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In 6 a.m. vote, divided Texas Senate approves GOP elections bill after all-night debate

  • May 30, 2021

approved a sweeping Republican elections bill shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday after a lively overnight debate led mostly by Democrats that had begun 7½ hours earlier.

Senate Bill 7, known as the Election Integrity Protection Act, must be approved by the Texas House before midnight Sunday. The bill is eligible for a vote at 4:50 p.m. according to the House calendar.

Democrats criticized the bill’s restrictions, particularly a ban on 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting that was popular with nonwhite voters last year in Harris County, for disproportionately affecting people of color.

“I represent a majority African American district, and we benefited from the drive-thru voting that you’re trying to ban now. I feel like you’re coming for my district,” said Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, adding that leaders with the FBI, Department of Justice and Texas secretary of state’s office acknowledged that the 2020 election was safe, secure and free of widespread fraud.

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said SB 7 was an overreaction.

“We’ve had next to no fraud, and this has been documented at the federal level and the state level. But instead you’re rewriting the Election Code,” she said.

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SB 7 is one of several GOP efforts in statehouses around the country to narrow voting opportunities, particularly in urban counties that tend to vote Democratic, after Republicans echoed former President Donald Trump’s claims that last year’s presidential election was stolen. No widespread fraud was ever uncovered.

But Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, defended his bill as Saturday became Sunday, and he was still at it as sunrise neared — rejecting claims that the bill targeted nonwhite voters or that it was a solution in search of a problem.

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“I would ask that we take the time that’s necessary to understand the changes, to understand the entirety of this before we are asked to vote on a bill that affects every single voter in Texas,” said Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson.

The Senate returned to SB 7 shortly after 10:30 p.m. by taking up a resolution giving the conference committee permission to include provisions that had not been part of the bills passed by the House and Senate.

Hughes, who was co-chairman of the conference committee, said many of the sections added to SB 7 were taken from other GOP election bills that had passed the Senate or were considered in committee, while other ideas cropped up during negotiations with his co-chairman, Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park.

Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, called the resolution an affront to the legislative process.

“This seems more like you’re trying to get in bills that you couldn’t pass, or you thought of some other way to do some things that many of the members of this chamber don’t want you to do,” Johnson said.

After the Republican majority voted to approve Senate Resolution 547, senators began debating SB 7 at 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

A pattern of late nights

Partisan disagreements have pushed lawmakers into several late-night and early-morning sessions in the past several weeks as Republicans pressed an aggressively conservative agenda this session.

A rancorous debate over SB 7 pushed the Texas House beyond 3 a.m. on May 7, setting the stag for this weekend’s showdown.

And a fight over House Bill 3979 found the Senate voting at 2 a.m. on May 22 over legislation to limit how public school teachers handle discussions of race and racism in the classroom.

The Senate made wholesale changes on the floor, putting the bill in danger when House Democrats successfully argued that several amendments violated House rules.

With no time to fix the bill by traditional means, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick allowed Hughes to make a motion to recede, a little-known parliamentary maneuver that stripped the bill of all Senate changes and passed HB 3979 in its original House form on a party-line vote.

Democratic objections that the Texas Constitution did not allow bills to be passed that late in the session were overruled. 

The session ends on Monday, with lawmakers still not having agreed upon priority legislation, including fixing the Texas electrical grid after millions of Texans were plunged into cold and darkness during the deadly February winter storms.=

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