January 22, 2021
Senate changes its rules to lower the threshold required to bring legislation to the floor
Image: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
Last week, Texas senators adopted the rules they will follow for the next two years, and most notably voted to lower the number of votes required to bring legislation to the Senate floor for a full vote by all of its members.

The rule change marks the end of the "three-fifths rule" era that began in 2015 when newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick advocated for lowering the threshold from a two-thirds vote to a three-fifths vote to bring bills to the Senate floor.

The three-fifths rule meant that 19 of the chamber's 31 votes were needed to advance legislation to the floor. With last week's rule change, bills in the Senate will need just 18 votes - or a five-ninths majority - to receive consideration by the entire Senate body. The rule change also means just 18 votes are needed to pass special orders and suspend Senate rules.

The change to a five-ninths rule, which took effect when the Senate passed Senate Resolution 2 on Jan. 13, comes on the heels of a 2020 election cycle that resulted in Republican membership in the Senate dropping from 19 to 18 seats.

Patrick had first raised the potential for a rule change last January at a Texas Public Policy Foundation event. At a time when Republicans still held a supermajority in the upper chamber, Patrick was considering changing the rules to allow for a simple majority vote - or 16 votes - to bring bills to the floor.

"If we lose one or two seats, then we might have to go to 16 next session," he said. "We might have to go to a simple majority because we will not be stopped in leading on federalism in the United States of America."

The resolution to approve the rule change passed along party lines, with 18 Republicans supporting the measure and 13 Democrats opposing it. One longtime Democratic senator, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), expressed concern that the change will perpetuate partisanship and discourage discussion among members.

"I'm talking about protecting minority rights and also making certain we have to talk to one another as it relates to critical legislation," he said. "And we talk to each other concerning legislation, but that two-thirds rule made it real important that each member of this body consulted about legislation."

The text of Senate Resolution 2 can be found here.
State lawmakers approve Covid-19 protocols, including a testing requirement in the Senate
Members of the Texas House and Senate unanimously approved operating rules for their respective chambers, including special emergency rules covering Covid-19 prevention policies.

The most significant difference between the rules adopted by the two legislative bodies is that the Senate will require a wristband demonstrating a negative Covid-19 test for entry to the gallery or committee hearings. Senate members will be required to have had a negative test result on the same day they plan to be on the Senate floor or attend a committee hearing.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said that the testing requirement will last for 60 days and then be reviewed.

Other notable changes contained in the Senate operating rules - Senate Resolution 1 - include: limiting each senator to one staff member on the Senate floor at a time; requiring testing for staffers entering the Capitol and twice-a-week testing for all central staff; and requiring members and staff to wear masks in common areas.

In the House, members did not adopt a Covid-19 testing requirement, but the lower chamber did approve several new Covid-19 protocols. For example, on the House floor and in committee chambers, masks will be required and social distancing measures will be in place.

Other provisions in House Resolution 4 allow House members to vote from the floor, the gallery, or adjoining rooms. Committee members must be present to vote on bills, but only two members will be required to be in a committee room to meet quorum requirements. The resolution also outlines several methods for the public to participate in committee hearings digitally in addition to in-person participation.

1/29 - Board Meeting (10 a.m. by Zoom)

3/19 - Outstanding Construction Awards submission deadline
3/31 - AGC-TBB Legislative Day (details TBA)

4/23 - Board Meeting (10 a.m. at Pflugerville Courtyard Marriott Conference Center)

7/27-7/29 - Convention at Beauport Hotel in Gloucester, MA

9/16 - Outstanding Construction Awards (6 p.m. at Georgetown Sheraton)
9/17 - Board Meeting (9 a.m. at Georgetown Sheraton)

11/12 - Board Meeting (10 a.m. at Austin AGC)
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