A Texas Senate panel cleared legislation Monday that would overhaul the state’s voter identification rules, an effort to comply with court rulings that the current law discriminates against black and Latino voters.
The Senate state affairs committee voted 7-0 to send the legislation to the full chamber.
Filed by committee Chairwoman Joan Huffman, Senate Bill 5 would add options for Texas voters who say they cannot “reasonably” obtain one of seven forms of ID currently required at the polls. It would also create harsh criminal penalties for those who falsely claim they need to choose from the expanded list of options.
Huffman’s bill would allow voters older than 70 to cast ballots using expired but otherwise acceptable photo IDs. The bill would also require the Texas secretary of state to create a mobile program for issuing election identification certificates.
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“The people of the state of Texas demand integrity at the ballot box,” Huffman said Monday. “I am committed to constitutionally sound voter ID.”
Voting rights advocates call the expanded list of options an improvement over the current beleaguered law, but have raised concerns over the strict penalties for false claims.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has granted the bill “priority” status, carving it a faster route through the Legislature.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July ruled that Texas lawmakers discriminated against minority groups, who were less likely to possess one of the acceptable types of identification: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.
A lower court temporarily softened the rules for November’s election. It allowed folks without photo identification to vote if they presented an alternate form of ID and signed an affidavit swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining identification.
Huffman’s bill would follow that format, allowing voters without photo identification to present documents such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. And election officers could not question the “reasonableness” of the excuse for not having photo ID. But those found to have lied about not possessing photo ID could be charged with a third-degree felony under Huffman’s bill. Such crimes carry penalties of two to 10 years in prison.
Celina Moreno, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, testified Monday that Huffman’s bill was a “major improvement” over the current law. But she pressed lawmakers to remove the felony penalties, calling them “voter intimidation.”
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