March 23, 2011

Texas House passes voter ID bill

House Republicans achieved a long-sought political goal by passing the bill.

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AUSTIN -- After more than 11 hours of debate, the Texas House voted 101-48 late Wednesday for a bill requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, increasing the likelihood that the measure will take effect in time for the 2012 elections.

House Republicans achieved a long-sought political goal by passing the bill. Now they will have to iron out differences with the version the Senate passed in January. Gov. Rick Perry had declared that the bill was one of a handful of emergency items. Republicans say their constituents demand the change to ensure election integrity.

"I have Democrats, Republicans and independents in my district who think people ought to show ID before being allowed to vote," said Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

All votes against the bill were by Democrats. They said the measure would disenfranchise poor and minority voters and is targeting a problem -- in-person voter fraud -- that doesn't exist. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the bill would effectively return Texas to the days of Jim Crow.

"I think it's horrible," Veasey said. "I think it discriminates against people. I think we'll look back in shame."

Several kinds of government-issued photo identification would be accepted, including a driver's license, a U.S. military ID card and a U.S. passport.

The cost of the bill was a point of contention, as the Department of Public Safety would be required to waive fees for issuing photo IDs to those who say they are getting them to vote.

Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, was a strong proponent of the bill all day. He repeatedly noted that Mexico requires voters to present a government ID that features biometric data.

"I've had many people tell me that they don't believe their vote will count because of the fraud that exists in South Texas," Aliseda said.

Early in the day, Democrats spent more than two hours trying for a repeat of Monday's proceedings, in which they successfully used a parliamentary maneuver called a point of order to force the bill back to committee and further delay the vote.

"Point of order is respectfully overruled," House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, had said several times by Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, on the bill's particulars, especially how voters without photo ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot and have it count if they presented a valid ID to local officials within six days.

"You've asked that about three times. We've answered it three times," Harless told Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. "What do you want me to say differently?"

By 3 p.m., Democrats acknowledged that they were out of parliamentary options and would have to accept a vote. First came several hours of debate on more than 60 amendments. Many tried to add other kinds of identification to the list. In nearly every case, the Republican majority effectively decided whether the amendment passed.

A key amendment for Democrats came from Veasey to allow voters without valid identification to sign an affidavit swearing to their identity and making fraudulent voters liable for a second-degree felony.

The House rejected it.

Some debates delved into cases of certain groups of voters who Democrats said would be disenfranchised. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, proposed creating an exemption to the photo ID requirement for recent victims of identity theft if they bring a copy of their police report to the polls.

The House agreed to that but rejected efforts to allow exemptions for situations when the election judge knows the voter personally or someone has been issued a temporary driver's license.

Bonnen successfully amended the bill to remove an exemption from the ID requirement for voters 70 and older.

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

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