Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday defended election proposals that have been criticized for disenfranchising voters if enacted. He also condemned what he described as “offensive” language used to discuss the bill.
Patrick held a news conference at the Texas Capitol that followed a separate news conference held by Senate Democrats, many of whom are back from Washington D.C. after leaving the state in solidarity with their House colleagues who broke quorum last week. The Democrats oppose House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, which has already passed in the upper chamber but is stalled with the House unable to act.
The bills would bar drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting and prohibit election officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications, among other provisions.
Nine Senate Democrats were in D.C., not enough to break quorum, but they have since returned to Austin. Rep. Carol Alvarado of Houston, who serves as Senate Democratic Caucus chair, said the lawmakers wanted to “raise awareness of the Jim Crow style provisions of Senate Bill 1,” delay the bill and advocate for federal voting rights legislation.
“With complete support and solidarity with our House Democrats, the Texas Senate Democrats are ready to bring the fight right here, back to Austin,” Alvarado said.
Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who wasn’t among those who went to D.C., called on Gov. Abbott to meet with Senate Democrats.
“Let’s sit down as legislators, the executive branch, Republican, Democrats, Independents, and resolve this impasse,” he said. “The public expects us to do it, but governor, threatening to arrest us when you, first, have no authority to arrest House or Senate members is a non-starter.”
Whitmire appeared to be referring to Abbott’s recent comments on KVUE related to House Democrats leaving the state.
“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott said.
Patrick, addressing reporters later in the afternoon, took issue with references to the bills as “Jim Crow 2.0.”
“It’s offensive. It’s tough to sit down and negotiate with someone when you’re basically calling them a racist,” he said. “So to the Democrats, why don’t you knock that off. Number two, quit talking about voter restriction and voter suppression. This bill is not about that. They know it. If there are some issues they want to sit down and tweak, sit down at the table.”
He continued that issues of 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting are “nonstarters.” Both were measures taken in Harris County during the pandemic.
Senate Democrats earlier this month, before House Democrats broke quorum, sent a letter to Senate Bill 1 author Sen. Bryan Hughes outlining concerns about the bill, as well as additions they’d like to it, such as automatic voter registration and universal vote by mail.
Patrick also expressed support for changing the legislature’s quorum rules. Earlier this month expressed support of quorum being changed to a simple majority plus one through a constitutional amendment and asked Abbott to add it to a special session agenda. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote.
“You can’t have Republicans or Democrats, either party, holding Democracy hostage because they’re losing on an issue,” he said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.