Monday, May 11, 2009

Voter Photo ID Bill Up For House Committe Vote

Update - House Committee on Elections did indeed vote the voter photo ID bill (SB 362) out of committee in a 5-4 vote on Monday May11th. Even though the committee is divided 5 Republicans to 4 Democrats, one Democrat voted for the measure and one Republican voted against. Elections Committee Democratic State Rep. Joe Heflin (D-Crosbytown) voted with four committee Republicans on Monday to help the measure get to the House floor. Republican State Rep Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) first took a pass on the committee voice vote, allowing Democrat Heflin to vote aye, before then changed his "pass" vote to no. The entire House can now debate and vote on the bill before it adjourns.
The Austin American-Statesman reports Chairman Smith as saying, "I believe to the bottom of my heart, if I was putting on my partisan Republican hat, the best thing that could possibly happen would be for this legislation to be narrowly defeated, so Republican candidates could go into these marginal (could go either way) districts and blame Democrats for elections being less secure than they could be."
The deadline for Senate-originating bills to be taken up on the House floor is midnight May 26th. It could very likely be scheduled for floor debate next week, but it depends on the House Calendars Committee. The Calendars Committee is made up of 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats with Republican Brian McCall in the chairman's seat and Democratic Eddie Luio III in the Vice-Chair seat. No doubt this Republican heavy committee will vote the voter ID bill to the House floor by May 26. (Track progress in the legislature -- Check House Calendar)
Rep. Todd Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Elections, has scheduled a committee vote on the Senate's voter photo ID bill (SB 362) as originally passed by the Texas Senate on Mar 17, 2009 in a party line vote. The Senate's bill requires voters to present a photo ID such as a driver’s license or two documents indicating their identity at the polls.

Smith rewrote the voter ID bill three times during April and Early May to add less restrictive compromise language to the legislation in an attempt to pull in a few votes from House Democrats.

After Smith's Republican colleagues blocked those compromise attempts Smith told the Austin American-Statesman last Friday that he is halting his attempts to rewrite the bill and will simply attempt to pass out SB 362 out the elections committee in time for the full house to vote on the bill this session. Assuming the bill does pass out of committee in the expected five to four Republican vs. Democratic party line vote, a clean version of the Senate bill will ultimately be taken up on the House floor.

There is a chance the bill will not pass in a House floor vote given Republicans hold only a slim 76-74 majority in the House and two of those Republicans, Reps. Tommy Merritt of Longview and Delwin Jones of Lubbock, sided with Democrats against a similar bill in the 2007 legislative session. Neither Republican has announced a change in position this year.

It is notable that only 71 of the 76 House Republicans recently signed a "statement of principles" letter calling for the restrictive photo ID measure. To date, most of the 74 House Democrats oppose a restrictive voter photo ID requirement, but Rep. Joe Heflin, a Democrat who sits on the elections committee has reportedly said he is leaning toward supporting a photo ID law.

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