Voter ID bill headed toward garbage can

Greg M. Schwartz

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Months of Voter ID controversy heads toward a conclusion at midnight tonight, the deadline for passing the Republican bill that would require voters to show a photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID. Democrats have argued the bill would disenfranchise students, minorities and the elderly due to red tape involved with obtaining IDs.

It looks like the bill, SB 362, is headed toward the garbage (or hopefully a recycling bin) though. House Elections Committee Chairman Todd Smith declared the bill all but dead yesterday, saying the Democratic slowdown aimed at killing the bill had apparently worked. The Dems "chubbed” all weekend, a tactic of prolonged discussion over minor bills that otherwise wouldn't have been debated, which kept pushing the Voter ID bill back on the legislative calendar.

Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) accused the Dems of obstruction, but Dems countered by noting that they were using House rules to slow down the legislation, as opposed to Senate Republicans who altered their rules in January to pass the bill without a two-thirds majority.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, the House Democratic leader from Waco, sent a memo to the House Democratic Caucus on Monday indicating he'd informed Straus of a calendar violation which would make for a sustainable point of order objection if the Republicans did get to bring the bill up. Straus responded by saying that there was a practice in the House of ignoring such rules, but not everyone agrees with that sentiment.

“That's like me telling a police officer who's pulled me over for speeding that it's my practice to drive 75 miles per hour in a 60 mile per hour zone,” Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), floor leader for the House Democratic Caucus, told the Queblog this afternoon from the House floor.

Dunnam and Martinez Fischer also threw the obstruction accusation back at the Republican Caucus by accusing them of seeking to avoid voting on insurance reforms, such as the Texas Department of Insurance Sunset Bill (SB 1007.)

“Republicans don't really seem to mind insurance companies making millions on the backs of homeowners,” said Martinez Fischer, noting that Texas has the highest home insurance rates in the country.

Other bills in jeopardy from the slowdown include those dealing with solar energy rebates, allowing voters to raise gas taxes for local transportation projects and shoring up windstorm insurance coverage. All of this makes the Republican effort on Voter ID look like an epic political failure, unless it was part of a secretive gambit to avoid the insurance bill.

Gov. Rick Perry says the windstorm insurance bill is vital to ensure that a hurricane doesn't wipe out the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association's funds. TWIA provides the only hurricane wind damage insurance for property owners in 14 coastal counties. Perry has talked of calling a special session during the summer for the bill. But Martinez Fischer says that would cost millions and that the House can suspend normal rules this week to take up any bill on which there's a two-thirds consensus. He said he believed there would be such consensus for windstorm insurance, but not for Voter ID with 74 Democrats against it.


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