State Rep. Kacal: Voting bill and bail reform will be included in special legislative session

District 12 Rep. Kyle Kacal says SB 7 and bail reform will be on the table during a special legislative session that he believes will be in June.
Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 6:31 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - “There will be a special session.”

That’s according to District 12 Rep. Kyle Kacal. In a First News at Four interview on Tuesday, he said Gov. Greg Abbott made clear that he will call for a special legislative session while talking with Kacal during a bill signing in Austin earlier in the day. However, Kacal doesn’t know when that special session will be heald

“I’m going to give him a day or two before we find out what day in June, we might come back and start all over again,” Kacal explained.

Kacal said the controversial voting bill that failed Sunday night will be on the agenda for the special session as well as a measure to reform the bail process in Texas. The voting bill is what led Democrats to walk out of the state house chamber on Sunday night, ending the biennial legislative session in dramatic fashion. When they did, it also killed a number of bills that were to be debated after the voting bill, including the bail reform bill that Kacal sponsored. He said he doesn’t harbor any ill-will about the Democrats’ decision.

“We have a certain set of rules and the Democrats used the rules to their advantage and broke quorum,” Kacal explained.

He said Republican house members agree that the house should have addressed the voting bill earlier in the day.

Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service political scientist and state government expert Ann Bowman said state Democrats felt ambushed by the bill.

“There were a number of things in this bill Democrats were unhappy about,” Bowman explained, “and they felt that they were surprised by it because it was negotiated kind of quietly behind closed doors.”

She said the two parties are at odds over the bill because they have drastically different perspectives about its function.

“Democrats see the bill as voter suppression,” she said, “the Republicans see it as our election integrity.”

Bowman believes the bill will be included in a special legislative session and said that it will most likely be passed then. She added that the Democrats likely knew that as well. Bowman said the walk out was largely symbolic and served to send a message to Republican state lawmakers that the Democrats will do everything in their power to stop the bill.

“[Democrats] may ultimately lose,” Bowman explained, “but [the walkout] does show that the Republicans may need to pay a little more attention to some of the demands Democrats are making, because, again, walking out as a final measure is a dramatic thing to do and it does stop action.”

Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that the walk out was a dereliction of Democrats’ duties and vowed to withhold funding for the state legislature as a result.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” Abbott said in a tweet.

Kacal called the decision an “interesting” move and added that the governor isn’t bluffing. He said he told the governor today that it’s probably not for the best.

Representative King and I both looked at [Gov. Abbott] and said,’ Sir, with all due respect, it’s kind of hard for us to file bills without our staff,’” Kacal recalled.

Kacal said he’s not worried about the pay noting that his only reason for being a state representative is to make a difference in Texas. However, he said that the way in which Gov. Abbott is trying to penalize Democrats would also defund the staffs for state representatives. Those staffs are vital to keeping the state House of Representatives running, according to Kacal.

The bill at the center of the chaos is Senate Bill 7, which would create new limitations on early voting hours, dial back certain local voting options, and increase restrictions on mail-in ballots. Republicans said the changes are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats call it an assault on democracy. Kacal didn’t point to any examples of recent in Texas but said the anticipated special session will allow lawmakers to modify the bill so it will strengthen election integrity without suppressing voters.

“We must have an election that we can have faith in, that has integrity, and is fair to all,” Kacal declared.

Democrats’ decision to walk out also killed a bill that Kacal has been championing, House Joint Resolution 4. It would give judges, justices of the peace, and magistrates the ability to deny bail for defendants charged with violent offenses, sexual offenses, or continuous human trafficking offenses. Kacal said it’s a comprehensive solution for the bail system.

“We’re trying to fix the broken bail system,” Kacal explained in support of the bill, “we don’t need people in jail, that have a small offense. But we are trying to give justices, J.P.S. (Justices of the Peace), and magistrates the ability to deny bail to the most horrendous criminals out there.”

But critics of the bill argue that it’s biased towards wealthy Texans and against those having mental health crises. Kacal said some of those criticisms may be true and explained that’s why a special session to work out those problems could actually be a good thing.

“I’m an optimist. [A special legislative session] gives us an opportunity to make sure it’s cleaner, better, and more effective on both ends,” Kacal said it’s fair to those that have mental issues and also fair to the public to be very safe because criminals will be locked up and denied bail.”

Watch the full interview in the player above.

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