Hundreds of Texans gathered at the Texas Capitol early Saturday, July 10, to oppose Republican-backed legislation that would introduce new voting restrictions, but many were left waiting for over 17 hours to be heard. Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 would move “rein in local voting initiatives like drive-thru and 24-hour voting, further tighten the rules for voting by mail, bolster access for partisan poll watchers and ban local election officials from proactively sending out applications to request mail-in ballots” The Texas Tribune reports.
Public testimony in the House committee was scheduled to begin at 8 AM on Saturday, but didn’t actually begin until 1:41 a.m. on Sunday, July 11. Claudia Torres-Yañez told The Tribune that she was willing to wait it out. “I wasn’t going to miss my chance,” she said. Several members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority also refused to leave until they were heard.
Reports The Tribune:
As Saturday turned to Sunday, members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority — clad in the historically Black sorority’s trademark red jackets — sat in the committee room in the same seats they had arrived at the Capitol at 6 a.m. to claim.
Nearly 50 members of the sorority had traveled from across the state to testify on the legislation, but just 19 had stuck it out, said Michelle Brown, one of the group’s leaders. Those who left would be working to submit their testimony in writing.
The legislation on the table is similar to the Republican-backed bill that ended in May when House Democrats staged a walkout in protest. According to The Tribune, “The House’s registration figures showed 484 members of the public had come to the Capitol to register a position on the chamber’s bill, with 407 marking themselves as opposed to the legislation, 65 in support and 12 as neutral.”
Texans were left waiting to testify because The House spent a large amount of time questioning the bill’s Republican author. According to The Tribune:
The House’s hearing started at 8 a.m., but the committee was consumed for hours on GOP priority bail legislation. When lawmakers finally began considering the voting legislation at about 5:30 p.m., they spent more than four hours questioning the bill’s author, state Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican. Much of that questioning was carried out by Democrats on the committee for whom the committee hearing presented the only opportunity to ask questions of Murr at length. Debate on the House floor is time-limited.
The large public turnout at the Texas Capitol happened in part because MOVE Texas organized a training on how to effectively provide public testimony. The organization gathered 50 attendees and walked them through the process on Saturday. Amber Mills, an advocacy organizer for MOVE Texas, told The Tribune that “one witness was so committed to testify that they left to carry out a work shift and came back.”
By early Sunday, the House committee voted to advance the legislation to the full House. Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, rebased a statement to The Tribune following the vote. “You just can’t make this up: Republicans are passing anti-voter legislation overnight to prohibit Texans from casting a ballot overnight,” he said.