Controversial Texas voting laws overshadowed by quorum breaking set to take effect next week – Houston Public Media
Much of the drama during this summer’s special legislative sessions focused on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Election Priority Bill, which sparked a walkout from Texas Democrats that ended this week.
Eclipsed by the political battle of Austin: the Legislative Assembly of Texas has indeed adopted several bills on the vote during the ordinary session. And only a few of the new election laws are uncontroversial.
Some of the more controversial bills have been spearheaded by Republican State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who, before being elected in 2014, served as Harris County Tax Evaluator-Collector, who at the time was the County Registrar of Electors.
Since then, Bettencourt has remained candid about the elections, and last March he tabled seven proposals which he called “election integrity bills”.
These include Senate Bill 1111, which prohibits voters in Texas from registering using a PO box as their address.
Bettencourt’s argument: no one lives in a two-by-three-inch post office box.
“We have 4,800 people registered in private UPS boxes across the county, and that’s certainly enough to influence the outcome of local legislative races or district races of all types,” Bettencourt said.
SB 1111 is one of three Bettencourt bills that have been passed and will come into force on September 1 among more than 650 new state laws.
Another new Bettencourt law comes into effect: SB 1113, which allows the secretary of state to deny funds to voter registers if they do not remove certain people from the lists. If you’re not working, he argued, you shouldn’t be getting paid.
The effective date of the laws comes as Democrats and Republicans in Texas in the state legislature vie for an omnibus election bill that would add new voting restrictions in the state. The GOP-sponsored bill would ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting – two measures Harris County adopted in the 2020 election to expand voter access during the COVID-19 pandemic – and would make postal voting more difficult, among other things.
Texas House Democrats broke the quorum to end the regular session in May, then did so again last month to derail the first special session, after criticizing the omnibus bill – SB 1 – as an attempt to suppress voters.
Democrats again broke the quorum earlier this month to block passage of the bill in a second special session, but some have since returned, making its passage more likely.
Not all bills have been controversial. Bettencourt’s third law, SB 1116, is designed to increase transparency on local government websites, making it easier to find election details. It passed with bipartisan support, sponsored in the House by Democratic State Representative John Bucy of Austin.
But Bettencourt’s other measures met with stiff opposition from local officials and civil rights activists. Her successor as Harris County Registrar of Electors, Election Administrator Isabel Longoria, said her argument that no one physically lived inside a post office box was irrelevant.
“It assumes both voters are liars, assumes voters all have a typical situation of living in, you know, a house with four walls and a door, and then on top of that creates this very vague idea of who is supposed to get launched (the voters lists) and how they are launched, ”Longoria said.
SB 1111 specifically discriminates against minority and younger voters, Longoria argued. The Latin American civil rights organization LULAC is currently suing Harris County for its application.
The Harris County official accused his predecessor of trying to suppress the vote by amending the law to force current voter registrars to do things he was not authorized to do while in office. job. After the 2008 election, Democrats sued Bettencourt for rejecting voter candidacies. This lawsuit was finally settled.
“Apparently he thought maybe some of them were living at addresses that weren’t really home addresses,” Longoria said. “So he illegally removed people from the voters list.”
SB 1113 confuses voting rights advocates for a similar reason. It is reminiscent of the failed 2019 efforts by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley to purge the voters lists of more than 90,000 suspected non-citizens.
“I thought of this bill and others like it as essentially a form of state government extortion,” said James Slattery, attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It’s a really big stick for the secretary to wield, and we know he hasn’t always been a bona fide actor.”
Then there’s House Bill 3920, written by Republican State Representative Jay Dean of Longview. It is therefore more difficult to request a postal ballot for medical reasons.
Disability advocates say the new law can discriminate against people with disabilities who can catch fire without warning, such as multiple sclerosis.
“I think for many in the disability community it’s just about making sure that the idea behind this isn’t to be a ‘trap moment’ to come back and say, ‘well, your disability doesn’t make you disabled enough, ”said Chase Bearden, deputy director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.
Neither Dean nor the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Republican Bryan Hughes of Mineola, responded to requests for comment.
HB 3920 appears to make it easier for pregnant women to apply for a postal ballot around election day. It’s a welcome addition to some voting watchdogs.
“We know this is real testimony from the Capitol (of Texas) that this is a vulnerable time for both mother and child, and we appreciate that it is in the bill, “said Cinde Weatherby, voting and electoral chair for the League of Texas Women Voters.
There is also a bipartite law that will come into force on September 1. HB 1382, produced by Bucy State and State Senator Bryan Hughes, and co-sponsored by Bettencourt, would allow people to track their postal ballots online to ensure they were received.
“We hope voters will take advantage of this and be able to protect their ballots from the problems,” said James Slattery of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
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