AUSTIN, Texas — After more than 11 hours of debate, seven points of order, more than 60 amendments and nearly as many heated exchanges, a mentally vanquished and emotionally exhausted Texas House preliminarily approved the controversial voter ID bill late tonight.
The bill, SB 14, which would require that voters present a form of approved photo identification to cast a ballot, was passed strictly along party lines, 101-48.
Throughout the debate, Democrats opposed the bill that Gov. Rick Perry designated as an emergency item. They tried — and failed — time and again through amendments to loosen the strict voting requirements.
State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, the bill’s House sponsor, bore the brunt of the Democrats’ frustrations. But she and Republican supporters of the measure dug in, and rejected even moderate proposals for change. With Republicans accounting for 101 of the 150 legislators in the House, the bill’s approval was never in doubt.
Republicans argued, as they have through years of working to pass the measure, that requiring photo identification is necessary to stop voter fraud, to restore integrity at the ballot box and to increase voter confidence and turnout. Democrats countered that voter fraud at the polling place is a myth, and that if it occurs at all, it is through mail-in ballots, a problem the bill would do nothing to address. Instead, they said, requiring photo ID would disenfranchise thousands of voters, including the elderly, minorities and students.
Democrats had some early successes. An amendment by Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston — to exempt those who lack photo ID due to natural disasters — was approved. An amendment by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, to allow those whose IDs are stolen to furnish an affidavit and police report to vote was also adopted. State Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, passed an amendment that would make a photo ID issued by a recognized tribal organization acceptable. Gonzalez’s border district includes the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo tribe.
But most of the Democrats’ other attempts to broaden the types of identification voters could use to cast ballots and to create exemptions for special cases were summarily rejected.
Republicans had their own amendments, including one by Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, which eliminated a provision exempting seniors 70 or older from the requirements.
In a rare move, the Democrats also challenged the constitutionality of the bill. They pointed to a section in the bill that would allow Texans to receive IDs free of charge. The Democrats asserted that the free ID provision would strip as much as $14 million from the Texas Mobility Fund. The account is funded largely with fees that DPS collects for issuing IDs. A point of order challenging the bill on those grounds was overruled. During the final stages of the debate, about nine hours after it began, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, offered an amendment that would prevent the bill from taking effect unless the state comptroller certified the fund would not be affected. It also failed.
After final passage of the bill in the House — expected on Thursday — the measure will be sent to a conference committee of legislators from the House and Senate to align any differences in the measures the two chambers approved before a final bill is sent to the governor for his signature.