Ed. Note: We’d like to welcome back Patricia Kilday Hart, who will be covering and blogging the Legislature with Paul. This is her first post.
Ah, opening day of the 81st Session, where the mood in the Capitol is one of grand expectations for Peace on Earth, now that Tom Craddick has been deposed. So, of course, the Texas Senate wasted no time to devolve into partisan bickering over the hallowed two-thirds rule.
Senate Democrats met this morning in an caucus billed as “urgent” to discuss a Republican proposal for a Senate rules change permitting a vote by the Committee of the Whole on two issues: redistricting and voter ID. The committee of the whole setting means there’s no “blocker bill” requiring the two-thirds threshold for debating bills. One Senate Republican told me there was “no consensus” in the Republican caucus on the proposal, while another called it “ill-conceived.”
Then there’s the passion-stirring proposal by Sen. Dan Patrick, set out in a letter to his Republican colleagues, transforming two-thirds into a three-fifths rule. Patrick would require 19 votes to overcome a blocker bill, would mirror the U.S. Senate’s 60 vote threshold for passing legislation without a filibuster. “I like and respect our colleagues across the aisle. I’m also proud we can work with them, however, when it comes to key legislation that matters most to our constituents the minority has a different view. Texans did not elect us to the majority so that we would succumb to the minority in the Texas Senate,” Patrick wrote.
At least one senator was entirely dismissive of Patrick’s suggestion…and of Patrick. “It’s dead on arrival,” said Sen. John Carona. “In large part because of the author.” (A little stunned at his frankness, I asked, “Is that on the record?” ”Sure,” Carona shrugged.)
With twelve Democrats in the Senate, defensive strategies are limited, but intense: First, the caucus could call the Republican bluff by advocating ditching the two-thirds rule for everything. (If it is good enough for voter ID, why not election-day voter registration?) Or they could simply refuse to suspend on any bill. From Day One. Shut things down before they get started.
This is going to be a fun session.