State of Texas: Raising the stakes and the tension in battle over elections bill

State News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — This week, Republican leaders raised the stakes for Texas House Democrats still breaking quorum. On Wednesday, the House Sergeant at Arms served civil arrest warrants to the offices of the 52 absent Democrats. On Friday, he went to the homes of members in the Austin area to serve those warrants.

As those first warrants were being delivered to Capitol offices, State Senators started debate on the bill that led Democrats to break quorum. Senate Democrats did not have the votes to stop the bill, but Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) made a marathon move to slow the progress to passage.

“We as Texas Democrats have drawn a line in the sand to uphold the legacy of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s work to protect the vote,” Alvarado said as she started a filibuster against the bill. She started speaking just before 6 p.m. on Wednesday. More than 15 hours would pass before she yielded the microphone.

Often, lawmakers use a filibuster to kill legislation by stalling beyond a deadline. That wasn’t possible in Alvarado’s case, since the deadline is still weeks away. She said her filibuster had a different purpose.

“I think now there’s a lot of momentum about this bill. And I certainly wanted to seize the moment and call attention to provisions in the bill that are still bad to make sure that people know,” Alvarado explained.

One particular concern Alvarado points to is signature verification being used to disqualify ballots. “The signature verification is still very troublesome with our disabled community, people who have Parkinson’s people who have cerebral palsy,” Alvarado said.

During her filibuster, Alvarado read messages sent from Texas voters, voicing their concerns about the bill.

“We asked people to share their stories and that’s what gave me the energy to keep going and keep standing for 15 hours,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado represents Harris County, and she says provisions in the bill would make it more difficult for some people there to vote. The Republican-led bill would ban drive-through voting and prevent election officials from offering voting during overnight hours. Harris County offered both of those options in the 2020 election for voters in the Houston area.

“Over 10,000 people [used] the 24 hour voting, and these were first responders, shift workers, medical professionals,” Alvarado explained. She added that close to 128,000 Harris County voters used the drive-through voting option. “Sixty percent of the people that utilize that were women, because it was easy for them to pull around, come in and got their kids in the car, their elderly parents, and it was accessible for them,” Alvarado said.

Republican State Sen. Bryan Hughes authored the bill. He and other Republicans have described the bill as a necessary effort to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Moments after Alvarado finished her filibuster, Hughes took the microphone on the Senate floor and touted provisions of the bill that he says increase access to the ballot.

“Simple common sense reforms and expanding early voting hours across the state. Yes, weekend hours as well. Making it easy for folks who have to work, to vote, so your employer has to let you off for it not just for election day, but for early voting,” Hughes said, pointing to provisions that allow early voting between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

“I have a lot of respect for Chairman Hughes, we’re colleagues, we’re friends. However, we have a very different view of this,” Alvarado said. “By limiting the hours of the early voting, it’s a cute way of going around getting away from the 24-hour voting.”

After Hughes spoke Thursday morning, the bill passed along party lines in the Senate. That was expected. Alvarado’s filibuster was not. Even though she could not stop the bill, she said the effort was important.

“We gained some national attention about the bad provisions in this bill, because it’s happening all over the state, all over our country, mainly in states in the south,” Alvarado explained.

“We want other legislative bodies to know that they have the ability to fight and bring attention to this. And Texas Democrats aren’t going to take this laying down. We’re not going to roll over. We may not have the numbers, but by God, we’re going to give it everything we can to fight about it, and try to get some change.”

Cruz blocks push to pass voting rights legislation

Texas House Democrats who broke quorum to fight the Republican-led election bill pinned their hopes on Congressional lawmakers passing federal voting rights legislation. But those hopes took a big hit this week.

Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to pass that bill, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz playing a key role in stopping the bill for now.

Early Wednesday, after an overnight session, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) attempted to pass the For The People Act. The legislation would combat a wave of new voting restrictions recently passed in Republican-led states.

But when Schumer attempted to start debate on the bill through unanimous consent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz objected. Cruz, like many Republicans, calls the bill a power grab by Democrats.

“What many call the corrupt politicians act is designed to prevent the voters from voting Democrats out of office,” Cruz said while making his objection.

Schumer said the Senate will once again take up the measure when they return from summer recess. President Biden also supports the legislation.

“He will continue to speak out on this issue,” Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary said during a briefing on Wednesday. “He will continue to advocate for fundamental rights.”

Texas hospitals look for help to handle surge of COVID cases

On Thursday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported six of the state’s 22 trauma service areas had zero available ICU beds. Hospital systems across the entire state are pleading with Texans.

“Please don’t get onto motorcycles, don’t ride your ATVs, get the kids off the trampoline, ok. Because if you come to Northwest with an injury, I cannot guarantee you that we can give you the care you need,” Dr. Brian Weis, the Northwest Texas Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer, said at an emergency COVID-19 update in Amarillo Thursday.

It’s the same dire message echoed from hospital systems across the state, like in Lubbock.

“Unfortunately, we are just like every other hospital in the state of Texas,” Dr. Craig Rhyne, the CMO for Covenant Health System in Lubbock said this week.

In Austin, healthcare workers have been ringing the alarm for weeks.

“I’ve had to treat patients in the waiting room…it’s like being at war. It’s really like being at war, seeing so much suffering,” Dr. Anna Vu-Wallace, a doctor of internal medicine, explained.

The physical capacity is not the main problem, though.

“We don’t have the nursing staff to take care of that number of patients. We’re asking for additional resources in a very vigorous way. We’re putting out lots of contracting offers to get more staff. It’s not yielding the results that we need,” Dr. Michael Lamanteer, BSA’s CMO up in Amarillo, said Thursday.

The state has promised help is on the way, but DSHS said it will be a week until all 2,500 promised medical personnel arrive in Texas.

“Workers should start arriving in the next few days, and we’re hearing from our contactors that it will take a week or so to get up to that 2,500+ goal,” DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said.

It will take a couple days before those workers will be ready.

“Most travel nurses will get anywhere from two to three days worth of orientation, and then they’re put on the schedule when they’re on the floor,” Serena Bumpus, a registered nurse with the Texas Nurses Association, explained.

She added it’s difficult to recruit out-of-state nurses everywhere right now.

“The entire country is experiencing a shortage like this and nurses are in desperate need in almost every state,” Bumpus said.

For now, health officials are begging Texas to get vaccinated and mask up.

“We’ve gone to plan A, and we’ve moved to plan B, and there’s no plan C right now. And so, we’re asking you to do your part,” Amarillo’s Public Health Authority Casie Stoughton said Thursday.

Homeland Security Secretary hears concerns about migrants and COVID

The spike in COVID hospitalizations is overwhelming hospitals in south Texas. It’s happening as the area faces an ongoing surge of migrants crossing the border.

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to south Texas to assess the response to the continuing influx of migrants. He heard concerns from local leaders who say coronavirus cases among migrants are contributing to the strain on local hospitals.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said Border Patrol sends hundreds of migrants found in the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo. Saenz said the city does not have the resources to test all of the migrants for COVID-19, nor the space in shelters to quarantine those who test positive.

Saenz told BorderReport.com the city is sending charter buses with hundreds of migrants to other Texas cities. “We don’t test, and then they go in different cities in Texas,” Saenz said.

The migrants, mostly all families, have legally been released by federal authorities to travel in the United States.

Saenz and other local leaders met with Mayorkas in Brownsville on Thursday. Secretary Mayorkas says the department has been forced to restructure its border strategy to accommodate the recent spike in COVID cases among migrants.

“We are building new capacity to address the situation and we are doing so as rapidly as possible,” Mayorkas said.

Part of that plan is allocating additional resources to test, isolate and quarantine every migrant who crosses the border.

But Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar says that’s just a temporary fix. He’s calling on Congress to allocate more funding to hire more border patrol agents. He also says the region needs more judges to process asylum claims from migrants more quickly.

“It’s more than a matter of optics,” Cuellar said. “This is reality that we’re seeing down here.”

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