Texas’s current special legislative session started just 6 days ago, and so far a lot has happened: a Senate committee hearing on SB 4, the medication abortion restrictions, was scheduled with 24-hour notice, then cancelled a few hours later. Then a House committee scheduled a hearing for HB 6, the House version of those medication abortion restrictions, only to cancel it just 2 hours before the hearing time. And you may have heard that a whole bunch of House members “broke quorum.” Your head may be spinning with all the on-again-off-again action. so let’s talk about some of it.
What Is Quorum?
A basic definition of quorum is “the minimum number of members of an assembly or society that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of that meeting valid.” In a legislature, the governing body can’t take certain actions, like voting or holding debates, if that quorum number isn’t present. Each body sets its own quorum number. The Texas House must have 2/3 of members present to get to quorum — that’s 100 members. There are currently 150 members total in the House of Representatives.
What is “Breaking Quorum?”
If a group of legislators doesn’t think they can win votes on critical issues, they can turn to breaking quorum. This involves getting together a group of legislators large enough that the body cannot make quorum and then staying away from the meeting. In this case, you’d need a minimum of 51 representatives to agree to stay away from the meeting in order to break quorum.
Currently, a group of 64 representatives have flown to Washington, DC so that they cannot attend the meetings of the Texas House of Representatives. They are doing this to block votes that would strip Texans of voting rights — and this move also blocks votes on bills attacking trans youth and abortion rights as well. According to the House rules, the House can “compel the attendance of absent members,” including issuing arrest warrants. That’s one big reason that when they break quorum legislators usually go out of state.
Today the Speaker of the House declared that there will also be no House committee meetings while quorum is not met. That’s why the committee meeting on HB 6 was cancelled so last minute.
Special session is only 30 days, which adds to the hectic nature of the whole thing. But it looks like as long as the group of legislators breaking quorum remains absent, the legislature won’t be able to push forward harmful bills like HB 6.