Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, filed Senate Bill 5 to update the state’s Voter ID law. The chamber’s other 19 Republican are listed as co-authors. The bill would largely codify the “reasonable impediment” declaration that was ordered by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos but would explicitly subject individuals to prosecution on third-degree felony perjury charges for “a false statement or false information on the declaration.”
The bill does not change the types of photo identification required but adds several non-photo identifications that are “acceptable as proof of identification,” including a voter registration certificate, current utility bill or bank statement, government check and paycheck. The bill explicitly prohibits an election officer from questioning “the reasonableness of an impediment sworn to by a voter.” Voters using the reasonable impediment declarations would be able to cast regular – not provisional – ballots, as they did during the 2016 general election.
The bill also directs the Secretary of State to implement mobile units so voters can obtain election identification certificates, a form of acceptable photo identification.
In a statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “The updates to Voter ID that Senator Huffman proposes will make the changes necessary to comply with the Fifth Circuit ruling while ensuring the integrity of the voting process.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal last month, the Legislature appears to have little room to re-tighten the law beyond specifying the perjury offense.
A trial on whether the original law was passed with discriminatory intent is scheduled to begin next week. A divided Fifth Circuit meeting en banc ruled that the Voter ID law had a discriminatory effect in July, upholding a lower-court decision, but it reversed a lower-court decision that found the law was passed with discriminatory intent and its photo identification requirement constituted a poll tax. The state and plaintiffs agreed to an interim remedy which was used for a special election in Bexar Co. and then the November general election.