Well, this is interesting.
Top Texas Republicans unveiled legislation Tuesday that would overhaul the state’s voter identification rules, an effort to comply with court rulings that have found that the current law discriminates against minority groups.
Filed by Sen. Joan Huffman, Senate Bill 5 would add options for Texans 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.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has granted the bill “priority” status, carving it a faster route through the Legislature. Nineteen other senators have signed onto the bill, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who is still defending the current ID law in court — applauded the legislation Tuesday.
In a statement, Paxton said the proposal would both ensure the “the integrity of the voting process” and comply with court rulings that have found fault with the current law, considered the nation’s strictest.
Chad Dunn, a Houston-based attorney for groups suing the state over that law, called the legislation “a step in the right direction.”
“The state is acknowledging the federal court’s conclusion that the (current) law is discriminatory,” he said Tuesday.
I’ll reserve judgment for now, but this seems like a sign that the Republicans are not terribly optimistic about their chances with the ongoing lawsuit, with the question in district court about discriminatory intent. Actually, we don’t have to suppose, because we have this.
The U.S. Justice Department joined Texas’ attorney general Wednesday in asking a federal court to delay a hearing on the state’s voter ID law, the latest signal that the federal government might drop its opposition to the law now that Donald Trump is president.
In the joint filing, the Justice Department and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked to delay next Tuesday’s hearing until summer because the Texas Legislature is considering changes to the existing law, which a federal court has found to be discriminatory. Barack Obama’s Justice Department had joined the lawsuit contesting it.
In the filing, the Justice Department and Texas asked for the hearing to be pushed back until after June 18, the last day Gov. Greg Abbott has to sign or veto legislation.
“If new Texas state voter identification legislation is enacted into law, it will significantly affect the remainder of this litigation,” Texas and the Justice Department argue.
Just hours after Trump was sworn in as president, the Justice Department asked for a January hearing to be delayed to February, saying they needed more time to brief new leadership. Lawyers in the case say it’s still too early to know for sure if Trump’s Justice Department change positions in the case.
In August, Ramos denied a request from Texas to delay hearings in the case until after the legislative session wraps up in June.
“The question to be determined at the hearing is whether there was intent to discriminate during the legislative session in 2011,” said Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who is part of a legal team representing Democrats and minority rights groups challenging the law. “Whatever happens with this bill doesn’t address that question.”
See here and here for the background. I will just point out that the GOP could have passed SB5 back in 2011 and saved themselves a lot of trouble. It would still be a bad idea and a non-solution in search of a non-existent problem, but it would have been harder to beat in court. But here we are, and in this environment that counts for progress. A statement from Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is beneath the fold, and the Star-Telegram has more.
Yesterday, Texas Senate Republicans filed SB 5, a bill relating to the means of identification voters must present to election officials in order to cast a ballot.
This bill would require the secretary of state to develop a program that makes use of “mobile units” to provide election identification certificates to voters. It would also create an opportunity for registered voters who lack one of the forms of photo identification previously required under SB 14 to cast a ballot. Registered voters who cannot present a government-issued photo ID would be able to present an alternate form of identification and sign a “reasonable impediment” declaration before voting under the law. This process is much the same as the interim remedy approved by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in August and implemented by Texas in the November election in lieu of SB 14, Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law.
State voting records show that at least 16,400 registered voters who would have been disenfranchised under SB 14 voted in the November election.
State Representative Eddie Rodriguez issued the following statement in response to the filing of SB 5:
“After receiving multiple unfavorable rulings on SB 14 from federal courts and racking up a taxpayer-backed tab of millions of dollars in court costs, it seems those fierce opponents of ‘voter fraud’ in the Texas Senate have finally accepted reality.
“SB 5, which enjoys the support of the entire cohort of Texas Senate Republicans, is an encouraging first step towards restoring access to the ballot box.
“As MALC Policy Chair, however, I have been on the front lines of the fight against laws meant to suppress the voices of racial minorities in the legislative process. SB 14 was a solution looking for a problem and it never should have been passed in the first place.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas House of Representatives to improve SB 5, promote laws to expand participation in our representative democracy, and continue the fight against all discriminatory election laws.”