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Texas Senate passes voting bill, but the House remains paralyzed

Democrats in the House fled the state in a bid to stop approval in the chamber.
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The Texas state Senate on Thursday passed a voting bill that imposes sweeping changes to the way the state conducts elections, following a 15-hour filibuster by a lawmaker who argued the measure amounts to voter suppression.

The bill is nearly identical to the one the Senate passed in July. If enacted, it would add restrictions to mail voting, eliminate early voting options, add criminal penalties for voting law violations and empower partisan poll watchers.

The measure now heads to the state House of Representatives, which remains paralyzed by Democrats' refusal to attend the legislative session.

Democrat state Sen. Carol Alvarado began speaking in opposition of the bill on Wednesday evening, and continued for about 15 hours. To filibuster a bill in the Texas Senate, a member must stand and talk about the bill without eating, drinking or taking bathroom breaks.

Democrats have spent months trying to delay or block passage of new voting restrictions, despite not having the votes to block the bill.

More than 50 House Democrats fled the state on July 12 to keep the Republicans from having enough members to conduct business. The lawmakers spent nearly a month in Washington, D.C., lobbying for federal voting legislation they hoped would override the state bill, but that legislation has stalled.

Last weekend, most of the lawmakers headed back to Texas. While some Democrats returned to the House floor, most have stayed away and the Texas House has still been unable to reach a quorum.

Republicans have put out warrants for the Democrats' arrests to try to force them to return to the Legislature. The House will next attempt to secure a quorum on Thursday afternoon, but Texas Democrats are attempting another legal maneuver.

A group of House 45 Democrats each intend to file court documents requesting a temporary protection from arrest, a source familiar told NBC News. On Wednesday, state Rep. Gene Wu secured such an order in his own case and vowed to fight for similar protections for other members.