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Arrest Warrants Have Been Issued To Bring Back Texas Democrats Blocking Voting Bill

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The battle over voting restrictions continues in Texas. This morning, the Texas state Senate passed another version of its voting bill. A 15-hour filibuster could not stop it. And in the House, the Republican speaker has issued arrest warrants for many Democrats who had fled the state to stop this legislation. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin joins us now.

Welcome.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: Hey there. So I got to say, this sort of feels like deja vu because aren't lawmakers in Texas now in, like, their third legislative session this year? What's in this latest bill?

LOPEZ: So you're right. This Senate Bill 1 is the third iteration of what would amount to basically a sweeping change to Texas' election code. This bill would add new restrictions to curbside voting and vote-by-mail. It also would ban drive-through voting and 24-hour voting centers, which were mainly used by the state's biggest and most racially diverse county in 2020. And it would add some new rules and criminal penalties for people who assist voters with disabilities.

CHANG: OK. Tell us the arguments on both sides for and against this bill.

LOPEZ: So Republicans say this bill is needed to protect election integrity. And they have added some amendments to the bill that were suggested by Democrats, particularly changes to a handful of the things the disability community was concerned about. But overall, voting and disability groups say these bills will still make it harder for some voters to cast a ballot. Before this morning's Senate vote, Democratic state Senator Carol Alvarado mounted a 15-hour filibuster overnight criticizing the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROL ALVARADO: Senate Bill 1 slowly but surely chips away at our democracy. It adds rather than removes barriers for Texas seniors, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Asian and Latino voters from the political process.

CHANG: Fifteen-hour filibuster overnight. OK. So where does this bill go from here? Because a bunch of Texas House Democrats are still in Washington trying to block this effort, right?

LOPEZ: Yeah, that's right. And they've been in D.C. for about a month now. And, you know, right now, it's unclear if the House has a quorum, but we know they're pretty close. Last time they called for a quorum, they were short four people. There have been reports of a few of those 50 plus Democrats in Washington who have returned to Texas. And on Tuesday, Republican leaders sent out arrest warrants for any Democrats who broke quorum and are in Texas. While there are some legal questions about the warrants, they could presumably be forced to come back to the capital.

And we're still early in what is now the second special session called by the governor. So we're all just kind of, like, waiting and seeing what happens. Even if there's another special session, though, and this one ends without a quorum as well in the House, Governor Greg Abbott has said he will continue calling special sessions until a voting bill is passed. The question will be whether Democrats in Washington will have, like, the resources and the resiliency to go another couple rounds of this.

CHANG: It's incredible. I mean, Ashley, as someone who has been watching all of this for months now, I wonder, what do you think all of this says about just the state of politics in Texas right now?

LOPEZ: You know, this is about as chaotic as I have ever seen governance in the state of Texas, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. I've heard both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature, particularly people who have been there a long time, say this is the most gridlock and, like, acrimony they've seen in their legislative career. So this just shows you just how contentious this has gotten.

CHANG: That is Ashley Lopez of member station KUT in Austin. Thanks so much, Ashley.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEX'S "GET IN YR SQUADS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.