This post has been updated since our Breaking News alert.
The clock ran out on the session’s most significant election legislation, Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). The official cause of death is the House being forced to adjourn because it lacked a quorum an hour before a procedural deadline would have killed the bill anyway. The underlying cause of death was a series of decisions by the bill’s author and its sponsor, Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), that put it in such a precarious position.
However, its death is likely temporary, as the Legislature will be back in session this fall to draw new districts and address any other issues designated by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in his proclamation calling the special session. In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he was disappointed this bill and a bill reforming the state’s bail system – both declared emergency items early in the session – failed to reach his desk. “They will be added to the special session agenda,” Abbott said. “Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.”
Around 11 p.m., the House adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow (Monday) for lack of a quorum. Democrats, who had spent the last several hours fighting a resolution permitting the conference committee to go “outside the bounds” of its jurisdiction and then the bill itself, walked out with about an hour to go before the deadline for the chamber to approve conference committee reports. The maneuver killed Senate Bill 7 and every other conference committee report eligible for consideration tonight.
The fact that the bill was in jeopardy at all is solely the responsibility of its managers. Abbott declared “election integrity” an emergency item as the session began, enabling the Legislature to jump-start the process for considering it. However, neither chamber took any official action during the “emergency” period. The bill passed the Senate on April 1, less than a week after it was approved by the State Affairs Committee, which Hughes chairs. It was received from the Senate on April 6 and referred to Cain’s Elections Committee on April 12. Four days earlier, Cain’s committee passed House Bill 6 by Cain, the “companion” to Senate Bill 7.
Cain would eventually substitute his House Bill 6 language for Senate Bill 7, effectively turning the Senate Bill into an identical copy of House Bill 6, but the bill sat in his committee for 17 days before his committee acted on it. While the bill was approved in a public hearing, Cain indicated public testimony was not needed, as the bill language was going to be identical to House Bill 6 for which hours of testimony was taken. If there was never an intent to take testimony on Senate Bill 7, then it could have been voted out as substituted at least two weeks earlier that when the committee acted on it. Failure to utilize those two weeks contributed to the bill’s demise.
But that wasn’t the only avoidable delay. The House passed the bill on May 7. It took 10 days for the Senate to appoint conferees. By contrast, it took just four days for the Senate to appoint conferees on the budget. The House appointed conferees on May 19. It took 10 more days to develop the conference committee report, which contained numerous provisions that were not in either bill, likely contributing to its production time. Thus, a bill that passed the Senate two months ago and could have moved more swiftly through the House ended up having just hours to live – the conference committee report was not eligible for consideration until nearly 5 p.m. today – and being an easy target to kill.
Addressing senators after the House adjourned, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said, “Time ran out in the House because it was poorly managed.” The Senate adopted the conference committee report early this morning after debating it through the night, precisely to prevent Democrats from blocking its passage by filibuster or quorum break.
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