Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers take Gov. Abbott to court for defunding Legislature

Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Abbott vetoes funding for legislature, staff over Democratic walkout
In a statement, Abbott said that "funding should not be provided for those who quit their job early."

A group of Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers is asking the Texas Supreme Court to override Gov. Greg Abbott's recent veto of a portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature, staffers there and legislative agencies.

More than 50 Democrats, a number of state employees and the Texas AFL-CIO have signed on to a petition for a writ of mandamus, which was filed Friday morning.

"The state is in a constitutional crisis at this moment," said Chad Dunn, an attorney involved with the petition, during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

The governor had vowed to veto the Legislature's funding in the final hours of the regular legislative session in May after House Democrats broke quorum and left the chamber to prevent passage of a controversial elections bill. That legislation, an Abbott priority, would have created new limitations to early voting hours, increased voting-by-mail restrictions and curbed local voting options.

The petition argues that Abbott exceeded his executive authority and violated the state's separation of powers doctrine. The parties involved with the petition are asking the all-Republican court to find Abbott's veto unconstitutional, which would allow Article X of the state budget, the section at issue, to become law later this year.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party's caucus in the lower chamber, told reporters Thursday there are roughly 2,000 employees in the state's legislative branch that would be affected by Abbott's veto if it stands.

Lawmakers receive $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session for both regular and special sessions.

"This isn't about [lawmakers'] paychecks," Turner said during the briefing. "What he's doing is hurting our staff and hurting our constituents."

Abbott's veto pertains to the upcoming two-year state budget that doesn't take effect until Sept. 1. The issue could get resolved next month when state lawmakers return to Austin for a special legislative session starting July 8. If Abbott includes legislative funding on the agenda, lawmakers could pass a supplemental budget to restore funding and prevent employees potentially going without a paycheck. That document, if the Legislature passed it, would first need a sign off from Abbott before it could go into effect.

In the meantime, the petition is asking the court to proceed on an expedited schedule to help resolve the issue by Sept. 1.

"That's what happens when one branch gets in a conflict with another - the third leg of the stool steps in and resolves it," Dunn, the plaintiffs' attorney, said. "That's what we're doing here."

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