Voter ID showdown looms in Austin this weekend

Months of contentious debate could come to a head tomorrow with a looming legislative showdown at the Statehouse in Austin over the controversial voter ID bill, SB 362. Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has scheduled the bill for debate on Saturday. The bill would require Texas citizens to show a photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID in order to vote.

The House Calendar Committee voted 7-5 to schedule the bill, with all seven Republicans voting for, and all five Democrats voting against. But whether the debate and vote will take place is a question mark. Democrats have talked about not showing up and thereby denying the House a quorum, the minimum number of members required for conducting the business of the group. The Dems would have to leave the state through Tuesday to pull off such a strategy though, since that's the deadline to pass Senate bills on second reading.

The Texas Democratic Party is asking supporters to call Straus' Capitol office to voice their opposition to the “unnecessary, partisan legislation.” Upon calling Straus' office this afternoon to inquire as to how many calls they'd received on the issue, I was told that my call was the only one they'd received on the matter. Others wonder about the veracity of that answer.

“I don't believe that's true for a second (that they haven't got calls). The threat of Voter ID legislation has slowed the House to a snail's pace and Straus will have to answer to the resulting lack of progress,” said Austin insider Deep Longhorn.

“While SB 362 is scheduled for Saturday, the pace of the House is so slow that it may end up coming up Sunday. Right now, the House is still on Local and Uncontested calendar because Democrats are â??chubbing', in protest of Voter ID being scheduled before the Texas Department of Insurance sunset bill and others,” added Deep Longhorn.

The “chubbing” on all the other bills is a stall tactic the Dems are using to express their displeasure with the scheduling of the Voter ID bill. Each bill is allowed to have ten minutes of discussion and the Dems have been asking nine minutes and 30 seconds worth of questions on each one, most of which would normally move through much quicker.

What will actually happen with the bill this weekend is anybody's guess. But Elections Committee Chairman Todd Smith (R-Euless) indicated earlier this month that he does not feel the bill has much chance of passing in its current form. Texas Republican Party Executive Director Eric Opiela told the Queblog earlier this month that he expects a floor amendment to take place that will be the "scorecard" vote for his party. But whether such an amendment can win enough votes for passage remains to be seen.

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