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article imageTexas senate approves contentious voter ID bill

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 28, 2011 in Politics
Austin - The Texas senate this week approved a bill that would require residents to show a voter ID card before voting in elections and the bill, with a few changes, is expected to gain final approval in the House, controlled by a supermajority of Republicans.
The bill passed through the Senate in just two days, but both sides agree there will be changes to its final version when it reaches the House for a vote. However, there are only 49 Democratic members in the House and that number cannot block the measure, regardless of its final presentation.
Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) said: “All of us want to protect the integrity of the voting process, but we want it to be voter friendly, as well,” the Austin American Statesman reports. “Anytime you talk about additional requirements and rules, it conjures up bad images for some people and can create a chilling effect,” he continued.
Although the Republicans’ supermajority in the House has a constituency base strongly in favor of a voter ID, Turner vows the bill will be discussed properly before a vote: “It's going to be thoroughly vetted on this side (of the Capitol), and I think there's hope over here that we can address some of the issues so the measure won't have that chilling effect,” Turner added.
The new bill is being labelled by its proponents as an effort at protecting voting integrity at the ballot box while its detractors say it will target minorities, the elderly and students, the Texas Tribune reports.
The Republican-controlled Senate’s two-day passage of the bill included suspending key rules and omitting regular committee hearings to rush the vote through. However, the Statesman noted full public committee hearings are anticipated before a House vote.
As the bill currently stands, it has several highlights, among them voters 70 and older would not be required to have a voter ID. Those without a state driver’s license could apply for a free state photo ID card to cast their ballot and those with a concealed handgun license could present that in lieu of a voter ID card.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a supporter of the bill, said: “I've heard a lot of statements about this bill that are not factual. This bill will not disenfranchise anyone. It will not make it harder for anyone to vote. It will not do a lot of the things partisan statements are saying it will. It will be good for Texas,” the Statesman reported.
The voter ID issue was previously brought up two years ago, but stalled out in the House when party numbers were more evenly divided. However, since Republicans’ increased their stranglehold on state politics in November, Gov. Rick Perry has announced several fast-track issues, all highly divisive, including an abortion measure that has brought the state’s $27 billion budget crisis into the discussion.
Along those lines, some are decrying the bill’s sense of urgency. The Dallas Morning News reports Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said: “This session we have real problems that require real leadership. The people of Texas want us to work on those issues, not focus on narrow, partisan games. Voter ID is not an emergency and should not be our first priority.”
Still, Republicans have the numbers, and one party member summed it up rather succinctly. “It’s a pretty clean bill as it comes to the House,” state Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
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