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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

'Breaking the rules' vs. 'changing the rules'

I've blogged until I'm blue in the face about the claim by the Truant Texas Dems™ that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the Republicans trying to pass a redistricting bill have "changed the rules in the middle of the game." 

Texas 11 website graphicThe Dems' new website repeats this claim yet again as the very first 12 words of their explanation as to why they're in New Mexico instead of Austin:  "On July 28, 2003, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst changed the Senate rules ...."

The Texas Senate does indeed have a formal set of written rules that were approved by both parties at the beginning of the 78th Texas Legislature, and not a one of them has been changed, abandoned, or ignored by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst or the Republican Senators.  In particular, Rule 5.12, which provides that bills shall be listed on the Senate calendar and considered in the order they're voted out of committee, and Rule 5.13, which provides that no bill "may be considered out of its regular calendar order unless the regular order is suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the members present," are both in place and fully effective.

Rather, what Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced was that he would stop using an artificial parliamentary manipulation — the placing of a piece of bogus legislation, a "blocker bill," atop the Senate's legislative calendar — to continue to give a Senate minority the power to block all legislation.  Under the formal rules as written, unless there's such a bogus blocker bill atop the calendar, then a redistricting bill will be the first item on the calendar in any special session, and a simple majority-rule vote can pass that bill.  What the Dems have fled from is not a change in the rules, but only Lt. Gov. Dewhurst's promise to enforce the Senate rules exactly as they're written.

But there is a fairly important rule that's not being ignored or changed, but rather that's being violated:


      Rule 5.03.  No member shall absent himself or herself from the sessions of the Senate without leave unless the member be sick or unable to attend.

The Truant Texas Dems™ agreed to Rule 5.03, and now they're deliberately breaking it.  They don't have "leave" they aren't sick; they aren't "unable to attend."  They're just ... rule-breakers.  Period.

In fact, as State Rep. David Swinford points out, the Texas Constitution places "on elected senators a mandatory duty to attend the Senate when called, stating in Article III, Section 5 that all Legislators 'shall meet . . . when convened by the Governor.'"  Not only did the Truant Texas Dems™ vote for Rule 5.03, they also

voluntarily bound themselves by unanimous vote to the Senate's duty of compulsory attendance by taking an oath swearing that they would "faithfully execute the duties of the office" of state senator and "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas."

Why have I never read of, or seen, or heard, a single reporter ask about Senate Rule 5.03 at any of the Dems' press conferences?

Posted by Beldar at 07:44 AM in Texas Redistricting | Permalink


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(1) perrymanderingsucks made the following comment | Sep 4, 2003 8:17:34 PM | Permalink

According to the dictionary, a rule is "a usual, customary, or generalized course of action or behavior."

How is the blocker bill not a rule, then? Because the GOP decides it's not? I noticed that you made sure to elaborate on the difference between the actual rules and the "Senate's formal rules..." Neat trick.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 4, 2003 8:32:20 PM | Permalink

The definition you quote is a tertiary one, and the illustrating use of it in a sentence is instructive: "The rule of life in the defense bar ordinarily is to go along and get along (Scott Turow)." Used this way, "rule" is a rough synonym for "custom" or "tradition," and I would have no objection if the Dems were to describe the placing of a blocker bill atop the Senate calendar as a "custom" or "tradition" that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced he was declining to follow for the second special session.

Instead, the second definition listed in your link is very obviously the one that would be clearly understood by the public to relate to the Dems' claims that the "rules are being changed in the middle of the game":

An authoritative, prescribed direction for conduct, especially one of the regulations governing procedure in a legislative body or a regulation observed by the players in a game, sport, or contest.

Neither the term "blocker bill" nor the practice of using one to manipulate the calendar is described in the written rules of the Texas Senate.

What's written down in the document entitled "Rules of the Senate of the 78th Texas Legislature" are "the rules." What's not written down there isn't part of "the rules." It's exactly that simple, and that's exactly what 99.9999 percent of the general public would understand you to be referring to if you refer to "the rules" in the context of a discussion of the Texas Senate.

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