AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The controversial Republican-led elections bill officially passed 6 to 3 in the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs Monday evening. It’s the bill that House Democrats fled to Washington D.C. to fight back in July.
The bill, similar to the same version presented during the first special session, would ban drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, and add new regulations for those who assist voters with disabilities.
“The opportunity for a voter with a disability to receive needed assistance in casting his or her ballot is not only fair and right, it’s necessary to allow all voters with disabilities have the same rights as those without disabilities. We also can’t let others abuse those options in order to cheat,” State Sen. Bryan Hughes, (R – Mineola), explained Monday during the committee hearing.
Sen. Hughes and other Republicans claim the bill would protect the integrity of our state’s elections, and make uniform rules throughout every county.
Chase Bearden, who testified against the bill Monday, said he thinks lawmakers should instead be focused on making it easier for those with disabilities to vote.
“I ask that y’all strongly consider them because if we’re going to secure the ballot, it’s making it so people can do it themselves,” Bearden said, explaining that would include easier access to mail-in ballots.
Instead, advocates for Texans with disabilities explain the bill as written will make it harder for those with disabilities to cast a ballot.
“The way it’s written right now, this bill would limit the types of accommodations that voters with disabilities could receive. It seeks to limit the kinds of assistance that people with disabilities are entitled to under federal law,” Jeff Miller with Disability Rights Texas said Monday.
He pointed out that the bill will require more paperwork for those assisting with disabilities, and increase criminal penalties for inaccuracies on those documents.
“The combination of both more requirements or barriers to assisting someone, and the potential for someone to be investigated, and perhaps prosecuted for an innocent mistake will have a chilling effect on the amount of people that are willing to assist voters,” Miller explained.
“Today’s August 9, for me, this is my 28th anniversary of when I broke my neck, about [the] time my parents were getting a diagnosis. You never know when you’re going to need to use a lot of these accommodations,” Bearden said during his testimony.
Miller explained that he’s glad some of the provisions included in the previous version of the bill during regular session have been removed.
“There was a provision that said if I’m curbside voting, when I come to the polls, everyone in the car, except the person voting has to get out of the car, while that person is casting their vote. Practically, that doesn’t make any sense at all,” Miller said.
Miller explained he’s glad that portion was stripped from the bill, but it’s not enough.
“Our fundamental concern is that this bill treats people with disabilities as a group that needs to be protected. For the last 30 plus years, the disability community has tried really hard to get away from the paternalistic, and medical model of people with disabilities have a condition that needs to be fixed or needs to be protected, and tried to make people see people with disabilities as people first and deal with them that way,” Miller explained.
The bill now heads for debate on the Senate floor. It would then need to move through the Texas House, which still, as of Monday evening, lacks a quorum.
Democrats breaking quorum in D.C. no longer have to fear being arrested, at least temporarily, thanks to a restraining order signed by a Travis County judge Sunday night.
The governor’s office called the judge’s move contrary to the Texas Constitution, and expects it to be overturned.
But, Democrats have vowed to continue their fight to kill the bill.
“The Senate is taking up the Senate Bill 1, which is a voter suppression bill, my colleagues and I would certainly like for our Senate Democrats to break quorum. But having said that, the House Democrats stay united overwhelmingly with our commitment to protect democracy,” Rep. Ron Reynolds (D – Missouri City), said Monday, “We are united with our commitment to break quorum to give the U.S. Senate a chance to pass HR 1, the For the People Act.”