Change to 64-year-old Senate rule silences Democrats

Republicans consolidated their power at the Texas Capitol Wednesday by instituting a new rule that diminishes the decision-making role of Democrats.


AUSTIN — With three strikes of the gavel, a new era began Wednesday in Texas politics as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick officially took over the Senate.

Patrick’s first order of business was to change a 64-year-old rule known as the “2/3rds rule,” which will now silence Democratic opposition.

“I think the consequences of this vote will be great,” said State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

“Anybody else listening to this discussion who follows government, they know what this is about,” added Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston).

For decades, 21 Senators — or 2/3rds of the body — were needed to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. But, there are only 20 Republican senators, so the GOP lowered the limit to 19, meaning Democrats are no longer needed.

During a taping for WFAA-TV’s Inside Texas Politics, Patrick said it will prevent the minority from obstructing the majority.

“This is a change that I have advocated for since I first came to the Texas Senate in 2007,” he said in a statement after the vote. “I applaud the action by the Texas Senate today to change the Senate’s operational rules for the 84th Legislative Session. I’m proud of their bold decision. As defined by the Senate Resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Kevin Eltife, these changes adjusting the 2/3rds rule will “make the Texas Senate a better governing body. Today’s action will make the Texas Senate even better – and it will help us deliver a conservative agenda a majority of voters elected us to pass.”

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Democrats said thousands of Texans will no longer have a voice in government.

“On his first day as lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick’s priority was to obstruct bipartisanship, destroy important traditions of the Texas Senate, and discard long-standing Senate rules. Clearly, Patrick’s political future and appealing to Republican primary voters is far more important to him then getting things done in the Texas Senate. Patrick is using cheap political tactics to further his toxic and divisive agenda. These new rules will only hurt hardworking Texas families,” said Javier Gamboa of the Texas Democratic Party.

But, political watchers say there’s something bigger at play here. This isn’t as much about Democrats as it is the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, consolidating power in his new position.

“Its conjunction with some other rules changes like the number of committees this is going to strengthen the lieutenant governor’s ability to influence the agenda in the Senate and that is part of this larger pattern of what the impact of Dan Patrick is going to be on Texas government,” said Jim Henson, with the UT Austin Texas Political Project.

It’s precedent-setting,

The rule change likely makes the Senate more partisan and now requires less deliberation for the ruling party to enact new laws.