Weekly Update: MO & NH Houses Pass Photo ID Bill; FL Bills Advance
A slight reprieve last week in legislative action provided a false sense of calm due to some states’ legislatures being in recess. Indeed, from photo ID legislation to comprehensive “election reform,” legislative momentum came back with a bang this week.
The Good News
Texas: A conference committee tasked with reconciling differing House and Senate photo ID bills in Texas filed its report yesterday. In order to address certain funding concerns, the committee used new language to establish a new type of ID card that the state would make available to voters. This would increase the projected fiscal impact of the bill and create new opportunities for opposition. At the very least, it will slow the bill down for now.
Wisconsin: Director and General Counsel of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Kevin Kennedy submitted a letter to the Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform this week opposing the current version of a bill that includes, among other things, a photo ID requirement. Kennedy criticized the bill’s reliance on provisional ballots and exposed the empty nature of changes that supposedly make the bill more student-friendly. Although the bill has been amended to include student ID cards as acceptable voter ID, the proposed “security standards” effectively mean that no student ID card would actually qualify.
The Bad News
Missouri: The Missouri House approved a photo ID bill on Wednesday in a 99-52 vote. The bill includes a provision to establish a limited early voting period. Because a different version of the bill, without the early voting component, passed the Senate in February, it now goes back to the Senate for reconciliation. If a final version passes, it will be contingent on the approval of a constitutional amendment because the Missouri Supreme Court determined in 2006 that a photo ID requirement violates the state constitution. Both chambers have passed legislation to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, but they too need to be reconciled because they differ from one another.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire House also passed a photo ID bill on Wednesday in a 243-111 vote. A House committee had amended the Senate bill to remove a provision that would let election officials take digital photos at the polling place of voters without the required ID. Instead, the version passed by the House would allow voters without the required ID to vote by provisional ballot and return within 3 days with ID in order for the ballot to be counted. The bill will now go to a fiscal committee and then back to the Senate for approval. On a slightly positive note, the current language allows for out of state driver’s licenses, which is a good thing for out-of-state students. We also hope it will be interpreted to allow for public college or university IDs (as ID “issued by the state of New Hampshire”).
Wisconsin: Despite Director Kennedy’s letter, the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform approved the photo ID bill, passing it on to the Finance Committee. That committee is expected to vote on it early next week, and it could be on the House floor as early as the end of next week. A strict photo ID bill is already pending on the Senate floor. However, differences between the bills would have to be worked out before a final version could be passed by both chambers.
Rhode Island: State senators passed a photo ID bill out of committee on Tuesday, and it is expected on the Senate floor sometime next week. Community and civil rights organizations came together on Wednesday to censure the committee for its vote. The legislation has a companion bill in the House, where a similar piece of legislation was passed by a sizeable margin in 2009.
Pennsylvania: A photo ID bill has been scheduled for a committee vote on Monday. The House State Government Committee held a hearing on the bill in March. In addition to various interested organizations, the Pennsylvania County Commissioners Association submitted testimony against the bill.
Florida: In other voter suppression news, an omnibus “election reform” bill was passed by the Florida Senate in a 25-13 vote this afternoon. Among other things, the bill would shorten the early voting period and place harsh restrictions on groups that conduct voter registration drives, making it virtually impossible to register voters. It would also limit the ability of registered voters to update their address at the polls during early voting or on Election Day, forcing those voters who have moved to a new county to vote via provisional ballot. The bill now goes back to the House floor because it differs from the version passed by the House two weeks ago, but House Republican leadership has indicated it will pass the bill.
Ohio: Though the Senate has not yet taken action on a photo ID bill passed by the House in March, Ohio also has omnibus “election reform” bills in both chambers. On Wednesday, a substitute bill for HB 194 was introduced in committee, largely to synchronize the House and Senate bills, though new campaign finance changes were also added. Opposition testimony to the bill was added at the last minute to a committee meeting agenda for this morning, giving opponents little time to review the new language or prepare. However, another opportunity for opposition testimony is expected on Tuesday. Among other things, the bill would drastically alter in-person absentee voting (OH’s version of early voting) so that it would start on the 10th day before an election (instead of the 35th day before), be prohibited on Sundays, and end on the Friday before an election. This would cut out the opportunity to vote early in-person on the last weekend before Election Day.
Megan Donovan is a staff attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network. Tobin is the deputy director for Campus Progress.