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Two-Thirds Rule Suspended, Challenges Ahead For Dems In Special Session

Ryan Poppe
Texas Public Radio

Same bills, same state lawmakers, different set of voting rules.

During the regular session and the first special session, the Senate operated under the the two-thirds rule, a tradition of voting that ensures at least two-thirds of the Senate floor has an interest in debating an issue before a bill reaches the Senate floor.

Shortly after gaveling in the second special session, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst opted to expedite the process for the three items on the agenda -- one of which is the controversial abortion bill -- and told Senators that he would be changing the rules to a simple majority, which means Republicans now need just over 50 percent to bring a bill to the floor and then to pass it.

"Democrats utilized the rules and the traditions of the Senate during the regular session and these bad bills died. In the special session, the Democrats -- even under changed rules and rules that were changing almost minute by minute, hour by hour -- the Democrats were able to stop this bad bill. We did not chose this fight," said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chairman of the Democratic Caucus.

"Though it has been set aside on rare occasions, this practice -- known as the "two-thirds rule" -- has been an honored tradition in the Senate. Among other things, it is generally acknowledged that the Senate's two-thirds rule fosters civility, a willingness to compromise, and a spirit of bipartisanship." - Legislative Reference Library of Texas

"So apparently we are now into a new tradition and unfortunately it appears to be a tradition that if bills don't pass during the regular session, and even if they fail to pass when rules get changed during a special session, we’ll change even additional traditions in order to try to jam them through," Watson said.

After a mix up with the Senate Bill 5 vote the night of the filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Watson is now sure nothing sinister occurred during the time stamp change at the end of the last special session.

"I have satisfied myself through looking at documents and talking to people and asking questions and no one was asked to do anything inappropriate," Watson said.

What strategy Democrats will use this session remains unknown.

Republicans in the Senate have indicated from the start that they would not allow a filibuster to occur, leaving only a few options on the table, one of the possibilities is Democrats breaking a quorum and leaving the state ahead of a vote.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.