Texas’ new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wasted no time in making good on a promise to give his fellow Republicans even more control in the state Senate than its already overwhelming majority — all in an effort to push through what he calls a “take it to the next level” conservative agenda.
The day after being sworn in, Patrick, in his role as president of the Senate, presided over an inaugural session that did away with an almost 70-year-old rule requiring a two-thirds majority to bring up bills for a floor vote.
Republicans, who hold a 20-11 majority in the Senate, would have needed to win over only one Democrat to bring any measure to the floor under the old standard. But on a basically party-line vote, senators Wednesday adopted a new three-fifths rule which requires only 19 “yeas” to move legislation.
That means if Republicans vote as a bloc, they can pass any legislation without the support of a single Democratic senator.
Although the maneuver gives GOP lawmakers much greater authority in the Senate chamber, this unabashed power grab actually weakens a body that has, by rule, dictated at least a modicum of bipartisanship on issues important to the people of Texas.
The long tradition also assured that the minority in the Senate could influence legislation it felt should not become law, forcing both sides to compromise occasionally.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, referred to the latest action as “one that we’ll look back on and regret. What your are doing today is making this legislative body operate the same way they operate in Washington, D.C. It is the wrong thing to do.”
The change in the rule starts the new Legislature on a negative note, and it forecasts what is likely to be a divisive session. Neither is in the best interest of Texans, even though Republicans will argue that their overwhelming victory at the polls requires that they push their voters’ issues.
What they’ve also done is set a precedent for the other party if it ever gains a majority.