3 El Paso House Democrats return to Austin for special session
Three members of El Paso’s Texas House delegation returned to the Legislature on Monday, signaling Democrats’ efforts to deny a quorum to block controversial voting legislation is coming to an end.
State Reps. Joe Moody, Mary González and Art Fierro, all Democrats, were at the Capitol in Austin on Monday for the first time since July 12, after spending the past four weeks in Washington, D.C., to prevent the passage of a Republican-led bill they believe will place additional limits on Texas voters. They were among 57 Democrats who left the state, including El Paso’s other two House members, state Reps. Lina Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez.
The Democrats were able to run out the clock during the first legislative special session, which ended Friday. But Gov. Greg Abbott immediately called a second session, which began Saturday and can last up to 30 days.
Though the Texas House still lacked a quorum Monday, it was just five members shy of the requisite 100 members needed to conduct business and pass legislation. It paused its proceedings until Tuesday afternoon.
“Our chief goal in going to Washington was to sound the alarm on voting rights nationwide, and now there’s a new federal bill designed to protect voters and voting access that we expect will be filed soon because of our advocacy,” Fierro said in a statement. “So, while I think we elevated the conversation about voter suppression, there are also concrete protections coming.”
Ortega and Ordaz Perez were not on the House floor Monday.
Ortega, who returned to El Paso, said she will not return to Austin until the House has a quorum or when the majority of the Texas House Democratic Caucus decides to go back — whichever comes first.
“It’s not my intent to help them make a quorum,” Ortega said. “I think the less time we spend there (in Austin), the better it is” for El Paso and Texas, she added.
Ordaz Perez’s whereabouts were unknown.
Moody and González said the possibility of passing legislation dealing with COVID-19 motivated them to return for the second special session. The governor’s agenda includes a call for bills codifying policies ensuring that face masks and vaccines are voluntary.
“COVID’s delta variant is surging as kids are headed back to school, and the governor’s executive orders are keeping our schools from responding. El Pasoans know what’s best for El Paso, so we’re going to fight for local control to keep students, teachers, and parents safe,” Moody said in a statement.
“All of us in the El Paso area understand, because of last year’s experience, how serious the threat of COVID is to our friends and neighbors,” González said in a statement. “I want to work with El Paso leaders and the rest of Texas to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect those vulnerable members of our community so that we don’t end up with a repeat of what happened last fall.”
House Democrats who stayed in Washington criticized their colleagues’ decision to return to the House floor after a Travis County district judge temporarily blocked the arrest of Democrats who are breaking quorum.
“I’ve said this before… it’s a Team Sport… now we see who plays what positions on the Team… The fact that some of us secured a Temporary Restraining Order to protect ALL of us, yet some are trying to please the Governor and His OPPRESSIVE Agenda?! JUST WOW!,” tweeted state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas.
Ortega said she respected her El Paso colleagues’ decision to return to Austin.
“I think we have a strong delegation representing El Paso and I respect the decision that each member makes,” she said.