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Senate approves mail-in voter fraud bill, repealing nursing home law

The Senate on Friday approved a House-amended version of Senate Bill 5, which targets mail-in ballot fraud. But the altered bill repeals a nursing home voting law that passed with bipartisan support earlier this year.

The popular "I Voted" stickers at a South Texas early voting location on Oct. 26, 2016.

The Texas Senate on Friday voted 21–10 to approve a House-amended version of Senate Bill 5, a measure that broadens the definition of mail-in voter fraud and ups the penalties for those who commit it.

Since it was first passed in the Senate earlier this summer, the bill has been altered to repeal a nursing home voting provision that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law. That law, House Bill 658, would have created a process for collecting absentee ballots at thousands of Texas nursing homes, effectively turning those facilities into temporary polling places during early voting to discourage voter manipulation.

The proposal now heads to the governor's desk for his signature or veto. According to state Rep. Tom Oliverson — who championed the nursing home law — Abbott's office now supports repealing it, just months after he signed it and praised it on Twitter as "a bi-partisan effort targeting voter fraud at nursing homes."

Abbott's office has not returned requests for comment this week.

On Wednesday, the House accepted the nursing home repeal amendment, introduced by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth. Goldman argued that the measure would have exhausted the resources of county election officials, many of whom complained to him about the prospect of having to dispatch judges to nursing homes for every election.

Goldman called that "an unfunded mandate."

Democrats in both the House and Senate raised concerns over the amended bill but weren't able to save the nursing home provision.

"I'm concerned that this bill ... has very many unintended consequences. And consequences that will hurt the very people that we're claiming to try and protect," said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. 

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, took particular issue with what he saw as Sen. Kelly Hancock's unwillingness to accept bipartisan input to the bill he authored. 

"You heard from us, you listened to us, did you take any of our suggestions?" West asked in a brief but tense exchange. "Let me say that again: Did you take any of our suggestions?"

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85th Legislative Session