Patrick's play
Tue January 11, 2011 9:26 am

When senators meet to adopt Senate rules, Dan Patrick will likely resume his longstanding opposition to the two-thirds rule. As most readers know, the two-thirds rule is not a rule at all, but a Senate tradition of ancient origin that bills are not debated in the order that they are placed on the Senate calendar; rather, the presiding officer recognizes a member to move to suspend the rules so that the Senate may consider a bill out of calendar order. A two-thirds vote is required to suspend the rules. In practice, this means 21 votes are needed to debate a bill, but only 16 are required to pass it.

The two-thirds rule is the most important procedural hurdle in the Texas Legislature. Its purpose has always been to protect the minority from getting run over. Any eleven senators can block a bill. Senator Patrick wants to do away with the rule because it allows the minority to block the majority from passing its agenda. Patrick, being an ardent partisan, wants to remove the barriers.

It may seem at first that this is strictly a partisan fight: the 19 Republicans against the 12 Democrats. In fact, another division is equally pertinent, and that is urban vs. rural. In a redistricting session, when population shifts will cost rural Texas a lot of clout, the two-thirds rule is the only protection rural senators have.

Patrick doesn't have the votes to get rid of the two-thirds rule, so his likely strategy is to reduce the required number of votes needed to bet around the rule. Patrick will propose to reduce the margin to three-fifiths, which would conveniently allow Republicans to be able to pass legislation with 19 votes, exactly the number that they have.

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