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Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces new special session to begin Saturday

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Thursday the next special session of the Legislature will begin on Saturday, and it will have the state's controversial voting bill on the agenda. The Democrats walked out of the regular session in May and then fled the state in July to prevent a vote on that bill. 

"I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve," Abbott said in a statement on Thursday. "Passing these Special Session agenda items will chart a course towards a stronger and brighter future for the Lone Star State."  

The current special session is expected to end on Thursday night. Since Republicans hold a majority in the Legislature, more than 50 Democratic state lawmakers decamped to Washington, D.C., on July 12 to deny Abbott a quorum. Without a sufficient number of legislators present, a vote on the bill could not take place.  

On a press call about voting rights legislation, Texas state Representative Gina Hinojosa would not go further into the Democrats' plans, saying "the thing about fighting as a minority party in Texas is frequently our strategy must be kept secret."

"I will say this, we will fight this suppression session and the republican effort to voter suppression," Hinojosa continued. "We will see in the coming days as events unfold."

She added in an interview with CBS News that the Texas Democrats were convening when the news about another special session came in, and they "intend to fight this second suppression session with as much vigor and determination as we did the first."

"But let me say this, desperation is growing. We need the President, the Senate to prioritize the freedom to vote, over and above everything else," she said. "If the U.S. Senate does not prioritize this above all other matters and rules, including the filibuster, we will lose our democracy. And what they did not accomplish on January 6, they will accomplish state by state."

Hinojosa said she hasn't heard of a firm commitment yet from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about bringing up a voting rights bill for a vote before the August recess.

Texas state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer also didn't expand on next steps, but said "as long as Congress is working, I will be in Washington pushing for voting rights reform by the passage of the 'For the People' Act." 

He added that all options, whether it's staying in Washington, D.C., or going back to Texas, are "back on the table."

"We know how to use them. We have been effective using them. And I think Republicans know by now that we mean what we say," he told CBS News. "We will approach every suppression session the same way we have in the past."

The lawmakers who broke quorum are set to hold a press conference Friday at the U.S. Capitol with organizers and Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon. 

Abbott announced there would be 17 items on the agenda for the special session. In addition to the voting legislation, state lawmakers will be addressing bail reform, a bill ensuring COVID-19 vaccines and masks are voluntary for K-12 education, as well as a measure that would ban students from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student's sex at birth.

Also on the agenda is legislation to modify dates for filing periods and elections in 2022, a response to delays in the redistricting process. The legislature is expected to hold another special session dedicated to redistricting sometime in the fall.

Texas Republican party chair Matt Rinaldi said Thursday that "Republicans are wasting no time in getting the Texas Legislature back to work and will continue special sessions until Democrats return."

"There is no endgame for Texas House Democrats. They need to say goodbye to D.C., Portugal and the Caribbean, wherever they may be, come back to Texas, and do their jobs," he wrote in a statement, referencing two lawmakers who a reporter for Texas Monthly said were vacationing in Portugal

On the agenda is also an item "relating to legislative quorum requirements." Fischer called potential quorum rule changes "tantamount to the Governor having a temper tantrum."

"Looking at this newly called suppression session, it's no different than the first one... When you read in between the lines you still see voter suppression. You still see attacks on the LGBTQ community," Fischer said. He added that Abbott could handle his COVID-19 related items with his disaster and emergency powers, not a special session. 

After Texas Democrats broke quorum the first time, Abbott called the sergeant-at-arms and his officers to find any members who are absent without an excuse "for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance under warrant of arrest if necessary." Their jurisdiction stops at the Texas state border line, meaning they can't arrest the lawmakers if they're in Washington D.C.

Romello Oliver contributed to this report.

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