Texas Legislature Continues Work Minus Democrats

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Gov. Rick Perry (search) indicated Wednesday he would continue calling special legislative sessions until Senate Democrats who fled the state to block a congressional redistricting (search) bill show up to vote.

"If there is work to be done, I expect the Legislature to be here conducting" it, Perry said when asked if he would call another special session.

Perry, a Republican, said he believes a new redistricting map will be approved this year.

The statement came as 11 Senate Democrats continued their more than two-week exile in Albuquerque, N.M. Their absence has brought the Senate to a standstill by denying it a quorum to take up the GOP redistricting plan.

Democrats in the House successfully blocked the redistricting plan during the regular session by fleeing to Oklahoma for four days in May.

Senate Democrats last week filed a lawsuit challenging Perry's authority to call the current special session, saying the Texas Constitution (search) allows it only in extraordinary situations.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called the Democratic lawsuit "frivolous and politically motivated."

On Tuesday, the state Republican Party requested a federal investigation into the Democrats' use of a bank's private jet to leave the state. The mostly Democrat-less Senate also approved a resolution to fine each missing lawmaker $1,000 a day, with the fine doubling for each missed session, but not to exceed $5,000 a day.

Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (search) confirmed that the plane used by senators belongs to the First National Bank of Edinburg but said no campaign finance laws were violated.

"We're not campaigning," Van de Putte said. "The finance laws relate to campaigning."

But Texas GOP chairwoman Susan Weddington called it "a blatant abuse of campaign finance laws." She said a federal law prohibits national banks from making such political contributions.

Weddington sent a letter seeking an immediate investigation to Archie L. Bransford Jr., deputy comptroller of the Comptroller of the Currency (search)'s Southeastern District office in Dallas, a bureau of the U.S. Treasury that regulates national banks.

Bransford, who was in Atlanta, did not return a telephone call Wednesday.

Texas Democratic Party consultant Jeff Crosby said Senate Democrats checked with the Texas Ethics Commission on the use of transportation.

"Everything they did was legal and proper," he said.

The Democrats also contend the fines passed by the Senate are illegal, saying Senate rules for sanctions call for nothing more than arrest by the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

"I won't pay it," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis.

Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, cited a decision by the state's attorney general that senators have no constitutional right to break a quorum and that the Texas Constitution authorizes the remaining senators to compel their attendance.

Meanwhile, five Colorado Democrats piled into a van loaded with gifts of Colorado beer and peaches and headed to New Mexico on Wednesday to support their Texan counterparts.

Democrats in Colorado were unable to block a GOP-authored redistricting plan when Republicans rushed it through during the last three days of the session in May.