The departure is an effort to break the quorum needed to call those bills to action, with 26 days remaining in a special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Texas Democrats said the departed House members are headed to D.C. to lobby for voting protections at the federal level.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote. We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans—and all Americans—from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy," said multiple Texas Democratic leaders in a statement.
The bills in question address a range of issues related to voting, voter registration and the administration of elections in Texas.
They were crafted this summer after the failure of similar wide-ranging measures in the House and Senate during spring's regular session.
Through the special session's Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3, state Republicans are proposing an array of changes related to limiting voting hours, tightening voter assistance procedures, barring temporary or drive-thru voting locations and blocking unsolicited vote by mail applications.
Other topics covered in the legislation include security at polling places, the maintenance of voter rolls, expanded access for poll watchers, ballot security and the legal punishments for voter fraud and related violations.
Along with Republican members of the House, Abbott criticized the move by Democrats July 12 as an abandonment of key issues affecting Texans.
"As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state. It's time to get back to work," Abbott said in a tweet.
Texas Democrats' decision to break a quorum of the #txlege inflicts harm on the Texans who elected them to serve.
As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts & our state.
It's time to get back to work. pic.twitter.com/XE8VcgOFhs
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 12, 2021
House rules adopted by the 87th Texas Legislature require two-thirds of the chamber to attend proceedings and allow legislators to employ law enforcement to compel officials to attend.
With the House set to convene July 13, present House members may call a motion to secure a quorum in order to take up legislation that would allow for the arrest of absent members, according to House rules.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, warned in a statement that he and his colleagues would use "every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously-passed House Rules to secure a quorum."
"The special session clock is ticking—I expect all Members to be present in our Capitol in order to immediately get too work on these issues," Phelan said.
State representatives and local officials from around Central Texas weighed in on the Democrats' departure.
Several of them invoked the late former U.S. Rep. John Lewis by calling their actions "good trouble," a phrase Lewis coined during his work to spur change during the Civil Rights Movement:
Rep. John Bucy
“We are not going to sit around and negotiate people’s voting rights," Bucy told Community Impact Newspaper. "The Secretary of State's office told us that the 2020 elections in Texas were run smoothly, securely, and that they were a success. And so when we see bills filed around elections that make it harder for people to vote in this state, you have to ask yourself, ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’ As a legislator, I was sent down there to solve problems to make life easier for the people of Texas, and what these bills do is the opposite. Today, we left and we’re headed to DC, and then we’re going to continue the fight to get congressional policies passed that will protect all voters across this country."
Read more from Rep. Bucy here.
Rep. Sheryl Cole
House Dems decided it’s time to get in Good & Necessary Trouble. This special #txlege session could’ve been to #FixTheDamnGrid. Instead, it features voter suppression & transphobia. So we’re going to DC to urge Congress to pass the #JohnLewisVotingRightsAct & #ForthePeopleAct! pic.twitter.com/RpV1hFZKT2
— Sheryl Cole (@SherylCole1) July 12, 2021
Rep. Vikki Goodwin
Democracy is too important to sit back and watch the Republicans cram down a bad elections bill. We're heading to DC to ask our Congress to act on the For The People Act.#TXDemStrong pic.twitter.com/u3VEkd4pCM
— Rep. Vikki Goodwin (@VikkiGoodwinTX) July 12, 2021
Rep. Eddie Rodriguez
Texans' right to vote is living on borrowed time.
Today, my colleagues and I are proud to halt the GOP's relentless effort to attack the unalienable rights of Texans.
We are doing our job by defending the rights of our constituents and will ask Congress to do the same. #txlege pic.twitter.com/S1IuHT25Sp
— Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (@EddieforTexas) July 12, 2021
Rep. James Talarico
"We felt we felt that our Republican colleagues at the State Capitol left us no other option but to fly to DC and beg our federal lawmakers to take action to prevent these types of voter suppression bills from becoming state law," Talarico told Community Impact Newspaper. "My colleagues and I, throughout the regular session and in the special, have vocally requested that we as lawmakers focus on things like funding our public schools, like recovering from the pandemic, like fixing the power grid. None of those things were on the call for this special session. My constituents hired me to protect the Constitution, protect democracy, protect voting rights, and that's exactly what I'm doing ... As a Texas Democrat, I'm used to losing fights on the floor of the House. We lose almost every single day on issues like guns and abortion and immigration. The reason this is different is because the Republicans are trying to rig the rules of the game, and prevent me from fighting the good fight. And that's why this crosses the red line. We can debate issues, but we will not debate democracy itself."
— James Talarico (@jamestalarico) July 12, 2021
Travis County Judge Andy Brown
I am proud of Texas Democrats for fighting to protect our democracy and our voting rights. https://t.co/ZijyxOzwjg
— Andy Brown (@AndyBrownATX) July 12, 2021
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D-TX)
“Greg Abbott and his Republican cohorts have messed with Texan voters one too many times," Doggett said in a statement. "Our Texas Democrats are breaking quorum rather than being accomplices to breaking democracy. They rightly recognize that our democracy is only as strong as our voting rights. With Texas already ground zero for voter suppression, these courageous leaders are defending our democracy. Looking forward to welcoming these good troublemakers to Washington soon."
Editor's note: This story was updated July 13 with additional comments from Rep. James Talarico.