House Committee Narrowly Passes Voter ID

Will voter ID survive a floor debate?

Senate Bill 362 – the voter ID bill – is finally out of committee. Whether it actually gets to the House floor for final debate and passage now depends on the Calendars Committee, which may be wary of a controversial bill that could cause dozens of other bills to die during what would certainly be a lengthy debate.

Meeting on the House floor Monday, the Elections Committee – with almost no discussion and surrounded by a gaggle of reporters – voted 5-4 in favor of the bill, with Democrat Joe Heflin of Crosbyton crossing his party to vote in favor of it and Republican Dennis Bonnen of Angleton doing the same in the other direction.

Committee Chair Todd Smith, R-Euless, spent weeks seeking a compromise substitute bill but finally bowed to hard-liners Betty Brown, R-Terrell, and Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, and went with Sen. Troy Fraser's original, which passed the Senate along party lines after an all-night debate in March.

Last week, Smith attacked the two Browns for being unyielding, saying: "It's time to find out whether Brown and Harper-Brown want a voter ID bill, because my distinct impression at this point is that they do not. For whatever reason, I am under the distinct impression that they want to kill it, and I may give them the opportunity to do that."

Monday, he went after them again, though he didn't call them by name. "We've got a choice to make: Do we want to pass a bill, or do we want to make a statement? And I think it's clear that there are some members that simply want to make a statement. They're not interested in passing a bill. From the beginning, my preference has been to pass a bill.

"I understand that if we're going to do that, it's going to require some kind of bipartisan compromise and an attempt to reach out to the Democratic side of the aisle. If we had a 90-vote majority, it would be different, but the fact is that we do not. We have the slimmest of majorities, and our 76-74 majority is held together only by our most moderate votes."

Bonnen disappeared from the floor quickly after the vote. Heflin stuck around to explain his: "My district is very conservative," Heflin said, "and there were things in this bill I could live with, there are things I don't want to live with, and I thought we had those worked out in our compromise deal. Todd has told me he'll work to get some of those back in, and if he's true to his word, we'll work hard for that, and if not, we'll vote no on the floor. I'm trying to do what's best for my district, and if that includes voting no on the floor, I'll do it."

The bill is easily the most contentious of the session – Republicans want voters to show a photo ID at the polls in addition to their voter registration certificates, insisting that such measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Democrats counter that voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud the measure would prevent) is extremely rare and that Republicans' real goal is to target groups least likely to have ID (women, elderly, minorities – which are also groups more likely to vote Democrat) and block them from the polls.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

voter ID, Todd Smith, Betty Brown, Linda Harper-Brown, Joe Heflin, Dennis Bonnen

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