An infamous parliamentary procedure historically ingrained into the rules of the Texas Senate, the two-thirds rule is used in modern times as a political tool to stifle good legislation. Instead of members of the majority passing bills advancing commonsense reform, their will — and the will of the majority of Texans who elected them — are held hostage by a small minority.
Much like the United States Senate, members of the Texas Senate pass governing rules for the body at the beginning of each legislative session. Historically, the rules of the Texas Senate have required a vote of two-thirds of the members present to take a bill up for consideration outside of a process called the “Regular Order of Business” to bring bills to the floor for consideration. A bill that makes it to the floor this way requires only a simple majority vote in order to pass.
Traditionally, a negligible bill is filed early in session and is placed at the top of the Regular Order of Business calendar. Known informally as the “blocker bill,” it forces members to make a motion — which requires a two-thirds majority — to step outside of the regular order of business in order to take up another bill.
Under this procedure, a member of the Texas Senate must convince 20 of his or her colleagues to agree just to discuss the bill. The up-or-down simple-majority vote on the legislation itself is merely a formality. Without the approval of 21 senators, a bill has no chance of making it all the way to the governor’s desk.
Even in Washington D.C., where allegations of gridlock and dysfunction are leveled at Congress daily, the U.S. Senate requires only a three-fifths majority to end a debate, not just to begin one.
For several years now, Republicans have been two members shy of meeting the two-thirds threshold — requiring them to garner the approval of at least two Democrats to move legislation forward. It has provided a convenient excuse for Republican members of the Senate to publically support bills they don’t actually want passed — such as stricter spending limits or pro-life legislation — by simply using Democrats as the scapegoat. (Conversely, when senators want legislation to pass without their fingerprints on the bill, they simply vote to bring the bill to the floor but vote no on the bill itself.)
In an effort to defend this suspect process, the establishment class in Austin attempts to gin up an intra-party strife between rural and suburban Republicans, depicting a zero-sum game between property owners, infrastructure, and our state’s business community.
Eliminating the two-thirds rule will not pit regions of the state against one another. In fact, enacting conservative public policy benefits all Texans, no matter where they live. If any strife does exist, it’s manufactured by establishment-friendly politicians looking to protect their own personal interests at the expense of taxpayers.
Not only did Texans replace three establishment-friendly senators in the Republican primary, voters across the state said they disapproved of Wendy Davis and her filibuster tactics at the end of the 2013 legislative session. Voters in Davis’s old senate district concurred, electing conservative Republican Konni Burton to replace her.
Burton’s victory puts Republicans only one vote shy of meeting the 21-vote threshold needed to get around the two-thirds rule. That means Democrats still can thwart conservative legislation from passing, so long as they all stick together.
Will Republicans be bold enough to put an end to this practice once and for all? Or will they enable the party rejected by 60% of Texans to maintain their de facto veto power over good legislation?
Start talking to your senators now, and tell them it’s time to end the two-thirds rule.