Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan Tuesday night signed civil arrest warrants for 52 Democrats who left the state to prevent passage of an elections integrity bill, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The Democrats left Texas early last month to deprive the state House of a quorum, which is required to conduct official business. They claim a Republican-led elections reform bill discriminates against minorities.
The House voted 80-12 Tuesday to force the deserting members to return, just hours after the Texas Supreme Court ordered that those missing Democrats could be detained by state authorities, the Morning News reported
Phelan’s move, confirmed by spokesperson Enrique Marquez to the Morning News, was an attempt to regain the quorum needed for the chamber to begin moving legislation during the second special session.
Marquez said the warrants will be delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday morning.
Democrats who might be arrested would not face criminal charges or fines and could only be brought to the House chamber, The Texas Tribune reported.
GOP Gov. Greg Abbott and Phelan on Monday had asked the Texas Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from a state district judge that blocked them from ordering the arrest of the quorum-breaking Democrats.
After Phelan signed the warrants, Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement saying it is "fully within our rights as legislators to break quorum to protect our constituents" and reiterated his party members commitment "to fighting with everything we have against Republicans' attacks on our freedom to vote."
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, was the only Republican to vote against authorizing the arrest warrants. Larson has been critical of the elections bill.
"Have we got to the point where we believe our own bull shizz so much that we arrest our own colleagues," Larson tweeted. "Civil discourse took a nasty turn today."
Democrats who fled remain defiant, and some are outside the reach of the House sergeant-at-arms and state troopers. At least two dozen House party members have remained in Washington, D.C., the Morning News reported.
"I just question whether [the Department of Public Safety] or anyone can break down my door to come and put me in shackles and drag me there," Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, told the Morning News. "I feel certain that I can stay in my home, and stay off the House floor."
The legislature's second special session began Saturday, a day after the first 30-day special session ended. Since Monday, the House has been just four members shy if a quorum – so it wouldn't take many arrests for the House to be back in business.
The House previously authorized state authorities to track down their colleagues during the first special session in July, but the move carried little weight since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside the state.
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