AUSTIN, Texas – A Democratic filibuster against the sweeping GOP voting and elections bill, begun Wednesday evening, ended Thursday morning just after Sen. Carol Alvarado passed the 15-hour mark.
The Senate then voted shortly after 9 a.m. to give final approval to Senate Bill 1 on an 18-11 vote, with two Democrats absent for health reasons.
Alvarado, D-Houston, launched her filibuster at 5:47 p.m. Wednesday, reading extensively from public testimony against Senate Bill 1 that came from prior committee hearings on the nationally watched legislation.
Alvarado — who could not sit and lean on her desk, drink or eat until the filibuster ended — also received extensive help from other Democrats, who took to the Senate floor to ask long questions, giving her sometimes scratchy voice a break.
With more than three weeks remaining in the special session, Alvarado knew the filibuster could only delay, not stop, SB 1, but she said it was important to take time to call attention to provisions opposed by Democrats, civil rights groups, disability rights advocates and minority leaders.
Alvarado insisted that SB 1 would unnecessarily make it harder to vote, erecting barriers to helpful innovations recently employed by Harris County, particularly drive-thru, 24-hour and extended-hour polling places.
The right to vote gives people control over their own destinies, Alvarado said Wednesday night, adding: “The Texas Senate is moving in the opposite direction.”
“Today on this floor we stand at one of those pivotal moments. We have a chance to change between preserving and diluting a right that has been fought for and died for,” said Alvarado, who also serves as head of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Harris County’s polling innovations “invited more people to vote,” she said. “Over 10,000 people utilized 24-hour voting, 120,000 using the drive-thru voting … now you’re trying to do away with that, you’re suppressing it.”
Texas SB 1 might have passed the Senate, but is effectively stalled until quorum is met
The author of SB 1, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, defended the measure, saying it expands early-voting hours, includes a process to correct problems on mail-in ballots and requires employers to give time off so an employee can cast a ballot during early voting, not just election day.
“This is a good bill — common-sense reforms, easier to vote, harder to cheat,” Hughes said shortly before the final vote.
SB 1 next goes to the House, which — like in the first special session — can’t accept the bill until a quorum is present.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, praised Alvarado while asking her questions from the floor Thursday morning.
“I just think you have brought to the attention of the state that perhaps this proposal, Senate Bill 1, hadn’t been vetted enough,” he said.
Alvarado also received support from House Democrats who remained in Washington as part of their walkout that has denied a working quorum in the House, blocking business from being conducted.
Republicans were less impressed.
Comparing Alvarado’s filibuster to Wendy Davis’ on abortion regulations
Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, called the filibuster laughable in a tweet, noting that the process leading to approval of SB 1 couldn’t be stopped.
While she spoke, Senate rules required Alvarado to remain focused on provisions of SB 1. She frequently deviated from that requirement, however, acknowledging other Democrats standing in the gallery or wishing others good morning or happy birthday.
With no hope of talking SB 1 to death, Alvarado was allowed to continue as Republicans declined to call the points of order that — if upheld three times for non-germane discussions — would have ended the filibuster.
The atmosphere was far different during Wendy Davis’ 2013 filibuster of abortion regulations. That occurred on the final day of a special session, and with a midnight deadline for final approval of the bill, Republicans aggressively challenged Davis for going off topic.
One upheld point of order, for example, found that Davis strayed from the topic of abortion regulations by citing Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a right to abortion. The ruling from the dais inflamed Davis supporters in the Senate gallery, helping to prompt a loud protest that disrupted a final vote until after the midnight deadline.
The abortion regulations were later passed in the following special session.
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