January 17, 2009
More on voter ID and the House

Rick Casey discusses the single most important issue facing Texas today, at least according to the Republican Party, and turns his attention to what might happen to Voter ID in the House.

It's not unusual for members of one chamber to vote for a bill if they are confident the other chamber will kill it.

In 2007, the House passed the voter ID bill by 76-68. Two Republicans joined all Democrats in opposition. In November's elections the Republican advantage in the House shrank to two votes, so the same dynamic would lead to a tie.

More likely, newly-elected Speaker Joe Straus, who won with overwhelming Democratic support after pledging to end the bitter divisions of the Craddick era, will ensure that the bill doesn't make it to the floor, something that can easily be done in committee without leaving fingerprints.

Like I said, the first indicator will be who he names to chair the Elections Committee. Which means he'll be under pressure from his colleagues to put Leo Berman back in charge. Keep an eye on this.

The Texas Observer does some thinking along these same lines, and talks to the two Republicans who voted No last time.

The two Republicans were Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview and Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock.


If Republicans Merritt and Jones vote against the bill as they did last session, the vote could be 76 against the bill and 73 for it.

So, will Merritt and Jones vote with their party or with their consciences?

Contacted by the Observer, Merritt would not say one way or the other, but did say he would concentrate on the issues important to his district, as well as Real ID.

"In my district, I don't have a Voter ID issue," Merritt said. "For me, Real ID is way more important along with the budget and education the other [issues]. If we do the Real ID then the Voter ID will be solved."

(The Real ID Act of 2005, passed by the U.S. Congress and housed at the Department of Homeland Security, requires state-issued licenses and ID cards to meet minimum standards, including additional security features and a more stringent application process to establish a card-holder's identity and immigration status. The rule should have gone into effect May 31, 2008, but states could apply for a deadline extension, as Texas did. Texas does not yet issue Real ID-compliant identification cards because of the cost of program implementation.)

Jones would not comment on the two-thirds resolution or the possibility of Voter ID coming up again in the House, but spoke briefly about his "nay" vote during the last session.

"I figured [the bill] was not real practical," Jones said. "You're putting more restrictions on the people who have to work at the election polls."

This is all well and good, but let's not forget the possibilities in the waning days of a voter ID amendment being tacked onto some other bill, one that has enough support to pass. These things are never truly dead until sine die.

On a related note the Observer talks about Sen. John Whitmire and his rhetoric about the change to the two-thirds rule, which he believes will come up again in this session. The irony, of course, is that Whitmire broke from his Democratic colleagues and their quorum-busting trip to New Mexico during the special sessions on redistricting in 2003 precisely because he feared for the future of this tradition. Seems he was right to worry, but wrong about the reasons why.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 17, 2009 to That's our Lege
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