Late on Sunday, May 30, Democrats walked, one by one, out of the state House chamber in Austin, Texas, depriving that chamber of the quorum it needed to vote on Senate Bill 7, which is known by its friends as an “election integrity” bill and by its foes as an act of voter suppression. This is the first of three “Right to Know” reflections on that point. Tomorrow, we will look at the issues in the specific bill under debate. On Thursday, we will consider the demographic context: but today, we look at the tool the minority Democrats used to stop or at least to delay passage of a bill they very much oppose: the tactic of “breaking the quorum.”
Because of the absence o a quorum, the regular session of the legislature ended when May 30 did, without an Act. Unless the Governor reconvenes the legislature for a special session, the law is dead. The rule in Texas is that two-thirds of the members of the House must be present. This gives a minority, with more than one-third of the members, a de facto veto. And this practice of “breaking quorum” has a colorful history. In 2003, during a heated controversy about redistricting, and upon learning that some members had left the House chamber for the same purpose, then-Speaker Tom Craddick ordered the state police to chase them down and bring them back. Some escaped arrest by crossing state lines.
The Thing to Know:
This year, the Speaker of the House assured the Democratic members in advance that they would not be locked in or chased down to protect the forum. Speaker Dade Phelan told reporters, “If they felt like walking out was representing their districts, I was not going to force them to vote on a piece of legislation that was offensive to their district.”