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With GOP supermajority at risk in 2020, Dan Patrick says Texas Senate may lower threshold to bring bills to the floor

The lieutenant governor said Thursday he may decrease the threshold to a simple majority if Republicans lose one or two seats in November.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Senate Parliamentarian Karina Davis on the senate floor. Jan. 9, 2019.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Thursday the Texas Senate may further lower the threshold required to bring bills to the floor if Republicans lose one or two seats in November.

Patrick made the comment at a conservative policy conference in Austin while discussing the current makeup of the upper chamber, which has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Currently, 19 votes are required to put legislation on the floor for passage. But Republicans are facing the real possibility of losing at least one caucus member in 2020. Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, is running for reelection in a historically Democratic district after winning his seat in a 2018 special election upset.

"I'm right there at that number, and if we lose one or two seats, then we might have to go to 16 next session," Patrick said. "We might have to go to a simple majority because we will not be stopped in leading on federalism in the United States of America."

Patrick went on to express confidence that Republicans will "be successful in November" up and down the ballot. He said the party will "keep the majority in the Senate" but did not specifically comment on the seats that Republicans need above that 16-member baseline to be able to bring bills to the floor on their own.

The suggestion prompted immediate outcry from Democrats. The state Democratic Party called Patrick's suggestion "yet another example of Republicans circumventing Texans and jamming through unpopular Republican legislation that harms Texas families" in a written statement.

"Texans don't want us to be like Washington, D.C. where politicians are in constant gridlock," Houston Sen. Carol Alvarado, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. "The Lt. Governor's statement on once again changing the rules would continue to bring DC-style hyperpartisanship to Texas. One person alone cannot dictate the rules of our chamber; that authority resides with all of the Senators."

Patrick's remarks were also notable in that he raised the prospect of Democrats flipping more than just Flores' seat. Patrick told reporters after his appearance at the conference that he was not fearful of Republicans losing their supermajority in November.

"All I'm saying is that if we were to be a vote short — and I don't think we will, but if we were to be — then we would have to look at that because otherwise we would be right back to where we were in history as the majority party ... of having to have a Democrat sign off on every bill," Patrick said. "That doesn't feel right to me."

A change in the threshold only requires a simple majority when senators vote to approve their rules at the start of every session.

It would not be the first time Patrick has presided over decreasing the threshold. After he became lieutenant governor in 2015, the Senate lowered its long-standing "two-thirds rule" — a 21-vote threshold — to three-fifths, requiring the 19 votes. That has allowed the Patrick's Senate to steamroll Democrats while bringing up a host of conservative priorities for consideration.

Patrick's suggestion he may drop the threshold even lower drew some laughter in the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual Policy Orientation. But Patrick indicated he was serious, acknowledging the media in the room and holding firm after a moderator intervened.

"If we are still the majority but the minority has power to overrule us," Patrick said, "we cannot let that stand."

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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