Senate Rule Changes #Lockout Legislators, Texans
New changes to rules in the Texas Senate may effectively lockout the voices of Texas Senators and their constituents - making it harder for 60% of minorities in the state of Texas to have their voices heard and represented in the Texas Legislature.
The Texas Observer highlighted the changes in their recent story, "Dan Patrick Kills the Two-Thirds Rule":
Instead of two-thirds, the Senate will now require three-fifths of the Senate, or 19 senators, to bring a bill to a vote.
There are 20 Republicans in the Senate, so the small change means quite a bit. Eltife’s floor speech in defense of the measure made a few simple points: Keeping a supermajority requirement would address some of the arguments made by backers of the two-thirds rule, namely that its disappearance would precipitate a split between urban and rural senators, who could find themselves competing for tight resources.
The Democrats in the chamber, who will have less leverage than ever as a result of the rule change, had a hard time swallowing that. For nearly two hours, they took turns interrogating Eltife and attempting to poke holes in his reasoning. Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) argued that the rule changes as a whole would make it easier for Senate leadership to sneak through bills and rule changes later in the session. Many others argued from principle, saying that scrapping the two-thirds tradition would make the Senate a less bipartisan place, which was certainly the point.
By cutting Democrats out of the process, it will be harder for those Democrats to represent their constituents - including the 60% of minorities they represent. Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) made the point clear during the rules debate:
Together, only 11 members comprise the Senate Hispanic Caucus. However, these members represent nearly 60 percent of all Hispanics and African-Americans in Texas. Without the traditional two-thirds rule, our voice and their voices will be diminished. No longer will the senators who represent the vast majority of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in Texas be able to stop legislation that could be viewed as trampling their rights.
The impact of the rule change won't just be felt on bringing bills to the floor. Subtler and more surprising rule changes also made it easier for Senators to remove other Senators from the floor, to have public hearings without public notice, and to shorten the time a bill has to be made publicly available for consideration. Each of those rules changes makes it easier for a smaller number of Senators to weaken transparency and disclosure processes of the day-to-day workings of the Texas Senate.
The new rules will be felt throughout session, and only time will tell if the rules stick beyond 2015.