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#SB5: Stand With Wendy! A Primer On Texas Filibusters

by: Katherine Haenschen

Tue Jun 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM CDT

Updated at 1:37 p.m. below the jump.

As the Senate prepares to gavel in for the last day of the Special Session Texas hero Wendy Davis prepares to filibuster SB5, Rick Perry and David Dewhurst's back-door abortion ban that will take us back to the pre-Roe days of unsafe back-alley abortions and kill Texas women.

Curious about the process? Below the jump, check out a quick primer on how filibusters work.

Follow our entire SB 5 live-blog here.

The Senate likes rules. What are the filibuster rules?

From the Legislative Reference Library:

In Texas, a filibuster is allowed only in the Senate. A filibuster occurs when one senator holds the floor through talking or long speeches, without sitting down or leaving the vicinity of the senator's desk. Although the primary purpose of a filibuster is usually to kill a bill, sometimes this is also done to reach a compromise or to delay a vote as long as possible. The filibuster must be on topic; the bill may be read but irrelevant books (i.e. a telephone book) may not be read.

Can the Senator lean on her desk or something?

No. More from the LRL:

Filibusters are governed by the Senate rules and by precedents interpreting the rules.

Rule 3.02 prohibits eating or drinking in the Senate chamber.

Rule 4.01 requires a member of the Senate to stand at his or her desk to address the Senate. The member speaking may not sit, lean, or use a desk or chair in any way. Bathroom breaks are not allowed.

Rule 4.03, which governs the interruption of a member who is speaking, allows other senators to raise objections if a speaker does not confine his or her remarks to the issue under consideration or if his or her voice is inaudible.

Can the filibustering senator get help from her friends?

Yes. The filibustering senator can yield for questions. If another senator -- say, a non-crappy Democrat who supports the rights of women -- rises to be recognized to ask questions, the senator can choose to yield the floor to them.  Said senator then takes the floor back when they are finished.

The senator who has the floor yielded to him or her cannot in turn yield the floor to someone else. The filibusterer -- here, Davis -- gets it back.

Can Republicans try to shout her down or cut her off? They seem to REALLY have a knack for that lately.

Under the senate rules, a filibustering senator cannot be interrupted.

What about, ahem, calls of nature?

We know you are all thinking this. No, once a Senator starts a filibuster they cannot sit down or leave the floor for a snack or a bathroom break.

What's the longest record for a Texas filibuster?

Everything is bigger in Texas. Senator Bill Meier holds the state and national record at 43 hours. More at the LRL.

How does a filibuster end?

From the LRL, again:

If a point of order is raised that the senator speaking has violated the rules for decorum or debate, the presiding officer will warn the senator twice; after a third violation, the Senate may vote on the point of order. If it is sustained, the senator speaking must yield the floor.

It can also end at midnight when time runs out on the special session.

12:26 p.m: We've got more questions to answer!

How long did Wendy Davis filibuster in 2011?

Davis closed out the 2011 regular session by filibustering a bill that slashed $5.4 billion from public education -- the cuts were needless as Texas had enough revenue to sustain previous funding, but I digress. That filibuster lasted about an hour and 20 minutes -- she started at 10:45 p.m. on the last day of the regular session. Her task is considerably larger tonight. Here's a good story on her efforts and her amazing background.

Can staffers bring Wendy more stories to read?

Both good questions. The answer isn't explicitly spelled out in the rules. The Lieutenant Governor and parliamentarian have some discretion. My understanding is yes, so keep sending your stories and share the link to submit them. The link to submit your story for Senator Wendy Davis to read on the floor is HERE.  

1:37 p.m: We've got more questions to answer!

What happens to other legislation set to be considered today?

Short answer: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst chose to hear SB 5 first knowing that Davis was planning to filibuster, rather than take up the transportation bill or juvenile justice legislation first and let it pass.

I guess David Dewhurst supports his own right to choose. Rimshot!

Long answer: if Republicans want to save those bills, they need to find some way to withdraw Hegar's bill and bring up the other legislation. Otherwise we may end up with another special session. Make no mistake, though: it was David Dewhurst who made the choice to kill SB23 and SJR 2.

Can the Senate stop the clock at 11:59 p.m.?

Long-time legislature watchers know that the laws of space and time don't always apply in the Pink Dome. (Hell, they're trying to take us back to the 1950's today.) Senators could try to move the clock, but it would be extremely unlikely that they would succeed. Of bigger import are the other two bills mentioned above that Dewhurst will let die so that he can make Davis's filibuster longer and more difficult.


Follow our entire SB 5 live-blog here.

Got more questions? Send 'em to @KathTX on Twitter, or post in the comments and we'll get them answered.

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