Texas House lawmakers debate GOP-backed voting restrictions bill

The debate on Senate Bill 1 began with a request by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) for state lawmakers to keep it civil and to avoid using the word racism. 

However, hard feelings immediately flared up when state Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) brought up comments Democrats made during their quorum break.

"And while they were in Washington DC did they challenge the integrity of members with accusations of racism, voter suppression, were those made during the trip to DC," he said.

House Democrats fled to Washington in May to prevent a floor debate on election law reform. Now back in Austin, the political fight continued Thursday. About 70 amendments were filed with a lot of focused on access.

"What we don’t do, about in terms of the purpose of increasing the voter turnout," asked state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston).

The question was for state Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville), who sponsored SB1 in the House. "Chairman Dutton that makes me think of a phrase my grandmother used to tell me, common to all of us and that is you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink," said Murr.

This partisan fight started before the November presidential election. SB 1 was drafted in response to how some local voting officials used concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to expand voting rules. Travis County allowed anyone to drive up and drop off early voting ballots. Harris County reportedly let people use mobile voting tablets in their vehicles.

The first amendment in the debate by state Rep. Rafeal Anchia (D-Dallas) was an attempt to kill SB 1. "It will allow local election administrators to employ strategies during the deadliest pandemic in 100 years to maintain public health and at the same time protect access to the franchise to people worry about contracting COVID," argued Anchia.

His proposal would allow for things like 24 hour voting, which would eliminate a cap of 16 hour a day set by SB 1. 

Tempers flared when state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) helped Anchia justify his amendment. "Intentional discrimination against people of a certain race is that racism?" she asked.

Anchia agreed, "Those words intentional racism I think can be fairly characterized in that manner."

That exchange prompted Speaker Phelan to get involved. "We can talk about racial impacts of this legislation without accusing members of this body of being racist," said the Speaker.

Tensions intensified when state Rep. JM Lozano (R-Kingsville) criticized Anchia for going to Washington and not raising his concerns in previous committee hearings.

"Do you believe I don’t care about voting rights since you called them in question," said Anchia. 

"I think you could care a little more and you should’ve been here," responded Lozano.

The verbal clash prompted the House speaker to once again intervene. "Members let’s please confine your remarks to the amendment," said Phelan.

The fight is far from over and the possibility of another quorum break is still in play.

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