Texas Election Bill debate stretches into the wee hours of the morning
AUSTIN – The Texas Senate was set to push forward a massive election bill on Sunday, after an overnight, hour-long debate in which Democrats lambasted the GOP majority for publishing hours earlier a new version of the legislation expanding its restrictions and sanctions.
Discussion of the far-reaching election legislation began just after 10:30 pm It continued over three hours later and would likely continue until late Sunday morning. The Senate is expected to vote and pass the legislation on partisan lines later Sunday.
The bill would still need Texas House approval by midnight Sunday before it can be forwarded to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will sign it. Democrats in the House will likely try to deal a death blow to the bill in the eleventh hour using procedural tactics.
Senate Democrats bemoaned the late-night debate on Sunday and complained they only had a few hours to digest the new additions to the bill. The final draft of the bill was 67 pages long, 44 pages longer than a previous draft. They said the bill targets voters of color, reduces access to the ballot and will eventually bring the state to court.
“Texas has a pretty tragic past of voter suppression. We’ve been in court for decades, “said Senator Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, just after 2:30 a.m.” I have serious concerns about any bills that are drafted in the shadows or passed late in the morning. the night.
The bill’s author, Senator Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, described the legislation as a common sense approach to ensuring election security and voting honestly.
“We want elections to be safe and accessible,” said Hughes.
Senate Bill 7, if passed into law, would set uniform early voting times, empower pro-poll observers, and impose new criminal penalties on poll officials and assistants who break the rules.
During closed-door discussions on the final bill, Republicans added provisions from bills that passed away this session, such as requiring candidates for the postal vote to provide an identification number on their documentation or undertake not to have any identity document. They also included several new sections that were not in any of the early drafts of the legislation, including provisions to facilitate the overturning of election results and to allow partisan observers who believe they are illegally barred from observing an election. to seek legal redress.
The first five hours of debate were a tense, but cordial slug festival, with Hughes following several rounds of salvos from outraged Democrats.
Senator Nathan Johnson of Dallas criticized Republicans for inserting failed bills into election legislation.
“It seems more like you’re trying to get bills that you can’t pass, or thinking of some other way to do things that a lot of people in this chamber don’t want you to do,” he said. he said. Hughes. “Is the process worth anything?”
Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, wondered aloud why there were more than a dozen law enforcement officers stationed in the Senate gallery when there was only one a handful of spectators.
“Do you feel threatened by the 13 people who oppose this report in any way?” Zaffirini, who has served in the Senate since 1987, asked, referring to Democrats in the chamber.
“Do I feel threatened? No, senator. Should I? “Hughes replied.” I always feel safe on Capitol Hill. “
“Good,” Zaffirini said, smiling. “I hope we don’t look dangerous.”
Just after 3 a.m., Hughes and Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, had a tense exchange about the bill’s effects on minority communities and whether black and Latino members of the chamber had been consulted in an appropriate manner.
“You make it harder for people of color to vote,” Miles said, to which Hughes insisted, “No sir, we are not.”
“Time and time again this session has passed legislation that harms people of color,” Miles said, adding sarcastically, “Thank you for bringing this horrible bill to the voters of the state of Texas.”
Hughes said he had heeded Democrats’ concerns, removing a provision that would have reduced the number of polling stations serving voters of color in urban areas.
Several Democrats have peppered Hughes with tough questions about other specific provisions that were left or added. Representative Royce West of Dallas asked why the bill increased early voting on Sundays from five to six a.m. – but limited hours of operation to 1 to 9 p.m.
“Can’t you find that kind of dishonesty?” The most people who vote on Sunday are African American, ”Hughes asked. Referring to legislation that could increase the hours Texans can buy alcohol on Sundays, he then joked: “So we’re going to be able to buy beer at 10 in the morning, but we can’t vote before.” 13 hours. the clock?”
Hughes voted against the bill to increase alcohol sales, but told West it was too late to change the law now.
Democrats also asked Hughes which parts of the bill specifically targeted Harris County voting measures implemented in 2020.
“These provisions for drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting and unsolicited postal voting requests originated in Harris County. But there is much more to the bill, ”replied Hughes.
As a main supporter of the bill, he said the priority and prerogative of the Legislature was to make election laws more uniform. He repeated on several occasions that the provisions of the bill would apply to all voters in the same way, “in all areas”.
“A county fails to invent the rules,” he said. “The state decides what the electoral code is, and then the county has to follow it.”