With Republicans down one seat in the makeup of the Texas Senate from last session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is floating a rule change to ensure Republican legislation can’t be blocked by Democrats.
Heading into the upcoming session, Republicans will hold 18 of the 31 seats in the Texas Senate. That’s one less than last session, due to the defeat of Republican State Sen. Pete Flores (Pleasanton) last month.
Under the current rules of the Senate, that could lead to Democrats being empowered to block Republican legislation, despite Republicans holding a majority.
Here’s how: In the Senate, a simple majority is all that is technically required to pass legislation. However, bills are required to be taken up in the order they are placed on the calendar.
That’s where things get tricky.
In 1947, Texas Democrats implemented the “two-thirds” rule in the Texas Senate. Under that rule, a supermajority of 21 members of the Senate—or two-thirds of the body—was required to take up a bill out of order. Practically, that meant that for any bill to pass, two-thirds of the chamber had to agree to give it an up or down vote.
When Dan Patrick became lieutenant governor in 2015, one of his first actions was to reduce the threshold from 21 to 19, mirroring the “three-fifths” rule of the United States Senate.
At that time, Republicans held 20 seats in the chamber.
With Republicans now holding 18 of the seats in the Senate, Patrick says he wants to change the threshold again.
“I intend to ask the Senate to vote to change the number of votes required to bring a bill to the floor for consideration. When I was elected Lt. Governor in 2015, we changed the rule from 21 to 19 so that Democrats were no longer able to veto legislation they didn’t like,” said Patrick.
“The Republican majority now stands at 18. I am recommending lowering the number of votes needed to bring a bill to the floor to 18. A simple majority vote of 16 is needed to pass a bill, but we must be able to get that bill to the floor without Democrats blocking it.”
“Texans reaffirmed in the 2020 election that they support conservative candidates and conservative policies, and I am committed to again moving a conservative agenda forward,” he added.
This is not the first time Patrick has suggested tweaking the revised rule. During the last legislative session, Patrick threatened to remove the three-fifths rule to pass property tax reform legislation after Republican State Sen. Kel Seliger (Amarillo) refused to join his fellow Republicans in supporting the bill. Ultimately, Seliger’s vote was not needed, as the motion to bring the bill to the floor had the support of Democrat State Sen. Eddie Lucio (Brownsville). The rule survived the session.
Patrick raised the issue this week, however, in the context of the special election runoff for Senate District 30. Early voting kicked off today, and Election Day is set for December 19.
The Republican-versus-Republican runoff pits State Rep. Drew Springer (Muenster) against salon owner and anti-lockdown activist Shelley Luther.
While Patrick said he would not issue an endorsement in the race, he asked both candidates if they would pledge to support reforming the three-fifths rule to prevent Democrat vetoes.
Within minutes, both candidates answered affirmatively.
“I completely support the change. We must pass conservative legislation that Drew Springer and other Republicans have killed in past sessions. This rule change is needed to do just that,” said Luther.
Springer also committed to supporting the rule change.
“I endorse the move to 18 and look forward to voting for it on Jan. 12th,” he replied.