Texas House speaker Dade Phelan bans word 'racism' during debate over elections bill

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Outbursts and questions about racism along with claims of voter suppression filled the Texas House chamber Thursday as lawmakers debated the controversial election integrity bill.

DEBATE AND VOTING RETURNS TO THE TEXAS HOUSE FLOOR

In mid-July, several House Democratic members broke quorum and left Texas. Enough members returned last week to allow for a quorum.

Thursday was the first time debate and voting took place in the House chamber since May, although lawmakers had been in two special sessions this summer.

Lawmakers started with the legislation that prompted Democrats to leave the state. Senate Bill 1, the election integrity bill, was finally brought to the House floor.

Before debates began, House Speaker Dade Phelan asked lawmakers, and people in the gallery, to behave.

"While we may have strong disagreements on the legislation and policy that will be debated, our rules require that we conduct ourselves in a civil manner and treat our colleagues with respect," said Phelan.

USE OF THE WORD "RACISM" BANNED BY REPUBLICAN LEADERS FOR USE IN DEBATE

While debating SB-1, the word "racism" came into play.

That sparked a reaction by Phelan who told lawmakers the word was banned from the chamber.

"We can talk about racial impacts with this legislation without accusing members of this body of being racist," Phelan said.

However, that decision didn't sit well with Democrats.

Some claim SB-1 is suppressive and greatly impacts minorities. They also claim the entire bill is racist.

They said the word "racist" was targeted at the bill, and not the individual Republicans in the room.

DEMOCRATS DELAY VOTE ON ELECTION BILL BY ADDING A SERIES OF AMENDMENTS

Debate on the election bill lasted a total of 90 minutes, and the majority of the debate was spent on amendments.

At one point, the clerk told ABC13 nearly 70 amendments were proposed. Republicans drafted some of those, but Democrats proposed the majority of them.

Debate on those amendments lasted for hours.

As of 6 p.m. on Thursday, lawmakers had spent six hours debating and voting on 30 amendments.

HARRIS COUNTY IS FRONT AND CENTER

Many of the amendments and discussion stemmed around voting measures that took place in Harris County during the election of 2020.

To help during the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials created drive-thru and 24-hour voting.

Those measures would be eliminated with the passage of SB-1.

"We were trying to protect public safety," State Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) explained. "One of the reasons we expanded curbside voting, expanded 24-hour voting, and allowed folks to have the opportunity to have the mail application to be sent to voters, which subsequently backtracked, was to allow folks easier access to franchise during a pandemic."

Republicans want to make voting universal across the state, and said Harris County shouldn't have different voting measures than everyone else.

The voting bill expands early voting times outside of Harris County. Republicans also argue drive-thru voting isn't secure.

"The moment that you have activity to have voting occurring outside the polling location, which, as you know, the election code spends a great deal of language providing the safety, security, and privacy that we all yearn for," State Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville) said.

ABC13 reporter Nick Natario is in Austin following this legislative session. For updates, follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.