January 18, 2009
Hard feelings still linger after Wednesday’s partisan meltdown in the Texas Senate. Republicans successfully voted to abandon a longstanding tradition in order to clear the way for controversial voter identification legislation.
The longstanding “two-third’s” rule in the Senate requires 21 members of the 31 member body to okay a bill before it can be considered on the floor. On Wednesday, Republican senators — in the majority — voted to exclude any voter ID bills from that standard. This session, any bills to place stricter identification requirements on people before they can vote can pass in the Senate with a simple majority of 16 votes.
“There will be scars as a result of this. There’s no question,” said State Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “Some of those who are elected to lead are focusing on issues that are not the right priority.”
Some Republican members who supported the rules change argued that voter ID legislation was more important than other issues, and therefore it should be approved with a smaller majority.
“We are talking about the integrity of the ballot box, we are all here because of what I hope is the integrity of the ballot box,” said State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, during a six-hour long floor debate.
Voter ID measures drive bitter partisan division. Republicans argue the voter ID standards prevent voter fraud; Democrats say it’s a “solution in search of a problem” — that is, that the kind of fraud voter ID is designed to prevent doesn’t exist. The U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld strict voter ID laws in the state of Indiana, so no legal question exists over Texas’ proposals at this point.
A lone Republican senator stood up against abandoning the two-thirds rule for just one issue.
“I think we’re going to rue the day when we did this, because we’re going to see these same tactics from what might be a different majority party somewhere in the not so distant future,” said State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas.
The rules change ultimately passed in an 18-13 vote, with 18 Republicans voting yea and one Republican and 12 Democrats voting nay. It clears the way for passage of voter ID in the Senate, but it’s unclear what will happen in the House.