The Texas Senate has changed its rules in an attempt to ensure Republican legislation can’t be blocked by Democrats.
Republicans currently 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) in November.
Under the old 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, the rule has been changed again, to the “five-ninths” rule, requiring 18 votes to bring a bill up for debate.
The change was carried by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Tyler) in Senate Resolution 2, which serves as temporary rules for how the Senate will operate for the first 60 days of the 140-day session. Hughes said he believes the 18-vote requirement strikes a balance between majority rule and protecting the minority.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had championed the change in December, saying, “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.”
The change passed by a party-line vote of 18 to 13.