87th LegislatureState SenateTexas Senate Amends Rules to Expedite Bills, Churn Out Legislation

While the Texas House struggles to attain a quorum of its members, the Senate has blazed through approving the items on Gov. Abbott’s agenda.
August 10, 2021
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When the Texas Senate gaveled in on Saturday to begin the second special session, members were quick to get started on approving bills nearly identical to what they voted on in the first special session that went nowhere thanks to the House Democrats’ quorum break.

Before heading straight to committee meetings that afternoon, the Senate made a few changes to its rules in order to expedite the legislative process.

First, the chamber voted 17 to 11 to suspend its “tag rule,” a mechanism that allows senators to demand advance written notice before a bill can be heard in committee.

During the regular legislative session earlier this year, Senate Democrats made use of the tag rule to delay a public hearing on the GOP’s priority election bill.

The delay sent home over 200 witnesses who had shown up to testify on the legislation that day, though Democrats contended that the extra time to review the bill would provide “a more democratic and transparent debate.”

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By suspending the tag rule at the beginning of the second special session, the Senate was able to begin hearings on legislation that weekend without worry about potential delays from Democrats.

Next, the Senate adopted a change in its rules that would allow a House bill to bypass the public testimony requirement if a Senate bill that “contains the same subject” has already received public testimony.

“This offers maximum flexibility so that the work of the people, that has been impeded over a period of time now, can get accomplished,” said Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) on the floor after introducing the resolution.

Senate Democrats expressed opposition to the rule change, contending that it could lessen the opportunity for the public to voice their opinions on legislation.

But Schwertner argued that the change is not a drastic departure from the current rules.

“When a House bill comes over and we have held a Senate bill up, we can swap that out and actually pass that,” said Schwertner. “This resolution will essentially allow us to do that if the Senate has already had a public hearing on that House bill.”

The amendment to the rules was approved in another, apparently party-line, vote of 17 to 11 and could potentially be used to expedite legislation later in the special session.

Legislation that the Senate has already approved includes legislation related to bail reform, a “13th check” for retired teachers, property tax relief, and potential changes in the 2022 primary election dates to account for redistricting delays.

Nearing full passage by the body, Senate committees have also already considered and approved the priority election bill, legislation to require student-athletes to compete within their own biological sex, a restriction on drug-induced abortions, a modified prohibition on teaching critical race theory in schools, and legislation aimed at reducing family violence.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.