AUSTIN, Texas – Senate Democrats should end their exile in New Mexico and return to Texas to vote on key proposals, including one to lessen the impact of upcoming Medicaid reimbursement cuts, Republican Gov. Rick Perry (search) said.
"Texans elected you to cast your vote in Austin, so come on back and go to work," Perry said Thursday in a public plea to the quorum-busting senators. "If you want to make an impact in the state of Texas, do it on the Senate floor in that historic chamber, not in some hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico."
But Perry said he had no plans to drop congressional redistricting (search) from the agenda of the second special legislative session, something the Democratic lawmakers have demanded as one way to get them to end their boycott in Albuquerque.
"You leave on redistricting then there's something else they don't like and they leave on that. That's like negotiating for hostages," said Perry, a Republican.
The 11 Democratic senators' out-of-state boycott blocks a quorum in the 31-member Senate and brought the chamber's official business to a halt. The 11 senators left over Republican plans to redraw Texas' congressional districts to increase their share of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Albuquerque, about a dozen Republicans gathered outside the Democrats' hotel Thursday, carrying placards calling the lawmakers "fugitives" and "cowards." One sign urged them to "go home and do your job."
But the Democrats were greeted by supporters as they visited the University of New Mexico (search) to discuss the state's tuition formula.
"Thank you all," Sen. Rodney Ellis said as he got out of the car. "I thought you were protesters. You're not bounty hunters, are you?"
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (search) also urged the senators to come home and said he was disappointed to hear that they may be on the verge of filing a federal lawsuit in the redistricting dispute.
"By abandoning the state, and now by considering legal action when they don't get their way, the Democrat minority is doing damage to Senate traditions, and to the Senate as an institution," Dewhurst said in a statement Thursday.
The Democrats would not confirm any plans for a lawsuit, but said they are leaving all their options open.
The governor's remarks Thursday were his strongest yet since he called a second special session and the Democrats walked out Monday.
Perry said he had reached an agreement with legislative leaders to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for hospitals and doctors by using $167 million in new federal matching funds. But he said the measure needs to be acted on right away to lessen the impact of rate cuts that take effect in a month.
Perry said he is asking Attorney General Greg Abbott to determine if the federal dollars can be spent without legislative action. After Perry's remarks, House Democrats said a legislative vote is not needed to spend the money.
Texas Republicans want more GOP seats in Congress, citing the state's recent Republican voting trends. Democrats currently hold a 17-15 advantage in the delegation.
Perry declined to say how long he might continue to call 30-day special legislative sessions should congressional redistricting fail in this one, which can last until late August.
"No one's going to turn into a pumpkin between now and the end of August. At that particular time I will make another decision. If the work of the state has been done, I would expect everyone to go on a little Labor Day vacation. If not, we may be back here," he said.