In the middle of the night, on a party-line vote, the Senate passed legislation that would restrict counties’ efforts to expand access to voting, place new requirements on volunteers assisting and transporting voters, permit the video recording of voting and vote counting, and add various new criminal penalties while enhancing others, all to “strengthen the public’s faith in our electoral process,” according to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).

Opponents, including Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa, said the bill amounted to “the worst voter suppression we’ve seen since Jim Crow, a full-on assault on the voting rights of Texans with disabilities and Black and Latino voters.”

Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would reduce election administrators’ abilities to distribute voting equipment at countywide polling places, conceivably barring the use of a stadium, convention center or other large space capable of handling large volumes of voters, and prohibit drive-through voting or the use of a temporary structure as a polling place. The bill would prevent public officials from sending absentee ballot applications that a voter did not specifically ask for and prohibit public funding for anyone else to do so. It would require voters applying for an absentee ballot on the basis of a disability to affirm that they qualify to do so. A previous version required voters to demonstrate proof of their disability – such as a doctor’s note – to qualify, but that was removed by an amendment from Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo).

Hughes said the bill would ensure uniform application of election laws across the state. “I don’t think any of us want county officials making up their own rules, when the people of Texas have spoken through the Legislature.” One of the key arguments in many of the failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in other states was that changes were made in voting procedures without legislative approval – and thus, those votes were illegally cast and should not have been counted. Texas employed several procedural changes ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) or approved by the Secretary of State, to no apparent detriment to the state’s elections, and all those votes were counted.

Amendments offered by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen) to declare a “fundamental right to vote in any election for which the voter is eligible” and to “have the voter’s vote counted” were rejected on party-line votes. The bill was passed to engrossment, and a final Senate vote is needed to send the bill to the House.

Meanwhile, testimony on House Bill 6 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) continued for a 12th hour in the House Elections Committee. The bill addresses a number of issues contained in Senate Bill 7 as it constrains county election officials, increases documentation requirements for volunteers assisting voters and establishes new criminal penalties.

“Reforms of our election laws should be directed at making voting simpler and safer for the voter and those who administer the elections: election officials and poll workers,” said Susan Schultz, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Texas, in written testimony against House Bill 6. “Instead, House Bill 6 adds to the morass of our election laws by using broad and confusing language, creating barriers to voting and adding criminal offenses.”

Appellate districts: On a party-line vote, the Senate Jurisprudence Committee approved Senate Bill 11 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which would halve the number of appellate districts to seven from the current 14. It also approved separate legislation, Senate Bill 1529 by Huffman, that would create a new appellate court that would have “exclusive jurisdiction over all cases or any matters arising out of or related to a civil case brought by or against the state.” The new Texas Court of Appeals would be composed of six justices elected statewide.

In the present political climate, the likely effects of these two bills would be to reduce the influence of Democratic appellate judges in cases involving the state government – those today go to the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals – and potentially reduce the likelihood that Democrats would be elected to other appellate courts.

Campaign finance reports were due today for candidates on the May 1 general election ballot where required by ordinance. These reports disclose contributions received and expenditures made between January 1 and March 23.

Fort Worth: Mattie Parker led mayoral candidates with $654K raised since January 1, followed by council member Brian Byrd ($246K), Deborah Peoples ($101K) and council member Ann Zadeh ($95K). Byrd outspent Parker, $212K to $164K, and he has a $503K to $466K advantage in cash on hand over her. Zadeh spent $61K and has $134K on hand. Peoples spent $56K and has $41K on hand.

San Antonio: Mayor Ron Nirenberg out-raised former council member Greg Brockhouse, $318K to $101K, and outspent him, $197K to $68K. Nirenberg has a nearly 8-to-1 advantage in cash on hand, $190K to $25K. Both candidates’ contribution totals were roughly double the amount they raised over the same period in 2019, after which Nirenberg had a larger advantage in cash on hand. Brockhouse was able to make up a significant chunk of that advantage with the help of police and fire unions, which are not supporting him this year.

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