Texas legislature to take up voting limits, other measures in special session


AUSTIN (Reuters) — Texas lawmakers will kick off a special session on Thursday to consider a range of Republican-backed measures, including voting restrictions that Democratic lawmakers previously blocked.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott has also instructed state lawmakers to consider bills that would block transgender students from competing in athletics that correspond with their gender identity, fund arrests of immigrants living in the country illegally, restrict abortion access and limit teaching about the role of racism in the United States.

Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have passed similar measures in recent months in an effort to push back against Democratic President Joe Biden’s agenda and satisfy diehard supporters of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.

“We have unfinished business to ensure that Texas remains the most exceptional state in America,” Abbott said in a statement on Wednesday as he released the agenda for the special session.

In a dramatic walkout on May 30, just before the end of the state’s regular legislative session, Democratic lawmakers denied Republicans the quorum needed to pass a bill that would have limited early voting hours, added new identification requirements for absentee voting and banned ballot drop boxes.

The boycott marked a notable victory for Democrats, who have unsuccessfully fought a slew of similar laws passed since the beginning of the year in states where, like in Texas, Republicans control both the state legislature and the governor’s office.

But Texas Republicans are likely to pass the elections bill, known as SB 7, in the special session that could last up to 30 days. Hearings on the bill will begin on Saturday, according to a tweet from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

Voting rights advocates plan to rally outside the statehouse on Monday and lobby lawmakers to oppose the voting restrictions, according to Anthony Gutierrez, Texas director of Common Cause.

James Slattery, senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, called Abbott’s agenda for the special session a “carnival-esque” political maneuver that ignored the state’s most pressing crises, such as deadly power grid failures that left 4.3 million people without heat for days during a February cold snap.

Slattery said that while many bills on Abbott’s agenda would threaten Texans’ civil rights, the legislation making voting harder was especially alarming.

“A fully functioning democracy keeps government accountable to the people, so all the other fights flow from that,” he said.

Fighting voter suppression is a priority for Biden, who is meeting with civil rights groups on Thursday to discuss their efforts to protect voting rights, according to a Democratic official.

Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Biden has assigned to lead the administration’s work in that area, will announce expansions to a Democratic National Committee voter mobilization campaign on Thursday, the official said.

Reporting by Julia Harte; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney.

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