The Texas House voted Tuesday on a motion by state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, to instruct the Department of Public Safety to detain absent members and return them to the chamber floor until a quorum is present. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for the Texas Tribune
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday evening signed civil arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats still missing from the state Capitol as he aimed to regain the quorum needed for the chamber to begin moving legislation during the second special session.
The move was confirmed by Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez, who said the warrants “will be delivered to the House Sergeant-at-Arms tomorrow morning for service.”
The warrants were first reported by The Dallas Morning News. Democrats who may be arrested would not face criminal charges or fines and could only be brought to the House chamber. Dozens of minority party members fled to Washington, D.C., during the first special session to block a GOP voting restrictions bill.
The 52 warrants represent all but 15 Democrats in the lower chamber. There were at least 11 present Tuesday. There were no additional new Democrats on the floor Tuesday after four returned a day earlier — and drew the wrath of some Democratic colleagues still in Washington, and prompted a renewed push inside the party to hold the line.
Earlier Tuesday, the House voted overwhelmingly to authorize law enforcement to track down lawmakers absent from the chamber.
That 80-12 vote came hours after the Texas Supreme Court ordered that those missing Democrats could soon be detained by state authorities. The order by the all-GOP court came at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and Phelan, both of whom had asked the court Monday to overturn a ruling from a state district judge that blocked those leaders from ordering the arrest of the quorum-breaking Democrats.
In a statement after the warrants were signed Tuesday evening, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said it is “fully within our rights as legislators to break quorum to protect our constituents” and reiterated Democrats’ commitment “to fighting with everything we have against Republicans’ attacks on our freedom to vote.”
Since the Legislature gaveled in Saturday for its second special session ordered by Abbott, the House has been unable to make a quorum as dozens of Democrats have remained absent from the chamber.
When the House was unable to meet its 100-member threshold to conduct business Monday, members adopted a procedural move known as a “call of the House” in an effort to secure a quorum. That move locks doors to the chamber and prevents members on the floor from leaving unless they have permission in writing from the speaker.
That vote earlier Tuesday marks the second time in recent weeks that the chamber has voted to send law enforcement after Democrats still missing from the House.
During the first special session in July, and after more than 50 House Democrats flew to D.C., members present authorized state authorities to track down their colleagues — but the move carried little weight since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside the state.