Removing Roadblocks

Covered heavily by the media, even Texans outside the political bubble in Austin have heard about the 2/3rds Rule in the Texas Senate.  Appropriately, the rule was a popular topic in the Lieutenant Governor’s race and in some state Senate races last year.

The 2/3rds Rule, sometimes called the Blocker Bill, requires that legislation is heard on the Senate floor in the order the bills were voted out of committee. Often at the front of the line of bills is an inconsequential issue, such as creating the County Park Beautification Program. The Senate never votes on the lesser or negligible bill, which still holds a place in the line of priority over bills of greater substance, thus becoming a blocker bill. In order to circumvent the line of bill review, 2/3rds of the Senators (which is 21) must vote in favor of hearing debate on priority legislation and bypass the lineup of placeholder bills.

Texas Right to Life is painfully familiar with the 2/3rds rule that served as a roadblock to advancing Pro-Life legislation for several sessions. In the past, due to the party line composition of the Senate, several Democrats would need to support Pro-Life legislation, to clear the Blocker Bill Rule, and to help advance the legislation to the Senate floor. The Blocker Bill Rule made the passage of the Pro-Life Sonogram Law difficult in 2011. During the 82nd Legislative Session, one Democrat Senator held the Sonogram Bill hostage and demanded significant weakening amendments be added before he voted to send the Sonogram Bill to the Senate floor. Then-Senator Dan Patrick, the Senate author of the Sonogram Bill HB 15, saw firsthand how this lifesaving legislation was jeopardized by an abuse of the 2/3rds Rule, even though the bill had the support of two other Democrat Senators.

In the 2013 legislative session, the situation worsened when two Democrat Senators — who have traditionally voted Pro-Life — decided to stop Pro-Life legislation from getting to the Senate floor for the entirety of regular session. Likewise, in order to make a political statement, the Senate Democratic Caucus decided to block all of the eligible Pro-Life bills from the Senate floor. This was the backdrop on which the presiding Lt Governor Dewhurst asked former Governor Perry to add Pro-Life legislation to the special session call. Traditionally, there is no 2/3rds Rule in special sessions and Governor Perry did allow the Pro-Life Omnibus Bill to be debated. Eventually, the life-saving legislation passed in the Senate with all Senate Republicans supporting the law and only one Democrat. This lone exception was the outspoken Pro-Life Democratic Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. who received the wrath and attacks from his own caucus and party for supporting the historical House Bill 2.

Because of these events and other similar stories, Dan Patrick campaigned on his criticism of the 2/3rds rule. This week, on his first official day as Lt Governor, the Senate rules were amended to lower the 2/3rds Rule to a 3/5ths Rule, which now only requires 19 votes for a piece of legislation to be debated and finally voted on in the Texas State Senate.

Texas Right to Life congratulates Lt Governor Patrick and the Senate in making this reasonable rule change that will ensure politically-motivated gridlock will not stop widely supported and fully vetted Pro-Life legislation this session. Although there are still a few necessary steps to take place before the Texas Legislature can really get to work, Texas Right to Life is one step closer to being able to advance our life-saving legislation.