Stand up to Patrick

If news reports concerning the past regular session and the special session are accurate, it could be that our state senate is losing not only its independence, but also its credibility. It seems from outside appearance it is becoming more of a rubber stamp for the desires of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.

From many years of observation as well as my years in the Senate, I know the Senate was once fiercely independent and jealous of any erosion of senatorial power or political stroke. In recent sessions, it seems this tradition of the Senate has faded away.

Senate traditions that have kept the Senate collegial and on track to pursue the most important issues facing the state on a bi-partisan basis have seriously declined. The first backward step in recent sessions, led by Patrick, was to pretty much do away with the “Two-Thirds Rule.” While the Two-Thirds Rule might seem undemocratic, it worked well in the Senate because it required members of the Texas Senate to get along. It was very common for a senator who opposed a particular bill to vote to consider the bill, even though he would fiercely debate and vote against the measure when the time came for an up or down vote. Clearly the reason was that on another day, this particular senator would want other senators to afford him the same privilege of being able to get one of his bills on the floor for consideration.

The rule was abolished simply to pass partisan legislation for which there was not a clear and solid consensus among members of the Senate. In the special session that just came to a close, the most egregious giant step backward was to allow the lieutenant governor to simply ignore the rules of the Senate and rush bills through with little or no debate. For over 50 years, the Senate has had a rule that a senator could “tag” a bill. The rule allowing tagging afford senators at least 24 hours to study a bill, research it and prepare amendments if necessary. Patrick apparently ruled that that rule could be held in abeyance, or ignored, in order to pass legislation he strongly favored.

If senators are going to simply allow Dan Patrick to rush through the Senate whatever goofy bill he has in mind, we really don’t need a Senate. Let’s just let the lieutenant governor decide what bills are passed on to the House. Why spend all that money keeping 31 senators in Austin?

If members of the Senate desire to maintain the respect long held, they need to exert a little more independence from its presiding officer.

The lieutenant governor of Texas is not the boss of the Senate; he is only designated as the presiding officer by the definition of the office in our state’s constitution.

The lieutenant governor is not a member of the Senate. The source of a lieutenant governor’s power to name committees, chairmen of those committees, and direct the flow of bills comes from the rules of the Senate. A simple majority vote by the Senate can change these rules.

Past senates have made clear that although the lieutenant governor presides, his power is not absolute. A good example occurred when Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby announced he was placing a measure on the floor without any vote or consent of the Senate. This resulted in a small rebellion called the “Killer Bees.”

Even Bob Bullock, who was one of the most domineering lieutenant governors in history, had his comeuppance on one occasion. After being somewhat overbearing with members of the Senate, they did not invite him to the Senate caucus. When complaining about the Senate slight, it was pointed out to him that he was not a member of the Senate and, therefore, was not entitled to attend the closed meeting.

We currently have a lieutenant governor who is so phony that Dan Patrick is not even the name given to him by his parents. He continues to tie up the Senate on measures like who goes to what bathroom while ignoring adequate funding for public education and colleges. His political games are not serving Texas well. He withheld approval of legislation to continue agencies such as the Board of Medical Examiners just to ensure he would have another shot for his pet projects in a special session. Texas and the

Senate would be better off to separate themselves from Patrick’s heavy handedness, stick to their rules and become a little more deliberative concerning measures of great importance to the future of our state.Carl Parker, a Port Arthur attorney since 195, was elected to the Texas Senate in 1976. His e-mail is cap1934 [at] aol [dot] com.