Senate Not Civil for Long

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The Senate retained its two-thirds rule Wednesday, hanging on to its more clubby reputation in comparison to the rough and tumble House. The two-thirds rule means that at least some of the Democratic minority must vote with Republicans to bring a bill up for consideration. The rule has been part of the Senate body since 1846 and is supposed to inject some civility into the debate in contrast to the simple majority rule and verbal fisticuffs over in the House.

Republican Senator Dan Patrick, Tea Party enthusiast, and conservative radio talk show host spoke against the two-thirds rule for about 10 minutes in his smooth modulated baritone. Patrick summoned the founding fathers, and equated his lonesome fight against banning the two-thirds rule to John Adam’s stance on slavery, which left many scratching their heads. (Adams was against slavery but never made a public statement against it). So Patrick is the un-Adams?…Then expounding further, Patrick said he was standing on the shoulders of the founding fathers and that they would have disapproved of the “two-thirds rule inhibiting the majority from rule.”

Patrick’s comments fired up the nervous tic in Democratic Senator John Whitmire — a sort of angry shrug he gets when he’s annoyed. Whitmire is the longest serving member in the chamber with 28 years. “You are consistent,” he said to Patrick, serving him a backhanded compliment. Whitmire said he was disappointed that Patrick had served four years in the Senate already and still hadn’t accepted the two-thirds tradition, which had helped Republicans as much as Democrats.

Patrick shouldn’t worry, however. All this Senate two-thirds civility won’t last. Senate Republicans exempted Voter ID from the two-thirds rule, which will allow it to pass on a simple majority vote. Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte said a Voter ID bill, filed by Senator Troy Fraser is already waiting in the wings. This session, however, the bill will have to wait 60 days or for fourth-fifths of the chamber to vote to bring it up, unless Governor Perry adds it to his list of emergency items. Expect fireworks when it crops up. Last session it flew through the Senate.

Another contentious bill coming down the pike is a “Sanctuary City” bill, which Governor Perry did put on his emergency item list. Van de Putte said the bill will be carried by Republican Senator Tommy Williams. It hasn’t been filed yet, but judging from recent comments from Governor Perry it will allow police officers to check citizenship status, not just in the jails but on the streets.

After these two stinker bills,  it will take a lot more than the two-thirds rule to inject a little civility back into the chamber.  That and the $27 billion budget crater are enough to throw the whole smoothly run Senate right out of joint.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.