How the Texas Senate rules and traditions survived a ‘nuclear option’

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The people in the Texas Senate have a direct impact on your life. They have sway over schools, property taxes, roads and much, much more. The rules and traditions that govern this body have real-world consequences.

The Texas Senate is made up of 31 Senators, each representing 800,000 people. The President of the Senate is elected statewide.  Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presides over the Senate and sets the calendar. 

Constitutionally, the position of lieutenant governor is the most powerful position in the state because nothing can come to a floor for a vote without his say so. To check that power, senators set rules and traditions on his calendar.

It takes 16 votes to pass a bill in order. Then, you go to the next bill on the calendar. But, at the beginning of the session, Senators place one bill at the top of the calendar; known as the “blocker bill.”

To go around that blocker bill a Senator needs to get 19 votes to “suspend the rules,” go out of order around that blocker bill and bring that bill to the floor.

Once that bill is on the floor, 16 votes are needed to pass it out of the Senate. For controversial ideas, this can get a bit complicated.

For example, what happened Monday, April 15, on a property tax revenue cap on local governments.

Senator Kel Seliger voted to suspend the rules and bring the property tax bill to the floor, but then voted against it. The bill still passed. 

To convince Seliger to do that, Lt. Gov. Patrick threatened to use the “nuclear option”: vote on the blocker bill, turn the Senate into majority 16-vote rule and throw the traditions of the Senate out the window.

In this example, Seliger decided that he was for the Senate rules more than he was against this property tax policy. 

This is a rare instance but it goes to show how serious the senators take their rules and traditions.

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