Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Senate on Monday tentatively passed a bill that would bring Texas Voter ID law into compliance with federal court rulings. Passed originally in 2011, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July that the law requiring use of a government photo ID violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In order to update the law and allow enforcement, SB 5, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, would bring the law into compliance with the ruling. Huffman believes her bill meets the standards laid out by the court while protecting against voter fraud. “The intent of Senate Bill 5 is to follow all constitutional direction that we’ve received from the federal courts to achieve a bill that is fair to all who want to vote, yet retains the integrity of the vote,” she said.

The bill would expand a pilot program that created mobile ID certification service that offers an ID suitable for voting at no charge. It would also create a way for people without a photo ID to still vote a full ballot.   A person would have to sign an affidavit affirming that they have a reasonable impediment to obtaining a photo ID, such as a lack of transportation, work schedule, or lack of a birth certificate. Then they would present an official document verifying their name and address, like a bank statement, pay stub or utility bill, and can cast a regular ballot. The penalty for intentionally lying on this affidavit would be a third degree felony.   It would also allow use of an expired photo ID for up two years after it lapses, and allows those older than 70 to use an expired photo ID indefinitely.  The bill will face a final vote later in the week.

Texans looking to obtain a license to carry would pay much less under a bill passed by the Senate Monday. When the Legislature passed open carry last session, licensing was combined with the existing concealed carry license into a general license to carry, but no change was made to the cost to obtain a license. At $140 to obtain, and $70 to renew, Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols says Texas has one of the most expensive handgun licenses in the nation.   His bill would reduce that significantly, setting the cost to obtain and renew a license to carry at $40.

In committee action Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved unanimously a bill intended to protect judges.   SB 42, by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini, is named after Judge Julie Kocurek, who was shot and nearly killed in her driveway allegedly by a man facing charges in her court. Kocurek testified before the committee that after enduring such significant trauma to herself and family, she wondered if she should retire. “I realized this was bigger than me,” she said. “I had to return to the bench to show to show that justice will prevail over violence.”

Zaffirini told members that many judges are unaware of any security protocols in effect where they work. A survey sent to judges in all 254 counties following the Kocurek shooting showed that two-thirds had no court security training and another two-thirds had no plan in place for security. SB 42 would require that any incidents compromising court security be reported to the Office of Court Administration within three days. It also requires judges to form panels to formulate and implement court security policies and requires the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to develop a training program for court security officers. The bill also addresses judge’s personal information. Kocurek told the committee her attacker was able to learn her address through publicly available information, and SB 42 would require that address info be redacted from county registers and election financial reports.   Finally, the bill permits DPS to offer security details to judges who have been threatened or attacked. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 28 at 11 a.m.