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RIP, two-thirds rule

Not a surprise.

With a new lieutenant governor installed for the first time in over a decade Wednesday — and over the cries of Democrats — the Texas Senate voted to break from an almost 70-year tradition intended to encourage compromise among its 31 members.

Now the approval of only 19 senators instead of 21 will be required to bring legislation to the floor for debate. The change — passed on a vote of 20-10 — has the practical effect of allowing Republicans to consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber’s 11 Democrats. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has targeted the tradition known as the two-thirds rule since he first entered the Legislature in 2007.

Fighting to protect the rule, Democrats said the change would strike a blow to the democratic process.

“I think it’s a sad day for the Senate, and one that we will look back on with regret,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

But Republicans argued that the rule allowed for too much abuse of procedure for political purposes.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said while he had supported the rule in the past and he believed it had helped craft better policy, that the time had come to reform it.

“I don’t have to tell you how hard those special sessions we had two summers ago were for the Senate,” he said. “It was a tense time for all of us.”

I was going to write some long-winded blather about this, but this Observer article sums up the main point I was going to make succinctly:

The two-thirds rule was broken anyways, [Sen. Eltife] said. The most partisan bills the Legislature has passed in recent years found a way around the requirement. When bills are brought up during a special session, as 2013’s abortion restrictions were, only a simple majority is needed to get them through the sausage factory. And legislators have plenty of ways to ignore or avoid the two-thirds rule when they really want to during session—that’s the way they passed voter ID.

He has a point. Many Democrats stormed social media today with the hashtag #lockout—the rule change, many said, was patently unfair and would make Texas government dramatically less transparent. But this isn’t a tipping point—it’s more like the Legislature has taken a few more steps down the grand staircase of partisanship that it’s been descending for years. Democrats had very little leverage last session, and they have less now.

This. Basically, the two-thirds rule has been decorative since the second special session in 2003 that enabled the passage of the DeLay re-redistricting. It was a comfortable fiction that among other things gave Eddie Lucio an undue amount of influence. I seriously doubt that any bill will pass this session that wouldn’t have passed via some loophole or other circumvention of the two-thirds rule as it had recently existed. This is the world we live in now. Adapt or die. Newsdesk has more.

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