Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan signed civil arrest warrants on Tuesday for 52 Democratic representatives who fled the state to block passage of a GOP-backed elections bill.
Phelan signed the warrants after House members present in the capital voted 80-12 to allow law enforcement officers to track down absent lawmakers. Democrats who may be arrested will not face criminal charges or fines, and will only be brought to the House chamber for a vote on the elections bill.
Democrats have claimed that the bill would prevent minority voters from casting ballots, while Republicans have touted the legislation as a step to secure elections by instituting voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, criminalizing vote harvesting, and prohibiting some pandemic-era procedures such as drive-in voting.
Several House Democrats blasted the civil arrest warrants in public comments on Tuesday.
“Texas House Democrats are committed to fighting with everything we have against Republicans’ attacks on our freedom to vote,” Texas House Democratic Caucus chair Chris Turner said in a statement.
“We broke quorum because anti-voter bills are nefarious attempts to disenfranchise Texans & these authoritarian motions by Republicans just cement that we are on the right side of history,” State Representative Eddie Rodriguez wrote on Twitter. “We must hold the line against these desperate attempts to destroy our democracy.”
House Democrats initially blocked passage of the bill by walking out of the chamber in late May, denying a quorum required to pass legislation. Governor Greg Abbott responded by calling a special legislative session to pass the bill.
However, Texas Democrats then fled the state, chartering two private jets to Washington, D.C., in another attempt to block the bill. Abbott vowed to arrest the lawmakers upon their return in order to get the legislation passed.