Wednesday, January 19, 2011

State Senate Adopts Rules

The Texas State Senate has officially adopted its rules for the 82nd legislature. The Senate rules are similar to the House with the most notable exception being that the Senate is required to consider bills in the order they are filed, while the House may consider them in almost any order they see fit.

Of course the Senate never actually follows that rule. Instead they take a vote to set aside the rule to take up bills out of order. Since a vote to set aside the rules requires two-thirds of the Senate this effectively creates a requirement that all bills in the Senate must have two-thirds of the Senators support (or, at least, lack of opposition) to pass.

Sen. Dan Patrick had campaigned in the lead up to the adoption of rules to remove this particular operational quirk, but was unsuccessful. However, the Senate did choose to maintain the loophole added last year that allows legislation about voter identification to bypass the 2/3 vote. (Last session this voter suppression loophole created bedlam when Democratic leaders in the House slowed the process to a crawl to prevent the passage of the Senate's voter suppression legislation.)

The Senate's rules lay out the committee structure for the Senate. Now that the Senate has committees the next step is for Lt. Governor Dewhurst to appoint chairs and members of those committees. Only after that is done can the Senate get down to the process of actually considering legislation.

Queer Texans will want to watch carefully to see who is appointed to the Senate Education Committee, which will almost certainly be given the duty of hearing several anti-bullying bills which have already been filed (SB 42, SB 66, SB 205, and SB 245). Of particular interest is SB 245 by Sen. Davis (D-Fort Worth). SB 245 is, by far, the most comprehensive of the bills filed thus far and is likely to serve as the "water bearer" for any Senate action on bullying.

(To save time both House and Senate Committees will often condense several bills on a single topic into a kind of super-bill which contains elements of all of the proposals, this super-bill is known as the "water bearer" and carries the bill number of one of its component bills, usually the most comprehensive. SB 245 is likely to be the "water bearer" not only because of its scope, but because Sen. Davis has been very vocal in her support for anti-bullying legislation.)

The Senate has adjourned until Monday, so we will not know the committee chairs or members until then.

Meanwhile in the House the rules debate is on-going. Earlier it had seemed likely that we would see rules adoption this week, but the capitol scuttlebutt is that it is more likely to come on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

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