Insurance sunset: Case study for the 21-vote rule
Wed April 22, 2009 2:46 pm

It only took 48 hours for this idea to pop in my head, but it occurs to me that the Texas Senate's passage of the Texas Department of Insurance sunset bill Monday provides a textbook example of how the two-thirds rule enhances public policy. After blocking debate on the bill, Senate Democrats forced negotiations and Sen. Glen Hegar agreed to four amendments that represent a reasonable compromise on consumer protection issues. Insurance companies who file exorbitant rate increases and drag out the approval process will be slapped with significant fines; TDI will be sunseted again in six years, rather than the usual twelve.

Hegar's need for 21 votes to hear the bill forced him back to the negotiating table and he wound up passing a stronger bill. Of course -- despite the partisan split on all floor amendments -- insurance isn't particularly an R vs. D issue. Substantive policy lends itself to compromise positions, though I maintain political issues would benefit from the same approach. It would require independent thinking and leadership, two commodities often in short supply at the Texas Capitol.

Nonetheless, the Senate's ability to forge bipartisan compromises on important issues (mesothelioma, stimulus funding for the unemployment fund, the local option gas tax) has been impressive. I was surprised to see the strict-party-line votes on pro-consumer amendments to the insurance sunset bill -- perhaps the first time since Voter ID that the division has been so obvious. I don't think angst about insurance rates is limited to blue districts, something I'm going to bet the Republican senators will surely discover. I know the Senate has a tradition -- unlike the House -- of not amending its budget on the floor, which makes sense to keep control of spending. I don't think the same hands-off "rule" should apply to sunset bills, which need to be vetted by the full body, and not just one committee.

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