1/19/2011 5:29 PM
The Texas Senate today passed rules that will govern its business for the 82nd session, without changing the "two-thirds" rule to a simple majority or a three-fifths rule, as was the hope of Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston). The Senate also made changes that will affect the way the budget is deliberated down the stretch.
The two-thirds rule requires the consent of two-thirds of the Senators to consent to suspend the necessary rules to take up and consider a bill on the Senate floor – even though only a simple majority is needed to pass the bill.
However, the rules do include a special order from last session exempting voter ID legislation from the two-thirds rule – meaning the Senate will be able to pass legislation requiring a photo ID to vote in Texas.
The rules passed 18 to 11.
Although conceding that he does not have the votes to alter the two-thirds rule, Patrick spoke in favor of his change, citing the Founding Fathers' belief in the importance of the majority rule, even quoting George Washington as saying that if the minority is able to dictate to the majority, there can be no security of life, liberty, or property.
Democratic Senators Eddie Lucio (Brownsville), John Whitmire (Houston), and Mario Gallegos (Houston) spoke against Patrick's defunct amendment. Whitmire said that the two-thirds rule makes it harder to pass not just conservative but liberal legislation like an income tax or laws loosening abortion restrictions. Gallegos said he opposed the rules, saying he was "very disappointed" that the body was willing to change the two-thirds rule for one issue.
The Senate also changed the rules to require a 48-hour layout for "out of bounds resolutions" for the budget bill. Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) explained:
"The issue at the end of the session is always can we vote out the appropriations bill after the conferees have met and the bill is frequently changed in conference committee to not reflect decisions that were voted on previously in either the house or the senate, therefore requiring an out of bounds resolution. In our rules now our rules are silent in how long that out of bounds resolution should lay out. I think Sen. [Kirk] Watson [D-Austin] rightly pointed out the potential for a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the out of bounds resolution, if it just kind of shows up with the chairman is recognized to vote the conference committee report. So after some significant thought and some parliamentary risk, I think we ought to change our senate rules so that the out of bounds resolution for the appropriations bill lay out the same period of time and under the same rules as the conference committee report."