring them back. But after a month away from Austin, reports indicate that solidarity among members of the party has begun to fray.

State Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos tweeted a picture Monday of state Rep. James Talarico and other Democrats on the House floor and said: "You all threw us under the bus today! Why?"

At least one member of the Republican Party in Texas this week objected to the direction his colleagues were heading.

State Rep. Lyle Larson tweeted after the chamber voted to arrest his Democratic colleagues: "Have we got to the point where we believe our own bull shizz so much that we arrest our own colleagues. Civil discourse took a nasty turn today."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.