In the middle of the House Elections Committee’s regularly scheduled hearing April 10, a federal judge handed down an especially pertinent decision declaring that Texas’ 2011 voter identification legislation was passed with a discriminatory intent.
In 2016, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters. The court declined to rule at the time on the law’s intent, waiting until mid-April to do so.
As if the meeting were scheduled with this ruling in mind, the House Elections Committee reviewed an updated voter ID law to address the 5th Circuit’s rulings.
“We had this court ruling that literally happened here while we are sitting here on the dais,” Chairwoman Jodie Laubenburg, R-Parker, said.
The piece of House legislation presented was authored by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and mirrors the legislation passed in the Senate by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, earlier in the session.
The proposed law requires voters to use photo identification in limited forms, including a driver’s license, U.S. military ID card, U.S. citizenship certificate, handgun carry license or U.S. passport.
Should a voter not be able to obtain one of these ID forms, he or she could present other forms of ID with a signed affidavit stating a reasonable impediment. These forms include a government document showing the name and address of the voter, a copy of a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck or a certified copy of a domestic birth certificate.
If a voter lies about his or her circumstance, that person could be charged with a third-degree felony, which carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison. A prosecutor must prove that a voter intentionally lied about his or her impediment.
Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said she did not understand the reasoning for such a harsh penalty.
“The overwhelming reason if there is voter fraud is not because someone impersonated someone else,” she said.
Brantley Starr, deputy first assistant attorney general, said proving intent would be the most challenging part of the proposed law.
In response to the April court ruling, Starr said the Texas Attorney General’s office has yet to appeal the ruling.