Democrats' defeat of Texas voting bill adds an asterisk to Republicans’ “most conservative” legislative session

The House Floor on May 5, 2021.
The House Floor on May 5, 2021.

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Before Sunday, some Texas Republicans were declaring this legislative session the most conservative in the state's recent history.

They had notched long-sought breakthroughs expanding gun rights and restricting abortion, and while some argued even more could have been done, few disputed they had ample achievements to tout.

But a massive asterisk fell upon the session for Republicans late Sunday night, when House Democrats broke quorum and killed Senate Bill 7, a GOP priority bill to tighten election laws in the state, which opponents say would have restricted voting rights, particularly for people of color and the elderly and disabled. That move left several other bills that were pending final approval dead on the final day lawmakers could pass legislation, including a bill identified as a priority by Gov. Greg Abbott that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash.

“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions -- or in this case, inaction -- especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure,” House Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement.

The Democrats celebrated their victory on Sunday, but that could be short-lived. Republicans are now staring down a guaranteed special session to get the job done on SB 7 — and potentially a host of other issues that could further escalate intraparty tensions.

Democratic leaders said they know Republicans will try to bring the issue back in a special session and are preparing to fight it back again.

“We’re outnumbered. There’s no doubt about it. Republicans are in the majority,” said Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “Democrats are going to continue to use every tool in our toolbox to slow them down, to fight them, to stop them. What that looks like weeks or months down the road, I can't predict at this point, but we're going to fight with everything we've got.”