What Does Three-Fifths Rule Mean For Texas Legislature?

The Texas Senate this week abolished the requirement that two-thirds of Senators must vote for a bill to be debated on the floor. Republicans can now consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber’s 11 Democrats.


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texas-capitol-rotunda-dome_800.jpgTexas Capitol dome. Images courtesy of Texas Legislature Online

The old two-thirds rule left Republicans one vote short of bringing up controversial bills for debate. It’s now a three-fifths rule to get legislation through — just 19 Senators can now force a debate on a bill at any time. That gives Republicans controlling majority over nearly every major upcoming vote this session.

“Most of us think this is about Democrats versus Republicans, and it probably is,” says Bob Stein, political science professor at Rice University. “But there’s another element to this, in that there are some interests that now, even within the Republican Party who’ve opposed, for instance, lieutenant governor’s position on, let’s say, on school vouchers.”

University of St. Thomas Political Science Chairman Jon Taylor agrees that this could set the stage for fights between House Speaker Joe Straus and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.

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“Straus’ way of running the state House is most assuredly different than the way that Patrick is already running the state Senate. I’d almost guarantee that you will see contention — if not fights — simply because of the way that they view the policy implications of legislation.”

Bob Stein says Republicans and Democrats will still need to cooperate.

“It might force the Democrats to reach out to some more moderate or centrist Republicans. It might actually produce some type of bipartisanship at the fringes of the two parties.”

Stein and Taylor say the real battles could be between moderate and ultra-conservative Republicans.

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