Confusion circulated prior to the 85th legislative session over the fate of the Texas House seat held by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. In September 2016, Dukes announced she would resign in light of health concerns from a 2013 car accident. A pool of candidates indicated their own desire to replace Dukes as the representative for House District 46.
Then, just a day prior to session the start of the session, Dukes indicated she would, in fact, serve her term as representative. On the heels of this news came the indictment of Dukes on three separate corruption charges. Yet, Dukes still said she would serve.
“People who are underserved deserve to have my voice in the House,” she said at the time in a statement on Facebook.
Dukes arrived for her first day in the Legislature but has since dropped off in voting activity, casting a vote less than 50 percent of the time, according to recordvotes.com, a website that tracks individual votes of every Texas lawmaker by pulling the records from the House and Senate daily journal.
The majority of those absences were unexcused and included missed votes on final passage of Senate Bill 1, the state budget, which, as part of the House Appropriations Committee, Dukes helped draft. She also missed final votes on Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary city” bill; Senate Bill 8, an omnibus bill restricting access to abortions; House Bill 2, the supplemental budget bridging the gaps in the 2016-17 budget; and House Bill 5, a bill to fix state Child Protective Services.
Dukes, first elected in 1994, is one of the most senior members of the House. She used this seniority and a House rule, which gives committee preference to members who have served the longest terms, to maintain her spot on the House Appropriations Committee.
Prior to session starting, Dukes told the Texas Tribune that it was a major priority to be reappointed to the Article II Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services so she could work to offer solutions for Child Protective Services.
In early February, Dukes was reappointed to both the Appropriations Committee, the Article II subcommittee and International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. In 2015, she served on the Appropriations Committee and as vice chair of the Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee.
As the session progressed, Dukes failed to attend the majority of her committee hearings, even after using seniority to maintain her spot on the Appropriations Committee. Here is a breakdown of how many meetings she attended for each committee.
The only meeting that Dukes attended for the entire duration was a May 23 International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs meeting that lasted two minutes. Dukes missed the initial roll call at the beginning of all other meetings she attended.
Bills that Dukes authored and voted for/against
Dukes authored a total of 25 bills in the 85th legislative session, including three that she was listed as a co-author on. Of the 25 authored bills, nine received committee hearings or were brought to the House floor. Typically, a bill’s author presents his or her own bill in a committee hearing. If a bill has multiple authors, only one legislator is needed to present the bill. On rare occasions, another representative who is not an author or sponsor of the bill can present it on behalf of the author, should he or she not be present.
Here is a breakdown of each of Dukes’ bills that progressed to a committee hearing and who presented them in committee:
- House Bill 2247: State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, a co-author of the bill, presented the bill to the Public Education Committee.
- House Bill 2330: State Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, presented the bill on behalf of Dukes. Dukes was the sole author of the bill at the time of the committee hearing.
- House Bill 2331: Minjarez again presented the bill on behalf of Dukes at the same committee hearing. Dukes was the sole author of the bill at the time of the committee hearing.
- House Bill 4072: State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, presented the bill on behalf of Dukes. Dukes was the sole author of the bill at the time of the committee hearing.
- House Bill 4077: Dukes presented the bill at an April 25 committee hearing.
- House Bill 4348: State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, presented the bill on behalf of Dukes. Dukes is the sole author of the bill.
There were three bills Dukes authored that received votes on the House floor. Here is a breakdown of whether or not Dukes voted on each of these bills.
- House Bill 2552: Dukes co-authored this bill with Thompson. Dukes voted in favor of an amendment and to pass the bill on second reading on May 11. She was absent for the bill’s final passage vote on May 12 and for the vote to concur with Senate changes May 27.
- House Resolution 191: Dukes co-authored this resolution to recognize the Armenian genocide with several other representatives. She was not present for the vote to pass the resolution May 19.
- House Resolution 682: Dukes co-authored this resolution in memory of Richard A. Moya of Austin with several other city of Austin representatives. She was excused for her absence March 16 when the vote was taken to pass the resolution.
Reaction to Dukes’ absence
At least two of Dukes’ potential House District 46 replacements are still planning to run for her seat in the coming 2018 election. Chito Vela, an immigration attorney and city of Austin planning commissioner, issued a statement condemning Dukes’ absence for the final vote on the state budget.
“Her absenteeism just continues to be a problem,” he said. “I am just tremendously disappointed by her lack of attendance and her inability to show up and vote against some of the horrible legislation from this session.”
Sheryl Cole, a former Austin City Council member who previously served as the city’s mayor pro tem, said voting is the most important part of a legislator’s job.
“I think the most important duty of a legislative member is to serve their district,” she said. “And to miss a critical vote like the budget, she fails to do that.”
Dukes and the Travis County Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment on her voting record.