The speaker of the Texas House of Representatives signed 52 civil arrest warrants on Tuesday after the House authorized law enforcement officers to round up and potentially arrest absentee Democrats who fled the state to block action on election voting legislation.
The 80-12 vote directed the sergeant-at-arms to send law enforcement officers to compel the missing Democrats to appear in the chamber “under warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
The vote came hours after the Texas Supreme Court ordered that those missing Democrats could be detained by law enforcement authorities. The order by the court came after a request by Gov. Greg Abbott and Dade Phelan, the House speaker, to overturn a ruling from a state district judge that blocked the two from ordering the arrest.
The group of Democrats left the state 30 days ago, traveling to Washington, D.C., to avoid the arrest warrants that would compel them to return to the state house. Should they be arrested, the group would not face criminal charges or fines. They could only be brought to the House chamber.
The bill Democrats are opposed to would ban 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting sites and allow partisan poll watchers more access, among other things, according to the AP.
Some of the group has returned to the state and are still refusing to go to the Capitol in Austin to participate in the vote on election voting legislation. At least two dozen House Democrats have stayed in Washington, D.C., where 57 of them had camped out.
How soon or even whether law enforcement would seek out the Democrats was not clear, The Associated Press reported.
Late Tuesday, Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez confirmed to the AP that the report first published by The Dallas Morning News saying that the speaker had signed civil arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats was correct.
As of Tuesday, Republicans needed four more lawmakers present in the House to reach a quorum and move forward with a bill addressing the state’s election code. A quorum requires two-thirds of the 150 members on site.
“We broke quorum because anti-voter bills are nefarious attempts to disenfranchise Texans & these authoritarian motions by Republicans just cement that we are on the right side of history,” Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, wrote on Twitter. “We must hold the line against these desperate attempts to destroy our democracy.”
Some of the Democrats who fled the state have returned, upsetting some of those who have not.
“You threw us under the bus today! Why?” Dallas Democratic state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos wrote in a tweet that included a picture of Rep. James Talarico and other Democrats on the floor of the Texas House.
“We had many heated debates in Washington as we debated our own next steps,” Talarico, one of a handful of Democrats who returned to the Texas Capitol this week, said.
“I’m going to keep those arguments in private. But I know emotions are rightfully running high everywhere, and it’s been a difficult month.”
Last week, Gov. Abbott called for a second overtime session, which started on Saturday.
Abbott has vowed to call “special session after special session” to get a quorum that will allow for a vote on the voting measures and other bills.
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