State rep asks AG if Gov. Abbott can vacate absent Democrats’ seats

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to provide legal guidance to clarify whether Gov. Greg Abbott can vacate the seats of House Democrats who fled the state and call a special election for voters to replace them.

White, who serves as the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said he did so at the behest of his constituents in East Texas.

“Does our constitution or state statutes expressly allow for the vacating of legislative seats or seeking a determination if legislators have vacated their legislative seats when members deliberately deny the constitutional quorum [sic] requirement, announce intentions to leave and remain outside the State […] in order to prevent the presiding officer from compelling attendance, and have taken the oath of office?” White asked Paxton.

The governor and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, have threatened to arrest House Democrats who left the state during a special session in order to deny quorum so that legislative business can’t get done, including voting on election reform measures.

The House is currently under a “call of the House,” which requires members to return to the chamber who are not there and for those who are there to not be able to leave. However, Phelan has given permission slips to Democrats and Republicans to leave. Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio has been traveling back and forth between Austin and Washington, D.C., for example. As a result, Phelan issued a civil warrant for his arrest when Cortez is next in Texas.

The arrest warrant for Cortez is the only one issued to date.

The current special session is more than halfway over. Abbott has said he will call another special session every 30 days until legislative business is accomplished.

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