AUSTIN – Senate Bill 14, legislation revising state elections standards, was approved by the Texas House of Representatives on March 23 after a floor debate that began in mid-day and lasted just past 11 p.m.
Voter identification, on Gov. Rick Perry’s list of emergency issues for the Legislature to address, passed on a final vote of 101-48. In a nearly party-line vote, only Democrat Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, joined Republicans in voting in favor.
SB 14 requires in-person voters to present at the polling place a state-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot.
Democratic lawmakers attempted many amendments to shape the bill into a form some said would bring it more closely in compliance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965. All but a few of those amendments were struck down on party-line votes.
House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and Gov. Perry praised the House for passing the bill, which they said upholds the integrity of the ballot and improves public confidence in the voting process in Texas.
Democrats who spoke against SB 14 argued that as written, it discriminates against Texans who are black, Hispanic, poor, infirmed, disabled, aged and rural. And they questioned the lack of evidence presented of voter fraud in Texas and questions arose over the relatively low scrutiny given mail-in ballots. Cost also was brought up as an issue: the fiscal note on the bill says it would cost taxpayers a little over $2 million to implement, but lawmakers testifying against the bill said the actual cost could be several times that amount.
Among many changes to the Texas Election Code that SB 14 would bring, if passed, are these:
• The Secretary of State would be required to prescribe procedures for voters who provisionally vote without proper identification to present proof of identification to the voter registrar not later than the sixth day after the date of the election.
• The Department of Public Safety would be prohibited from collecting a fee for a personal identification certificate issued to a person who states that they are obtaining the personal identification certificate to meet voting identification requirements and does not have another form of acceptable identification and that person meets certain other voter registration criteria.
• The bill would change the penalty for voter fraud to a second degree felony from a third degree felony unless the person is convicted of an attempt, in which case, the offense would be a state jail felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor.
Amendments to SB 14 adopted by the House require the bill to go to a House-Senate conference committee for further consideration.
Panels pass budget versions
The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, last week approved House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, respectively, two versions of a proposed state budget for fiscal years 2012-2013.
Lawmakers found it hard to make cuts after witnessing weeks of compelling testimony most particularly by advocates for education and health and human services. So, the budget bills look a lot like the current budget, with similar spending levels and no deep cutbacks that would track in line with the expected $27 billion less revenue for the coming years.
Both bills soon will be up for floor debate in the House and Senate chambers, and that’s where the real ideas for budget cutting, tax-loophole closing and other revenue enhancements will emerge. If they pass, any differences in the two bills will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee. And, supposing the differences will be worked out, the next stop will be the governor’s desk.
Employers add jobs in February
Texas total nonfarm employment increased by 22,700 jobs in February, the Texas Workforce Commission reported March 25, and said that’s a gain of 254,200 jobs from a year ago.
Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February is 8.2 percent, one tenth of one percent less than in January.
The national unemployment rate for February was 8.9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.