House Speaker Phelan Resists Trump-Abbott Push to Revise Election Law
The Republican leader of the Texas House of Representatives says he opposes revising the election law passed in August, Senate Bill 1.
Speaker Dade Phelan issued a statement Thursday night after Governor Greg Abbott added to an item to the agenda of the third special session, asking the legislature to increase the penalty for illegal voting, reversing a change made by Senate Bill 1.
Senate Bill 1 reduced the penalty from a second-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor. That change was made by an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve Allison, a San Antonio Republican. It was approved in the House on an 80–35 vote and later agreed to by the Senate.
In his statement, Phelan said that he did not want to “re-litigate” the debate over election law. Although Phelan did not refer explicitly to either Abbott or former President Trump, his statement followed closely on the heels of moves by Abbott and Trump to add more election measures to the legislature’s agenda for the special session.
Phelan wrote, “SB 1, passed during the second special session, makes Texas election safer and more secure. After two quorum breaks by a number of House Democrats, this important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted.”
“SB 1 was then passed by the Senate after both chambers and the Office of the Attorney General thoroughly reviewed and weighed in on the bill. With much acclaim from elected officials and voters, Governor Greg Abbott then signed the bill into law.”
“Now is not the time to re-litigate. Instead, the House will remain focused on its constitutional obligation to pass redistricting maps, and members look forward to fulfilling this critical task.”
In addition to the new item on the session agenda, Abbott this week announced a forensic audit of election results in four large Texas counties, just hours after Trump published a letter calling on Abbott to undertake such a move.
However, Trump appeared not to have been appeased by the move and instead made further demands. Trump told the Texas Tribune in a statement Wednesday that he wanted the legislature to pass HB 16 by Rep. Steve Toth, a bill that would trigger a review of the 2020 election results beyond just the four counties currently slated for an audit.
Democrats have condemned the audit as a tactic to perpetuate “the Big Lie” — the idea that Trump actually won the election but was denied the presidency through cheating. It’s not clear whether Abbott, too, has reservations about HB 16, given his attempts to accommodate the former president’s requests without directly agreeing to put HB 16 on the session agenda.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, another close ally of the former president, who chaired Trump’s campaign in Texas in both 2016 and 2020, voiced support for increasing the penalty for illegal voting without taking a position on HB 16, the audit bill.
He wrote on Twitter, “Thanks @GovAbbott for placing a correction to an amendment on #SB1, which decreases the penalty for voting illegally, on the call. The House added last minute & went under the radar until Gov., @TXAG & I found it & agreed then it must be corrected. The Senate will pass next week.”
Patrick has had a sometimes rocky relationship with the House Speaker. By the end of the 2021 regular session, he was openly criticizing Phelan’s management of the House. For his part, Phelan flexed his own muscle by recessing the House for two days during the final week of the session, holding up Senate bills to pressure the Senate into passing House bills that he felt were being ignored by the upper chamber.
With the speaker and the lieutenant governor again at odds, it’s not clear what the fate of Abbott’s new agenda item will be. It seems unlikely that the House could pass a bill increasing the penalty for illegal voting without Phelan’s cooperation.
Originally published at https://www.honestaustin.com on October 1, 2021.