A unanimous Senate committee on Monday approved legislation to loosen several requirements while creating harsher penalties in the state’s voter ID law.
Senate Bill 5 would codify most of the court-ordered changes to the 2011 law after a federal appeals court ruled last year that it discriminated against minority and poor Texans, infringing on the voting rights of about 600,000 registered voters who lacked a government-issued photo ID.
SB 5 would allow registered voters who lack a photo ID to cast a ballot after showing documents that list their name and address — including a voter registration certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or work paycheck.
Such voters would have to sign a “declaration of reasonable impediment” stating that they could not acquire a photo ID due to a lack of transportation, lack of a birth certificate, work schedule, disability, illness, family responsibility or lost or stolen ID.
The bill would allow voters 70 and older to use expired photo IDs to vote.
Monday’s 7-0 vote included both Democrats on the State Affairs Committee — state Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. SB 5 next goes to the full Senate.
“The people of the state of Texas demand integrity at the ballot box, and the use of a photo ID at the polling place is the preferred method of doing so,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.
The vote came after representatives of several civil rights groups told the committee that while the loosened standards of SB 5 were a step in the right direction, several key changes were needed, including:
• Allowing voters to present a high school or college ID at the polling place.
• Requiring polling officials to accept ID documents even if the address does not match the address listed on voter registration rolls.
• Removing or toning down proposed criminal penalties for those who are not truthful when declaring why they could not acquire a photo ID.
SB 5 would make lying on the forms a third-degree felony, which carries two to 10 years in prison, for perjury. Opponents said they believed such a stiff penalty would unfairly punish people who made an honest mistake and dissuade some fearful voters from casting a ballot.
“The felony in the third degree is a pretty serious penalty. It’s something that we as a state … should reserve for violent or terrifying conduct,” said Matt Simpson with the ACLU of Texas.
Yannis Banks with the Texas NAACP said his organization opposes SB 5. “We still believe there was no need for (a voter ID law) in the first place as there is no fraud,” he said.
While the NAACP appreciates efforts to fix problems, “SB 5 does not cure all of the discriminatory effects” of the voter ID law, Banks said.