VOTER ID PASSES SENATE
(AUSTIN) — After two days of testimony, debate and amendments, the bill to require voters to present photo identification before voting was approved by the Senate Wednesday night. This controversial measure seeks to prevent in-person voting fraud, but opponents contended the bill would unfairly impact minority, disabled and elderly voters. Bill sponsor Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay said the measure was necessary to ensure integrity in the electoral process. "It is imperative that we protect the public's confidence in elections by deterring and detecting voter fraud," he said.
At the heart of this issue is a Senate rule intended to encourage members to reach consensus on a measure before it comes before the body: the two-thirds rule. It requires two-thirds of Senators to agree to hear a measure on the floor. In 2007, opponents of the bill numbered exactly 12, one more needed to block the bill from consideration. Bill supporters were able to change the Senate rules in 2009, exempting only voter identification legislation from the two-thirds requirement. Though the measure passed the Senate in the 81st Session, opponents in the House were able to use parliamentary procedure to keep it from the Governor's desk. This year, the same exemption for voter I.D. was put in the Senate rules, and with a supermajority in the House, the bill has a much better chance of becoming state law.
The bill itself, SB 14, would require any voter to show photo identification to election officials at the poll before they cast a vote. Voters without I.D. can cast a provisional ballot, and then can return within six days to present I.D. and have their ballot counted. Accepted forms of I.D. include a driver's license or other DPS-issued photo I.D., concealed-carry weapon license, passport or citizenship papers that have a photo. Individuals that are 70 years of age on or before the bill's effective date of January 1, 2012 are exempted from this requirement.
The bill was amended to add special exemptions for the disabled and indigent. A person who's disability makes it too burdensome to get an I.D. can present a signed doctor's note at the poll and vote without photo I.D. Though the bill includes provisions for free I.D. cards from the Department of Public Safety, there are other potential fees associated with getting an I.D., such as fees for birth certificate duplication. A person who earns less than 125 percent of the federal poverty limit, who could be impacted by these associated fees, can sign an affidavit to that effect and be exempted from the I.D. requirement.
On Monday, the Senate released its preliminary budget; one that would spend $2.3 billion more than the House budget released last week. It reduces state spending by about 15 percent of last biennium, more than $28 billion. It includes more money for public education and safety than the House version, but like the House version, does not use money from the state's emergency appropriation pool, the Rainy Day Fund. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden of Bryan stressed that the bill will undergo many changes before the full Senate considers it on the floor. "Not a single Senator has walked up to me and said, 'You know, I like that bill, let's vote it out tomorrow'", he said. "We're going to go work on it, and see what it's going to take to get 21 Senators to bring this bill to the floor." Ogden has scheduled the first meeting of the Finance committee on Monday, January 31st, and the committee will meet four times a week through at least March to hammer out the final Senate version of the budget.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, January 31, at 1:30 p.m.