Seems likely this will go the distance.
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.
“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 embattled law, but have raised concerns over the strict penalties for false claims.
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.”
Matthew Simpson, with the ACLU of Texas, suggested that a third-degree felony is often reserved for violent conduct.
See here, here, and here for some background. Let me state up front that voter ID is and will always be hogwash, a non-solution to a non-existent problem whose primary purpose is making it harder for some people to vote. A real fix for voter ID, if we must have voter ID, requires allowing more forms of acceptable ID and ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote has easy access to at least one form of acceptable ID. This bill doesn’t do that. It does make our existing and now-illegal system of voter ID slightly better, and as such I agree with Moreno and Simpson. If SB5 does pass in this form it won’t surprise me if someone eventually sues over the harshness of the penalties. And if it does pass, even in a form that is much more to my preferences, it does not affect the big question of whether or not the Republicans who passed it in 2011 did so with discriminatory intent. I’d rather see SB5 pass than fail, but my first choice will always be for it to not be needed at all.