80-12: Texas House authorizes sergeant-at-arms to arrest the Dem fleebaggers and bring them back

If this sounds familiar, there’s a reason. A month ago, during the first special session that was called to try to pass the state’s new voting reform bill, they voted 76-4 to authorize the arrests. All of the fleebaggers were in D.C. at the time, though, and of course the Texas House’s sergeant-at-arms has no jurisdiction there. He couldn’t haul anyone in.

A month later, a second special session has been called after the first expired. And things are different this time.

For one thing, the fact that 12 more votes were cast on today’s measure than were cast when the House voted last month is significant:

They had 92 voting today and 95 members present yesterday. They need 100 for a quorum. They’re getting tantalizingly close to the magic number, thanks to the fact that some of the fleebaggers have begun trickling back into Texas. Much to the annoyance of some of their more stalwart colleagues, by the way:

Fleebaggin’ ain’t easy. The Texas Democrats hiding out in Washington were especially sore at the betrayal by their colleagues because they’d just secured a win in court: A Texas judge blocked the House for two weeks from sending the sergeant-at-arms to arrest absent members who are present in Texas, an order which allowed Democrats to return home without fear of being dragged to the state house to vote. Today that decision was temporarily overturned by the all-Republican state supreme court, though, clearing the way for the new House vote to empower the sergeant to find and detain absent lawmakers.

Now the remaining holdouts have to decide whether to stay in D.C. or throw in the towel and come home, knowing that that’ll mean the end of this stunt and passage of the voting bill. Imagine the suspicion among them tonight, with hardliners wondering who’ll be next to follow Talarico’s lead by breaking ranks and flying back to Austin.

Are we actually going to see some ‘baggers back home in Texas arrested?

By the time that first 30-day stretch ended last week, [Speaker Dade] Phelan had signed only one civil arrest warrant, though the move came too late since the Democrat who had returned from the nation’s capital had already gone back.

This latest authorization could yield different results as multiple Democrats in recent days have trickled either back to the Capitol in Austin or to their districts across the state. It was immediately unclear Tuesday afternoon whether Phelan intended to sign similar warrants for Democrats such as Reps. Celia Israel of Austin and Jon Rosenthal of Houston, both of whom said earlier in the day they were back in Texas.

Pressure ramped up Tuesday morning, when a coalition of Democratic-aligned groups released a statement urging House Democrats to hold firm and continue breaking quorum. The 21 groups included ​​Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, the state’s Sierra Club chapter, the Texas Organizing Project, Progress Texas, the Communications Workers of America and several groups that advocate for Latino Texans.

“There’s no way in hell I’m going to that House floor while I’ve got the protection of a judge’s order,” Israel told the Texas Tribune this morning, before the state supreme court nuked that order. Now she’s a fugitive from justice. Will she hit the road and leave the state again? Show up voluntarily to the legislative session tomorrow morning?

Or be frogmarched by Texas Rangers from her home to a waiting police car, where she’ll be dragged to the Capitol?

That’s the wrinkle about “arrest” in these circumstances, by the way. No one’s going to jail or otherwise being penalized for absconding in order to disrupt the people’s business. The law leaves it to voters to punish the fleebaggers at their next election. The most the sergeant-at-arms can do is retrieve a lawmaker from wherever they happen to be in the state and deliver them to the legislature — before barring the doors so that they can’t escape.

But it’s not a done deal yet. The Texas Supreme Court suspended the lower court’s order preventing the House from trying to arrest the fleebaggers but they haven’t ruled on the merits so far. They’ve given Democrats until Thursday afternoon to file a response arguing why the legislature shouldn’t have the power to compel attendance by lawmakers. The suspense until then has to do with whether enough Dems will return to the chamber voluntarily tomorrow or Thursday to give them a quorum, mooting the legal dispute.

I’ll leave you with this, the strongest evidence possible of how eager Texas Republicans are to have 100 legislators present and get down to business.