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Government/Politics

Republicans Effectively Shut Out Democrats In Texas Senate

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On Wednesday, his first full day as Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick and most state Senate Republicans kept a promise. They changed a Senate rule that has given Democrats, the minority party in Texas for many years, a way to prevent bills from being debated. 

It’s the first time in the Senate’s history that lawmakers voted to suspend the rule known as the two-thirds majority rule for nearly all of the legislative session. For decades the rule required 21 of the 31 senators to agree before a bill could be debated. 

Republicans, who currently hold 20 Senate seats, have traditionally needed some Democratic support — at least one — to bring legislation to the floor. Now Republicans have bypassed that need for Democrats, by decreasing the number of votes needed for debate to 19. So now, instead of having one less vote, they have one extra, making it, more or less, a shutout.

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Tyler Republican Sen Kevin Eltife introducing resolution to remove the senate's two-thirds rule

  Tyler Republican Sen. Kevin Eltife said that eliminating the rule would prevent GOP lawmakers from having to bring up measures numerous times to get them passed.  “What I’ve seen over the last 10-years is ways to get around the two-thirds rule, such as special orders and special sessions,” said Eltife.

Democrats like Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo said the change would make the Senate less bipartisan and allow the GOP majority to ram bills through without discussion. “Many of us oppose changing it because we like the tradition, we believe we write better legislation and pass legislation when we need 21 votes to suspend the rule, so it’s going to change everything, but only time will tell,” said Zaffirini

She added, though, that the change would not actually affect most bills, because 90 percent of legislation is considered nonpartisan. The last time the Senate suspended this rule was for a single vote in 2011, when the Legislature passed the Voter ID bill. Republicans temporarily did away with the law because it allowed Democrats to block the bill’s passage.