▶ Watch Video: Texas state Representative Carl Sherman discusses new special session

Three Texas state lawmakers have returned to Austin, effectively ending a 38-day walkout by Democrats hoping to stall a GOP-sponsored election bill. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan declared just after 7 p.m. on Thursday that the legislature had reached a quorum, allowing lawmakers to begin voting again.

There were still 49 absences on Thursday night, but with 99 total legislators in the House, there were enough members present for a quorum, according to the Texas Tribune. The House then adjourned until 4 p.m. Monday.

This was Republicans’ second attempt to call a special session of the legislature. Since Republicans hold the majority, Democrats stalled the vote on the elections bill by walking out of the regular session in May. Then, more than 50 Democrats fled the state at the start of the special session, denying the Republicans a quorum to vote. 

Several Democrats had already returned for the special session, and on Thursday night, state Representatives Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle issued a statement about their return. 

The U.S. and Texas state flags fly outside the state Capitol building on July 12, 2021 in Austin, Texas. 

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“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C., and brought national attention to this partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access,” they said in a statement. “Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take on federal voter protection legislation. Now, we continue the fight on the House floor.”

The lawmakers also pointed to the start of the school year amid the COVID-19 surge in the state, saying “it is time to move past these partisan legislative calls.” 

Democrats are objecting to two main election bills in the House and Senate. Both measures would eliminate drive-thru and 24-hour early voting, expand early voting hours to some medium-sized counties, add identification requirements for voting by mail, increase criminal penalties for some election officials who don’t follow regulations and give more powers to poll watchers. Opponents say the bills would make it more difficult for thousands of Texans, especially in minority communities, to vote.

The House Democrats —  along with several state senators — gained national following after they left the state, even meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. But they also drew some criticism from the right, especially after being photographed on a private plane flying to Washington, D.C. Several of the lawmakers then tested positive for COVID-19.  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott had said he would not stop calling special sessions until the Democrats returned. The 30-day special session, which has a number of other GOP-sponsored legislation on the agenda, will last until September 5. 

Last week, the Republican-led state Senate passed their version of the voting bill after a 15-hour filibuster by one of the Senate’s leading Democrats. 

Adam Brewster and Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.