In this first week of the 2021 Texas legislative session, lawmakers weighed in on some practical matters like how to vote remotely during the pandemic and picking the new House speaker. But members of the Texas Senate also voted to change a rule to give Republicans an advantage.
Allie Morris, Austin bureau correspondent for The Dallas Morning News, wrote that changes to the Senate’s supermajority rule will weaken Democrats’ influence, even though they gained a seat in the chamber in November. Before that, Republicans had held a supermajority in the Senate. They voted to lower the threshold needed to bring legislation to the floor.
What is the advantage of a supermajority?
“Republicans had 19 seats, which allowed them to bring any bill to the Senate floor without the support of any Democratic members,” Morris told Texas Standard. “They could bring some pretty contentious bills that maybe Democrats would oppose to the floor, on issues like abortion rights, gun issues, voting rights. And it allowed them to advance some of their conservative policies despite democratic opposition.”
Republicans lost that supermajority after one Democrat gained a seat in the Senate during the November election.
Why did Republicans want to change the rules?
“Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate, has been saying for much of this year that he was wanting to change the rules this session to ensure that Republicans kept that grip on the flow of legislation coming to the chamber floor,” Morris said. “He’s been saying that Democrats shouldn’t be able to block bills since they are in the minority in this chamber.”
Who has authority to change the rules?
“It’s a change that [Patrick] really championed and he presides over the Senate, but he wasn’t actually voting on the change. It was the members in the chamber that did that. And it, as you would expect, it was a vote right along party lines with all 18 of the chamber’s Republicans voting to change their rules.”
What Democrats say about the possible consequences of the rule change:
“A lot of them [are] criticizing the process, saying that this could put them on a path toward what they called ‘Washington, D.C., toxic relations’ that could reduce the need for coordination and communication among the two parties in the chamber.”
What can we expect for the 2021 session in terms of bipartisanship among lawmakers?
Morris says despite the tension, the Texas legislature is actually more bipartisan than the U.S. Congress. She also says in Texas, the rural-urban divide is sometimes more consequential than differences over party. Still, it’s too soon to tell if we’ll see more cooperation like during the 2019 session, or if it will be more contentious.
“Democrats didn’t get the blue wave that they were hoping for [in November]. Quite the opposite; Republicans really held their ground. And so I think it really remains to be seen this session what type of relationship they will have,” Morris said.