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Texas governor Greg Abbott has said that the Democrat politicians who refuse to allow a quorum to be formed, thereby blocking legislation, will be arrested. But can the Democratic politicians form a quorum with the Republicans and vote while they're still under arrest? Would they have to be released from arrest first, meaning they'd be free to avoid forming a quorum again by leaving the state again or by just not turning up?

And where does the claim come from? As reported by Brian Tyler Cohen on YouTube, a Fox News banner says:

Gov Abbott: Dems Who Fled Texas Will Be Arrested

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  • Do you have a link to the governor's claim? What statute or constitutional provision underlies the governor's supposed power to arrest legislators to compel their attendance?
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:22
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    OP, it's not your fault for repeating what the errant legislators are using as their strawman but it is a strawman. As sourced below, he doesn't seem to have actually said that he will be the one arresting them or even directly ordering their arrest.
    – lly
    Jul 16, 2021 at 14:16
  • @lly thanks for shedding some light on the claim in question.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 14:41
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    @phoog See edit for a notable source for the claim.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 17, 2021 at 3:32

2 Answers 2

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In short, the answer is 'it depends'. A member of the Texas legislature cannot vote unless they appear for a vote voluntarily, so it all depends on the release conditions for the arrest, and whether or not the member actually wants to vote.

To be clear, Greg Abbott didn't say that he will have the politicians arrested, but that they will be arrested when they return to Texas. The quote can be found here (and elsewhere):

I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they’re hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they’re going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year... As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.

This is almost certainly a reference to the Texas legislature's ability to compel absent members to attend a session, rather than a threat to have them arrested on some criminal charge.

According to the Constitution of Texas, the Senate and House of the Texas legislature make their own rules on how to compel members to attend. Currently, both chambers use the same method: if there is an unexcused absence, the present members can send someone to arrest the absent member, and the present members decide on the conditions for release. The current rules also say only members who voluntarily appear are marked as 'present', it seems like it depends on how restrictive the conditions are: if they still have the option to appear for a vote then they can vote. If they can't or won't make it to a session under the release conditions then they can't vote, though this would defeat the purpose of compelling them in order to have a quorum.

The full text of Texas' constitution can be found here, and the relevant part is Article 3, which establishes the Texas legislature, in Section 10:

Quorum; Adjournments from Day to Day; Compelling Attendance

Two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.

The most recent House rules of procedure, found here, explain how that could be done in Rule 5, Section 8:

Sec. 8. Securing a Quorum. When a call of the house is moved for one of the above purposes and seconded by 15 members (of whom the speaker may be one) and ordered by a majority vote, the main entrance to the hall and all other doors leading out of the hall shall be locked and no member permitted to leave the house without the written permission of the speaker. The names of members present shall be recorded. All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained. The house shall determine on what conditions they shall be discharged. Members who voluntarily appear shall, unless the house otherwise directs, be immediately admitted to the hall of the house and shall report their names to the clerk to be entered in the journal as present.

The rules for the Senate, found here, are similar, as seen in Article V, rule 5.02:

Rule 5.02. Two-thirds of all the Senators elected shall constitute a quorum, but a smaller number may adjourn or recess from day to day and compel the attendance of absent members (Constitution, Article III, Section 10). In case a less number shall convene, the members present may send the Sergeant-at-Arms or any other person or persons for any or all absent members.

...

The Senate shall determine upon what conditions they shall be discharged. Members who voluntarily appear shall, unless the Senate otherwise directs, be immediately admitted to the floor of the Senate, and they shall report their names to the Secretary to be entered upon the journal as present.

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  • The claim that is the subject of the question, however, is that the governor can arrest the absent members, which isn't the constitutional compulsion of attendance.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:18
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    @phoog : Just updated the answer to reflect this, but the governor didn't say that he can arrest absent members. He said he will keep calling special sessions and they will be arrested and taken to the Texas Capitol, which is almost certainly a reference to the ability of the legislature to compel absent members to attend a session.
    – Giter
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:57
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    @phoog The OP is simply mistaken in the reasoning for their question. It doesn't make the answer wrong: it makes the question somewhat misguided. You're welcome to edit it if the disconnect is disconcerting.
    – lly
    Jul 16, 2021 at 14:13
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    @lly If the governor did in fact say that he can arrest the members, then the question should not be edited, for the error in reasoning would in that case be the governor's, not the questioner's.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 14:38
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    "The current rules also say only members who voluntarily appear are marked as 'present'"... where did the word "only" come from? It seems you added that yourself, as it is not found in your quotes from the rules of procedure.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jul 16, 2021 at 18:14
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They don't get arrested and taken to jail but rather get escorted back the the chambers so that business can happen. As they are trying to get a quorum to allow them to vote on bills the goal is to get them back in the building.

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/07/13/texas-democrats-walkout-voting-bill-arrest/

Under a call of the House, according to chamber rules, all entrances or doors leading out of the hall are locked, and members are not permitted to leave without permission in writing from the speaker.

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  • How does the House Emergency Evacuation Plan handle this? Ushers stationed at each door?
    – DJohnM
    Jul 16, 2021 at 4:27
  • @DJohnM I don't know but that really isn't important to this question.
    – Joe W
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:15
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    @DJohnM presumably in an emergency evacuation the "call of the house" is suspended or ended, whether automatically or by announcement from the chair.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:24
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    @phoog If you need more members to show up for quorum because they are refusing to show up and you issue arrest warrants for them how does not taking them back to the chamber solve the problem? If they are taken to jail there will still not be enough members to meet quorum which means the only way to meet quorum is to take them back to the chamber. If they are willing to flee to make a prevent quorum it stands to reason they would be forced to be present otherwise.
    – Joe W
    Jul 16, 2021 at 13:52
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    My question is whether the governor has authority to have them arrested and taken to the chamber. If they're arrested under some criminal statute, maybe they have to be taken to a jail somewhere. I don't know Texas criminal procedure. On the other hand, if the governor didn't actually claim that authority, then the question is misleading, and none of this matters.
    – phoog
    Jul 16, 2021 at 14:40

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