The Republican Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives said Wednesday that Democratic lawmakers who skipped town to avoid a vote on controversial election reform legislation should give up their daily stipend.
Under the Texas Constitution, state legislators receive a salary of $600 per month. But, they also receive a $221 each day whenever the legislature is in session. A special session called by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott got underway Tuesday, but 51 House Democrats took off for Washington, D.C., the day before to deny the chamber a quorum to consider legislation, including the election bill.
“While these Texas Democrats collect taxpayer money as they ride on private jets to meet with the Washington elite, those who remain in the chamber await their return to begin work on providing our retired teachers a 13th check, protecting our foster kids, and providing taxpayer relief,” Speaker Dade Phelan said in a statement.
“Those who are intentionally denying quorum should return their per diem to the State Treasury immediately upon receipt,” Phelan added.
The Democrats flew to the nation’s capital to press Congress to pass federal election reform legislation that would supersede the Texas bill as well as other controversial election laws in states like Georgia. The Texas Senate passed its version of the legislation Tuesday night, but it can go no further as long as the House does not have a quorum.
Each absent Democrat stands to make a total of $6,630 over the 30 days of the special session. Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner told reporters Wednesday that “I anticipate members are going to decline them.”
“Those per diems are paid out at the end of the month, so that would be several weeks away,” he added.
The Texas bill prevents local officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications and would require applicants to write their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on those applications. It would also put an end to 24-hour voting stations and would ban drive-through voting. It would also state that partisan poll watchers are allowed to stand near election workers at polls.
Democrats say the measure would make it harder for poor and minority voters to cast ballots. Republican supporters of the bill say it would help protect against election fraud.
Abbott, who has threatened to arrest the lawmakers and lock them in the legislative chamber upon their return to the Lone Star State, said Wednesday that the Democrats had not thought of their “endgame.”
“I can tell you what the endgame is,” the governor told Fox News’ “Hannity”. “We are gonna have a special session where these and other issues are going to be voted on … They have a job to do, and let me tell you something: Texas voters are gonna be extremely angry at the Texas House members for not showing up, and not doing the job.”