SENATE VOTES TO CHANGE TWO-THIRDS RULE
|As chairman of the Senate Administration Committee, Senator Kevin Eltife of Tyler introduces the rules resolution each session.|
(AUSTIN) — Altering a long standing tradition, the Senate Wednesday approved a number of changes to the body's rules, most significant among them lowering the threshold needed to bring a bill to the floor. In the past, the Senate used parliamentary structure to require that two-thirds, or 21 members agree to debate a bill before it can come to the floor. Administration Committee Chair and rules author Senator Kevin Eltife said he believes that lowering that number to three-fifths will still preserve the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship in the Senate "We will still have in place a supermajority requirement in the Texas Senate at three-fifths," he said. "Thirteen members of this body can block any piece of legislation."
Eltife argued that one of the best reasons to lower the threshold is that over the past few sessions, the two-thirds rule has been set aside for some of the most controversial legislation. Bills that die during the regular session due to opposition in the Senate, said Eltife, come back up during special sessions, where the two-thirds rule has often been suspended. This cedes authority from the Senate to the Governor, who sets the agenda during special sessions. "We must work on the rules that allow the Senate to govern in regular session and complete our work in a timely manner," he said. "It is in special session that the pressure mounts to add additional items that the Senate has no control over".
The rules approved Wednesday would lower the number of votes needed to bring up a bill to 19, or three-fifths of the body. Opponents to the change argued that a two-thirds threshold better protects minority interests from the majority. One opponent, Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, quoted from the memoirs of the longest serving Lt. Governor in Texas history, Bill Hobby. "The Senate rules are designed to create an orderly process that respects the rights of individual members," read Ellis. "They've lasted this long because they do the job well and consider the need for compromise in the legislative operation."
The Senate will also operate under new rules regarding the number of committees. The number of standing committees will be reduced by four, to fourteen. Eltife told members this will help the committees focus on important issues and run more efficiently. "I can't stress enough how much the change in committee structure, we hope, will empower members to more fully participate at the committee level and how the process will continue to improve legislation that hits the floor," he said. One other change in the rules is to limit to ten the number of congratulatory resolutions a Senator can bring to the floor.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 26 at 2 p.m.