The Texas Senate just got a few shades redder, potentially allowing some of the most extreme policy positions of the Tea Party to be considered — but what does that mean from an operational standpoint?
The two-thirds rule is at stake, and if that traditional moderating mechanism is removed it could have certain unintended consequences that could negatively affect even the most conservative Senator’s districts. It could also serve to make the legislature significantly more dysfunctional.
Senate Rule 5.13 states that, “No bill, joint resolution, or resolution affecting state policy may be considered out of its regular calendar order unless the regular order is suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the members present.” Senate tradition currently holds that insignificant bills, referred to as “blocker bills” are passed out of the Administration Committee early in session and begin the senate’s regular order calendar. They are traditionally permanently left there all session, in effect activating the 2/3 rule for every bill that follows. Essentially this results in preventing legislation from hitting the floor that at least two-thirds of the members aren’t willing to consider — if they stick together. The Texas GOP platform opposes the use of blocker bills.
Generally the two-thirds rule is thought of as a way to protect the minority party from irrelevancy, but given the hard move to the far right that will make up the Senate in the 84th legislative session, the rule could very well protect the Republican Party from itself.
In a recent budget hearing the Senate’s Dean, John Whitmire pointed out that rural Republicans could be hurt by ditching the two-thirds rule with regard to certain ag exemptions in the tax code. “The rural members should be mindful that the Senate rules currently allow them to block any consideration of repealing that,” he said.
Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick has already suggested that the two-thirds rule gives too much power to the minority party. ““It empowers the minority party. When the majority of the people elect a party, they expect that party to govern.”
The Senate has long been viewed as a moderating body itself, tempering the knee jerk actions of an over zeleous House, but that will hardly be the case come January. Republican House member Jason Villalba said he believes that House Speaker Joe Straus will be overwhelmingly reelected even given the fact that he faces a challenge from the Tea Party. Villalba made it clear that there is schism between what he called “common sense conservatives” and right wing ideologues. He said he would be surprised if Straus’ opposition received more than 15 votes and that a common sense coalition will have to be made to fend off the extremes of both parties (read GOP).
That is just a taste of how Patrick is already reshaping the entire legislature and how different a Senate might function under someone who has seen themselves as a conservative outsider.
Patrick has also insinuated that Democrats have too much power on committees as well and has expressed a willingness to reduce if not eliminate any committee chairmanships they currently hold.
Senators could vote before session starts to limit the power of the Lt. Governor, but given that it would take 5 Republican Senators crossing over that is very unlikely.
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