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Texas lawmaker seeks to end quorum-busting trips

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas lawmaker is seeking to keep Lone Star State legislators from taking quorum-busting, out-of-state trips like the ones underway by Wisconsin and Indiana lawmakers.

A Texas House committee on Wednesday considered a proposed resolution by state Representative Dan Branch that says lawmakers who are out of state would not be counted as part of a House or Senate quorum.

The Committee on State Affairs didn't take action on the proposal, which calls for asking Texas voters this November whether they want to change the state constitution.

Branch, a Dallas Republican, has pushed for such a change each legislative session since 2003, when Texas House and Senate Democrats separately fled the state to prevent votes on redistricting.

Despite Democrats' efforts, redrawn maps that favored Republicans ultimately passed.

"When I lived through it in 2003, I was sitting around thinking, 'This shouldn't happen,'" Branch told Reuters on Wednesday. "If you want to hide out, go hide out in Big Bend (National Park), or hide out in an apartment in West Austin, but stay in the state of Texas."

Representative Pete Gallego, an Alpine Democrat who was among the "Killer D's" who blocked House action for four days in 2003 by fleeing to Ardmore, Oklahoma, said that such trips are a key tool for lawmakers.

"Breaking quorum is something that is as old as the constitution itself," Gallego said during the hearing. "Any deliberate attempts to keep people from breaking quorum, it seems, are almost anti-democratic."

Branch said his proposal could have more momentum this year given the attention focused on Democrats from Wisconsin and Indiana who fled to Illinois in February.

Senate Democrats from Wisconsin left to block a vote on Governor Scott Walker's proposal to curtail the collective bargaining power of public workers. Most Indiana House Democrats left to prevent a vote on bills they say would harm workers' rights.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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