Texas Legislature: What is a quorum?

Texas Politics

The special session gets underway July 8, 2021 (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Legislature must have what’s called a “quorum” in order to do business proposing, discussing and voting on bills. But what does that mean, and why would you ever “break” it?

A 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,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary — basically, the number of lawmakers needed to be present to take action on bills, including voting. For Texas, that number of people is defined in the constitution and rules are set each legislative session.

The House must have two-thirds of its members, or 100 people, present. The Senate also needs two-thirds, or 21 members, present.

If people do not show up, the House may “compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.” The Senate rules say “Those for whom no sufficient excuse is made, by order of the majority of those present, may be sent for and arrested wherever they may be found and their attendance secured and retained by the Sergeant-at-Arms or officers appointed by the Sergeant for that purpose.”

Breaking quorum

In 2003, Texas Democrats left the state so there wouldn’t be a quorum as the legislature considered a redistricting plan. That process is called “breaking quorum” and they did it twice that year. The legislation ultimately passed.

Texas Democrats also broke quorum earlier this year in an attempt to kill a bill that would change election rules.

On Monday, some Democrats planned to leave the state as the legislature took up those election bills again in a special session.

Why break quorum?

Breaking quorum halts the legislature’s ability to do its normal business, including passing bills. While some functions do not require a quorum, others require it.

The Texas House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans. There are 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats in the Senate, and there are 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats in the House. The Republicans have enough votes to pass legislation without Democrats. Breaking quorum may come into play to stop passage of legislation because there needs to be a set amount of lawmakers present in order to hold a vote at all.

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