Texas' House of Representatives on Thursday advanced a voting bill, more than six weeks after Democrat lawmakers fled the state in an effort to deny the legislature the quorum needed to approve the Republican-backed measure.
The House resumed business on Aug. 19 after three of the absentee Democrats returned to the statehouse, saying they had successfully brought national attention to the Texas bill and galvanized U.S. lawmakers to move forward on federal voting rights legislation.
Thursday's vote moving the bill forward followed hours of fiery debate, but its outcome was widely expected because the state legislature is dominated by a Republican majority.
The bill, approved 79-37 mostly along party lines, will now proceed to a final vote in the Texas House Friday. It is widely expected to pass there and in the Senate, clearing the way for Republican Governor Greg Abbott to sign it into law.
The Democrat lawmakers' exodus on July 12 set up one of the most prolonged political showdowns over U.S. statehouse measures limiting voting access. Republicans have pushed the measures, citing former President Donald Trump's claims that voter fraud cost him the November election.
The Texas bill would outlaw drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, add new identification requirements to mail-in voting, prevent election officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and empower partisan poll watchers.
Democrat lawmakers and voting rights advocates have claimed that limiting flexible voting methods and other provisions of the bill would disproportionately hamper voters of color, a charge denied by its Republican backers.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, asked members to refrain from using the word "racism" during Thursday's House floor debate, and rebuked Democrat Rep. Gina Hinojosa when she asked whether intentional discrimination against people of a certain race was "racism."
"I'm sorry that when we talk about discriminatory impact it bothers people," Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia said during the debate, citing federal court rulings that found other recent Texas voting legislation discriminatory.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to update existing federal voting safeguards, though it faces slim chances of passage in the Senate. Senate Democrats vow to push forward with the more expansive For the People Act that has stalled in that chamber.
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