With little more than a week to go in the legislative session late Sunday night, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a bill to overhaul the state’s controversial voter identification bill an emergency matter. In letters to both chambers of the Legislature, Abbott said he was designating the bill for “immediate consideration.” Senate Bill 5, which the Senate passed in March, has not been debated on the House floor. The bill is now on the House calendar for Tuesday — the last day it can be initially approved by the chamber in time to be enacted. Abbott joined a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers pushing the Legislature to approve changes to the state’s voter ID law. On Friday, Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the House to pass the bill. The next day, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick added the bill to his list of “must-pass” bills to avoid a special session.
The bill is seen as a way to fix some of the discriminatory issues a federal district court found with the 2011 voter identification law, which is considered one of the most restrictive in the country. In April, the court ruled for the second time that the law was written to discriminate against minorities. But U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos delayed potential remediesto the law’s discriminatory effects until after the legislative session to give lawmakers a chance to address the issue.
If the bill does not pass, it could give Ramos grounds to put Texas back under federal oversight before changing election laws. Texas and several other states with histories of discrimination were previously on the list — under a status known as “pre-clearance” — but were removed after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Being the first state to go back on the list, experts say, would be a serious blow.