With a new lieutenant governor installed for the first time in over a decade Wednesday — and over the cries of Democrats — the Texas Senate voted to break from an almost 70-year tradition intended to encourage compromise among its 31 members.
Now the approval of only 19 senators instead of 21 will be required to bring legislation to the floor for debate. The change — passed on a vote of 20-10 — has the practical effect of allowing Republicans to consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber's 11 Democrats. Lt. Gov.Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has targeted the tradition known as the two-thirds rule since he first entered the Legislature in 2007.
Fighting to protect the rule, Democrats said the change would strike a blow to the democratic process.
“I think it’s a sad day for the Senate, and one that we will look back on with regret,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.
But Republicans argued that the rule allowed for too much abuse of procedure for political purposes.
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said while he had supported the rule in the past and he believed it had helped craft better policy, that the time had come to reform it.
“I don’t have to tell you how hard those special sessions we had two summers ago were for the Senate,” he said. “It was a tense time for all of us.”
The two-thirds rule change comes as a part of a larger reform package that also reduces the number of committees and limits the honorary recognitions and resolutions members can make on the Senate floor.
Eltife emphasized that taken as a whole, the changes would improve the function of the Senate.
All but one of the chamber’s Democrats opposed the rule change, and all but one of its Republicans voted in favor of it.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said he supported it because too many of his bills had been killed over the years because he lacked one vote to bring it to the floor. State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who left the floor quickly without speaking to reporters, abstained from the vote.