House Panel OKs 1 Voter ID Change, Balks at Others

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – A House panel on Wednesday advanced one Democratic proposal to change Tennessee's new voter ID law, but rejected a second bill and delayed a third.

The House State and Local Government Subcommittee voted 4-3 in favor of a measure that would allow people without government-issued identification to vote after being photographed at the polling place.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said the bill would eliminate the need for voters who don't have the proper ID to cast provisional ballots.

The favorable vote appeared to surprise Republican leaders on the panel. Absent members and Republican Speaker Beth Harwell were quickly summoned to stop additional measures from advancing.

Harwell, who can vote in any House committee, told The Associated Press afterward that she wanted to ensure the Republican majority was able to defend the law passed last year.

"This is something that clearly we've heard from the public on – that they want to make sure we maintain the integrity of the ballot box," Harwell said. "So we're going to do everything to hold firm with the decisions this General Assembly has made."

The panel went on to reject another Fitzhugh proposal to move the responsibility for making voter IDs to local election commissions instead of the state Department of Safety.

The third of Fitzhugh's measures would exempt people over age 60 from the voter ID requirements because state law does not require them to have a photograph on their driver's licenses.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, questioned whether lawmakers could make special exceptions for certain age groups.

Members were referred to an attorney general's opinion on the voter ID law last year, but several Democrats disputed whether it addressed an exception for seniors, and wanted clarification from the attorney general.

They also noted that the House unanimously passed a Republican bill earlier this month to allow anyone over age 60 to case absentee ballots, and asked why that measure would withstand constitutional muster if the photo ID one wouldn't.

"These are constitutional rights, and we play with them as if they were written by children in kindergarten," said Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga. "These are our rights, and I want to be very, very clear and careful when I cast a vote. Because one man, one vote is so important."

Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, said there was no purpose in waiting a week for a clarification from the attorney general.

"It's going to be the same consequences next week as it is today," he said. "I can count."

Todd said all members should be able to refer to the opinion distributed to lawmakers last year, but Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis said he wasn't sure whether he still had access to it.

"But if Rep. Todd has his copy, maybe he can get it printed and we can look at it before we're finished with this," Miller said.

That drew an angry retort from Todd.

"At least I know how to read," Todd said. "And I keep my stuff."

Haynes ruled Todd out of order, and the measure was delayed until a later meeting.


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