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Dan Patrick wants to change Senate rules so GOP keeps a key advantage, despite losing its supermajority

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presiding over the Senate in the 2019 legislative session. (Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced Wednesday that he wants to lower the threshold of support legislation needs to make it on to the Senate floor to match the size of the new, smaller Republican majority. It’s the second time during his tenure that he’s sought such a change, which would allow Republicans to continue deciding which bills are brought up for consideration without Democratic input.

Patrick, who presides over the Senate, floated the idea in January, but until now, he has not spoken publicly about it since the November election. That's when his party lost its supermajority in the upper chamber with the reelection defeat of Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton.

"Texans reaffirmed in the 2020 election that they support conservative candidates and conservative policies and I am committed to again moving a conservative agenda forward," Patrick said in a statement.

Currently, Senate rules say 19 of the chamber's 31 members — three-fifths — must agree to call up a bill for debate. Patrick said in the statement that he is recommending lowering that threshold to 18 senators, aligning with the size of the GOP majority heading into the legislative session that begins next month.

Patrick already oversaw a decrease in the threshold during his first session as lieutenant governor in 2015. The Senate began that session by dropping the threshold from two-thirds, or 21 members, to three-fifths, or 19 members, at a time when there were 20 Republican senators.

In January, Patrick suggested lowering the threshold — to a simple majority, 16 members — if the GOP failed to hold on to its supermajority in the coming election. But in the weeks after Flores' loss, Patrick kept quiet about whether he would follow through on pushing the rule change.

Patrick doesn't unilaterally decide the threshold. Such a rule change would require a simple majority — 16 senators — to go into effect. And Patrick called on the candidates in an upcoming special election runoff to back the procedural tweak.

The two Republican contenders, Shelley Luther and Drew Springer, quickly voiced their support for the proposal. They are competing on Dec. 19 to replace Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, who is headed to Congress.

The Texas Democratic Party denounced Patrick’s latest procedural proposal, saying it is “dead wrong and Texans everywhere should be outraged.”

“If Dan Patrick is successful, the voices of Texans across the state will be ignored,” state Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Texas needs Republicans and Democrats to come together and tackle the huge challenges facing working families during this pandemic, Dan Patrick’s latest power play isn’t going to cut it.”

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