AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas House debated contentious legislation Monday aimed at requiring voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot.
The bill was temporarily derailed on a parliamentary maneuver after Democrats raised objections that procedures were violated, but Republicans moved quickly to fix them. Officials predicted the bill will be back on the floor by Wednesday.
Voter ID legislation sparked partisan tensions after Gov. Rick Perry put it on the fast track to passage. Republicans in legislatures across the nation argue it's needed to combat voter fraud. Democrats contend the bill is designed to erect hurdles for poor and minority voters who are less likely to have a state-issued ID card.
Having already passed the Senate, the legislation is deemed likely to get approval during the 2011 session after being shot down during high-intensity debates in recent years.
Rep. Patricia Harless, the Houston-area Republican who is carrying the bill in the House, said Texans already are required to produce an ID to get medical prescriptions, board an aircraft and obtain various goods and services.
"Ballot access should have at least the same integrity as renting a movie, boarding a commercial plane or cashing a check," Harless said. "The fact that states across the nation are passing voter ID laws is proof enough (of) the public's concerns regarding the potential of voter fraud."
Democrats know the bill is likely to pass but were trying to delay and amend the proposal during floor proceedings Monday. Legislators on both sides had been hunkering down for a long, partisan debate when House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, took it off the agenda due to procedural defects.
"I'm under no illusion about what the outcome is going to be today," said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. "My fear is that this bill is not going to increase the integrity of elections, but instead is going to keep legitimately eligible Texans from the polls."
At least eight U.S. states have strict photo ID requirements, according to a late 2010 study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. After Republicans picked up strength in the 2010 elections, photo ID bills are working their way through various state legislatures this year, including in Arkansas, Kansas and North Carolina. Harless said the Texas legislation is modeled after similar laws in Georgia and Indiana.
EPA VS TEXAS:
Republican lawmakers representing Texas in Congress say they will fight attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce tougher rules.
U.S. Representatives Joe Barton and John Carter accused the EPA of being too tough on Texas following a meeting with state leaders. They said recent steps by the agency to reduce the state's regulatory powers are a clear case of federal overreach. They vowed to introduce legislation to stop the EPA from enforcing stricter pollution rules.
The EPA and the Obama administration have repeatedly said that Texas is not properly enforcing federal law. When the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said it would not act on EPA instructions, the agency took away the state's power to grant pollution permits.
The dispute began when President Barack Obama took office.
The historic Texas Railroad Commission could undergo a fundamental shift under legislation Texas lawmakers are considering.
A Senate committee heard testimony Monday on a bill that would change the name of the commission--which hasn't had authority over the railroads since 2005-- to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission.
But the debate centered on a more contentious portion of the bill. The draft legislation would consolidate the leadership from three commissioners to only one in an attempt to create more uniformity and transparency.
The bill's author, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said the system as it currently operates is problematic since the commissioners often have differing agendas.
"The problem is you have three very big fish in one pond," Hegar said. "The oil and gas industry is a very vital part of this economy, yet the three commissioners point in very different directions."
Opponents say the oil and gas industry has kept the Texas economy afloat and doesn't need unnecessary volatility that may upset a delicate balance.
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