» Se­nate panel loosens voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com Con­tact Chuck Lin­dell at 512912-2569. Twit­ter: @chuck­lin­dell

A unan­i­mous Se­nate com­mit­tee Monday ap­proved leg­is­la­tion to loosen sev­eral re­quire­ments while cre­at­ing harsher penal­ties in the state’s voter ID law.

Se­nate Bill 5 would cod­ify most of the court-or­dered changes to the 2011 law af­ter a fed­eral ap­peals court ruled last year that it dis­crim­i­nated against mi­nor­ity and poor Tex­ans, in­fring­ing on the vot­ing rights of about 600,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers who lacked a gov­ern­ment-is­sued photo ID.

SB 5 would al­low reg­is­tered vot­ers who lack a photo ID to cast a bal­lot af­ter show­ing doc­u­ments that list their name and ad­dress — in­clud­ing a voter reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cate, util­ity bill, bank state­ment, gov­ern­ment check or work pay­check.

Such vot­ers would have to sign a “dec­la­ra­tion of rea­son­able im­ped­i­ment” stat­ing that they could not ac­quire a photo ID due to a lack of trans­porta­tion, lack of a birth cer­tifi­cate, work sched­ule, dis­abil­ity, ill­ness, fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­ity or lost or stolen ID.

The bill would al­low vot­ers 70 and older to use ex­pired photo IDs to vote.

Monday’s 7-0 vote in­cluded both Democrats on the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee — state Sens. Ed­die Lu­cio Jr. of Brownsville and Judith Zaf­firini of Laredo. SB 5 next goes to the full Se­nate.

“The peo­ple of the state of Texas de­mand in­tegrity at the bal­lot box, and the use of a photo ID at the polling place is the pre­ferred method of do­ing so,” said the bill’s au­thor, state Sen. Joan Huff­man, R-Hous­ton.

The vote came af­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tives of sev­eral civil rights groups told the com­mit­tee that while the loos­ened stan­dards of SB 5 were a step in the right di­rec­tion, sev­eral key changes were needed, in­clud­ing:

Al­low­ing vot­ers to present a high school or col­lege ID at the polling place.

Re­quir­ing polling of­fi­cials to ac­cept ID doc­u­ments even if the ad­dress does not match the ad­dress listed on voter reg­is­tra­tion rolls.

Re­mov­ing or ton­ing down pro­posed crim­i­nal penal­ties for those who are not truth­ful when declar­ing why they could not ac­quire a photo ID.

SB 5 would make ly­ing on the forms a third-de­gree felony, which car­ries two to 10 years in prison, for per­jury. Op­po­nents said they be­lieved such a stiff penalty would un­fairly pun­ish peo­ple who made an hon­est mis­take and dis­suade some fear­ful vot­ers from cast­ing a bal­lot.

“The felony in the third de­gree is a pretty se­ri­ous penalty. It’s some­thing that we as a state ... should re­serve for vi­o­lent or ter­ri­fy­ing con­duct,” said Matt Simp­son with the ACLU of Texas.

Yan­nis Banks of the Texas NAACP said his or­ga­ni­za­tion op­poses SB 5. “We still be­lieve there was no need for (a voter ID law) in the first place as there is no fraud,” he said.

While the NAACP ap­pre­ci­ates ef­forts to fix prob­lems, “SB 5 does not cure all of the dis­crim­i­na­tory ef­fects” of the voter ID law, Banks said.


From left: Texas Sens. Brian Bird­well, R-Gran­bury; Jane Nel­son, R-Flower Mound; and Judith Zaf­firini, D-Laredo, lis­ten Monday to tes­ti­mony on Se­nate Bill 14, cov­er­ing voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

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