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Report finds Texas bipartisanship wins

Friday, July 12, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Despite the “blue wave” election in 2018, Republicans maintained control of both houses of the Texas Legislature during the 2019 legislative session that just concluded. As expected, the majority of bills were authored and approved by Republicans.

During the session, however, bills with bipartisan authorship were more than twice as likely to pass as bills authored by legislators from a single party, according to a new study from Glasshouse Policy, a nonprofit community engagement and research organization. (Glasshouse Policy is now a part of the Austin Monitor’s parent organization, Capital of Texas Media Foundation.)

The study found that both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate approved twice as many bills with bipartisan authorship as bills with only single-party authorship. The rate of passage for bipartisan bills was 36.2 percent, compared to bills with single-party authorship, of which just 17.28 percent were approved. That was true regardless of whether the single-party bill was authored by Republicans or Democrats, according to the study.

The Austin Monitor shared the study with members of the central Texas delegation and asked for their comments. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said via email, “It’s generally best that big ideas have a thousand mothers, and it’s essential in the Texas Capitol that they come from both parties if you want to get broad buy-in. Look at the bipartisan coalition that we put together to pass Senate Bill 943, the legislation that closed the loopholes in the Public Information Act.”

Watson noted that he worked with Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a Republican from Southlake, on the bill. Together, they “took input from more than 100 people, who gave us feedback on dozens of different versions of the bill. Those diverse voices particularly matter when you’re trying to convince folks who might not necessarily trust you – but they might trust your partner,” he concluded.

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, agreed, saying via email, “It’s somewhat intuitive that bipartisan bills have a better chance of passing, but to me there are two big takeaways from this report. More Democrats means more opportunities for bipartisanship; and, there was bipartisan buy-in to a greater portion of substantial legislative issues. I tend to think bipartisan bills keep in mind the largest number of Texans, and therefore can result in better policy. This just goes to show that Texans are better served by competitive general elections.”

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa had a different take, telling the Monitor via email: “My experience is that usually if a bill idea has widespread popularity, it’s more likely to pass, so it’s more likely to garner a joint author from the opposing party. This study concludes that the causality of passage is bipartisan bill authorship. I think that is sometimes the case, but more often bill substance leads to feasibility and to bill bipartisanship. It’s the difference between the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog.”

The study also showed despite the fact that the Senate produced a smaller portion of bipartisan bills than the House, those bills “received a significantly larger boost (29.7 percent) than those in the House did (15.2 percent). Bipartisan bills in the Senate were more than twice as likely to pass than those authored by a single party.”

The study’s finding was no surprise to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. She said via email that the results of the report “are consistent with the perspective of the lieutenant governor and senators who frequently cite our bipartisan support for legislation.”

Zaffirini noted that because 19 is the “magic number” for passing legislation in the 31-member Senate, “members are aware that 19 united Republicans can be successful, but 12 united Democrats need at least seven additional votes. Nevertheless, we all prefer bipartisan successes and work to achieve them.

“Clearly, when bills are authored and sponsored, or co-authored and co-sponsored by legislators from both parties, the likelihood of passage increases. What’s most important, however, is that the primary authors and sponsors are committed to securing the votes needed to ensure bipartisan successes.

“I believe my success proves the bipartisanship of the Senate and of the House of Representatives and I agree with the report’s conclusion that our constituents are best served when we focus on bipartisan policy solutions to the problems facing our great state,” Zaffirini concluded.

Though the Monitor reached out to several Republican legislators in an effort to emulate the bipartisan success lauded by the report, they did not respond before publication.

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Photo by vxla made available through a Creative Commons license.

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