(CBSDFW.COM) – The Texas House of Representatives is at a standstill in the midst of a special session. It is unable to hold any meetings or take votes while dozens of Democratic representatives are absent. The missing representatives fled to Washington, D.C. on Monday to break quorum and stop Republicans from passing a bill that would set hours for when early voting could take place and give more freedom to partisan poll watchers.
What is quorum? And how do you break it?
Quorum is the minimum number of members needed to do business. The Texas Constitution (Article 3, Section 10) sets it at two thirds for the Texas House and Senate. In the House, that means, 100 out of the 150 elected representatives need to be present to hold a meeting or take a vote. On Tuesday morning, there were just 80. By not showing up, Democratic Texas House Representatives are breaking quorum.
What can the House do without a quorum?
Not much. There is an exception to quorum in the Texas Constitution, though.
It says, “a smaller number… may compel the attendance of absent members.” Republicans present on Tuesday voted to do so. “The Sergeant At Arms and directed to send for absentees whose absence is not excused for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance under warrant of arrest, if necessary,” said House Speaker, Dade Phelan
Can Democratic representatives really be arrested?
Yes and no.
Texas law enforcement agencies, most likely state troopers, could arrest the missing representatives, if they were in Texas. They don’t have the authority to make those arrests in Washington, D.C., where the lawmakers are now. An arrest, if it did occur, would also not come with criminal penalties.
“Some people think they’ll be arrested, prosecuted. That isn’t the case. It’s a situation where they can pick you up and take it to the House to conduct business,” said attorney and law professor Eric Cedillo.
Other than to avoid arrest, why did the Democrats go to D.C.?
Democrats say they’re there to call on Congress to pass the For The People Act, a voting rights bill that creates a national standard for how elections are run. The trip also a way to generate attention.
“At the very least, lots of people are going to see it across the county and of course here in the state of Texas. It’ll be situation where issues come to fore more so than if they wouldn’t have taken this action,” said Cedillo.
Who is paying for this out of state trip?
Representatives say the Democratic Caucus paid for the flights. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke has also been raising money to support their effort.
How long will this go on for?
We don’t know. A special session can only last 30 days. There’s nothing, though, preventing the Governor from continuing to call one after another. He says, that’s what he’s prepared to do.