As Texas lawmakers wait for Democrats, how much is it costing taxpayers?

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Frustrations aren't the only thing growing in Austin for the Texas special session. The amount of money being spent on lawmakers doing nothing is also going up.

WHY CAN'T THE TEXAS HOUSE PASS BILLS?

In order to vote and debate legislation, it requires two-thirds of members to be present. There are 150 representatives in the Texas House.

That means 100 members must be present. Currently, 57 House Democrats left the state, which broke quorum.

Until two-thirds of members are in the chamber, the doors will remain locked and members must seek permission from the House Speaker in order to leave.

ARE THE DEMOCRATS WHO LEFT THE STATE STILL GETTING PAID?

State constitution protects pay for lawmakers who break quorum and leave the state during a special session. Lawmakers receive a $221 daily stipend, a $600 monthly salary and staff budget.

State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) said Texas pays $43,330 per day to host a special session.

He held a sign in the statehouse Wednesday that said so far "Democrats have cost taxpayers $86,660."

"It's incredibly disheartening," Patterson said. "Folks work hard for their money and Texas prides itself on being low tax and low regulation, but we still don't have tax dollars to waste in the state of Texas."

If Democrats don't return by the end of the special session, taxpayers will have spent about $1,040,000 on lawmakers to sit around.

READ MORE: Texas Senate passes voting bill amid House Democrats' absence

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While more than 50 Texas House Democrats continue pushing for national legislation on voting rights, their GOP senate counterparts defended the voting bills that have attracted national attention.



LEGISLATION TO PREVENT LAWMAKERS FROM GETTING PAID

In order to take away pay from future walkouts, it requires lawmakers to change the state constitution.

A couple of Republican representatives have introduced bills to change the constitution. State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) wrote a bill that would strip a lawmaker's pay and the ability for them to receive campaign contributions if they flee the state and break quorum.

State Rep. Steve Toth's proposal goes even further.

His legislation would strip a lawmaker's pay for a year if they flee the state and break quorum. It can't impact current lawmakers who left.

In order to pass the bill, it would require a quorum. However, that can't take place until Democrats return.

NOT ALL DEMOCRATS HAVE LEFT AUSTIN

In the House, four House Democrats stayed behind. In the Senate, four Senate Democrats also stayed behind.

Despite nine Senators leaving for Washington D.C., there's still a quorum in the Senate. State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) decided to stay in Austin.

He broke quorum in the past, but he felt staying at the statehouse was a better move so he could oppose legislation.

"If they want to go to Washington and meet with the congressional leadership, that's one approach," Whitmire said. "They're doing it. That's their prerogative."

Staying in Austin also helps to answer constituents' concerns about money being spent on a special session with nothing getting done in the House.

"They're going to have to individually justify, maybe collectively," Whitmire explained. "I've watched their social media. They believe in what they're doing. I would defend it is a parliamentary procedure."

SENATE CONTINUES TO PASS LEGISLATION

The Texas House is in a standstill, but the Senate is not. On Tuesday, lawmakers passed bills on election integrity, bail reform, and extra money for retired teachers.

On Wednesday, they passed legislation to give new homebuyers a tax break as well as a break for senior citizen homeowners. Before they voted on property tax bills, Republican senators held a news conference and expressed frustration because without House Democrats, their bills can go nowhere.

"When did cracking down on voter harvesters become voter suppression? They need to read the bill," said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). "Instead of having beer to-go to Washington, they should've taken SB 1 to-go and would've read it and come back here and debated it."

The Senate may finish voting on items called by Gov. Greg Abbott as early as Thursday. After that, members will be "at ease" until the House comes back to order.

For updates on this report, follow ABC13 reporter Nick Natario on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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