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Passionate debate begins in Texas House on controversial SB1 election bill

The Republican-backed bill would mean no more drive-thru or 24-hour voting, used by more than 130,000 Harris County voters in 2020.

AUSTIN, Texas — Debate on SB1, a controversial statewide election bill, finally got underway in the Texas House Thursday. 

Before they can vote, legislators have to wade through 64 amendments, according to the Texas Tribune. By 3:30 p.m., they'd only debated 14 of them.

The Republican-backed bill would mean big changes -- including no more drive-thru voting or 24-hour voting -- used by more than 130,000 Harris County voters in the 2020 election.

Watch KHOU live stream from Austin here and on app; KHOU 11 reporter Matt Dougherty is in Austin and will have live updates throughout the day.

Opponents call it voter suppression aimed mostly at minorities who turned out in huge numbers for the presidential election. 

"SB1 Is an undemocratic attack on Texans’ right to vote in safe and accessible elections," the ACLU of Texas tweeted Thursday.

Supporters said the bill expands early voting hours at many places and puts extra safeguards in place to ensure votes are counted.

With emotions running high on both sides, House Speaker Dade Phelan warned legislators not to use the word "racism" while debating SB1, KHOU 11 Reporter Matt Dougherty said.

A House committee advanced Senate Bill 1 late Monday night after hours of testimony from the public. A lot of passionate Texans were determined to have their voices heard before the vote.

“We need (those options) in order to get more people actively involved, especially the people who have to work or the people who don’t feel comfortable, especially in COVID times,” said Corisha Rogers, who drove from Houston to Austin  to testify against SB1. “They deserve to have more accessible options to vote.”

Watch KHOU live stream from Austin here and on app; KHOU 11 reporter Matt Dougherty is in Austin and will have live updates throughout the day.

SB1 cleared the full Senate earlier in August but debate in the House stalled when more than 50 Democrats avoided the State Capitol and left town for weeks to prevent a quorum. 

Enough Dems returned this week to reach quorum and SB1 is expected to easily pass in the Republican-controlled House.

Senate Bill 2

The House Committee on Public Education heard public testimony Tuesday on Senate Bill 2. It would require K-12 public school students to compete in sports based on their biological sex.

“It protects all athletes to play fairly,” said Beth Stelzer, founder of Save Women’s Sports, who signed up to testify in favor of the bill. “(When) we include males in girls’ spaces, we are discriminating against girls.”

At least three Houston mothers of transgender kids drove in to speak against SB 2.

“The process of even trying to pass this legislation has already been harmful to my daughter’s self-image,” Lisa Stanton said during a press conference hosted by Equality Texas.

“This bill will make them feel more excluded than ever,” Mandy Giles, a Houston mother with two transgender children, said during the same press conference.

Rep. Jessica González, a Democrat from Dallas, spoke at the press conference to support the parents and their transgender kids. She also planned to ask questions at the bill’s hearing.

Tuesday marked Rep. González’s first time back in the State Capitol since breaking quorum in July.

She told KHOU her decision on when to return to the House floor is “day-by-day.”

“It’s unclear,” González said. “It just depends on how quickly legislation will move, which can move very quickly in a special session.”

Rep. Jim Murphy, of Houston, chairs the House Republican Caucus.

“We have plenty of runway to get all the things done that we want to get done this session,” Murphy said.

He said many of the big issues like the election bill, bail reform and an extra check for retired teachers could get a vote possibly Thursday or Friday.

“We are operating at warp speed,” Murphy said. “We’re having hearings. We’re making sure we listen to the people, but a lot of these issues are pretty familiar, the concessions have all been built in beforehand, and so we’re ready to go.”

The full House meets again Thursday at 10 a.m.

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