State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, started the 83rd legislative session with one issue in mind: voter identification laws.
Johnson filed five bills Thursday, his first legislation of the new session, aiming to both increase voter participation and strike down a bill requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls.
Senate Bill 14, the voter ID law, passed in 2011, requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast their ballot, but the law has yet to be implemented. It was rejected by both the U.S. Department of Justice and a federal three-judge panel in 2012. The rulings said that Texas did not prove that the measure did not discriminate against minorities.
The court’s voter ID ruling stemmed from a lawsuit that also challenges Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act. Under that provision, laws that affect voting practices in Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination must be precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Section 5 case in February, leaving SB 14 in limbo until a decision is rendered.
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Despite the uncertainties, Johnson wrote HB 465 to repeal the voter ID law. He said the law made Texas a laughing stock.
"The people who voted for it will look back on it some day and be ashamed of it," Johnson said Friday.
Calls to the office of Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the author of SB 14, were not immediately returned.
Voter ID laws emerged as a contentious issue in the months preceding the general election in Republican-dominated statehouses. Republicans argue the law is meant to curb voter fraud, while Democrats insist it would restrict access and disenfranchise minorities.
With a "fresh set of eyes" in the Legislature, Johnson hopes lawmakers will reconsider voter ID, he said. "Now that we've passed the 2012 election and the composition of the Legislature has changed, [legislators] will realize that we went too far last time, and we don't want to lead the efforts to make it harder to vote," he said.
Johnson also filed three bills he says would encourage voter participation. One, HB 463, would establish Election Day as a state holiday. Another, HB 464, would allow same-day voter registration at polling places. A third bill, HB 467, would create uniform election hours at early vote locations.
"I filed [these bills] first because as legislators there are a lot of problems out there that we can devote our time to fix," he said. "But this is the bedrock, the foundational issue that all other issues flow from."
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