Lawmaker: State Voter ID Law Was Rushed To Passage
From Staff and Wire Reports
WASHINGTON -- Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said Tuesday that a bill requiring Texans to show photo identification at polls was rushed through the Legislature and passed over the objections of minority lawmakers.
The veteran lawmaker spoke during the second day of a trial in federal court in Washington that will determine whether the 2011 Texas law violates the federal Voting Rights Act. A three-judge panel is hearing the case after the state of Texas sued the Justice Department, which blocked the law under the Act in March.
"There was a determined effort to pass this bill in record time," Martinez Fischer said during testimony.
Martinez Fischer, the Justice Department's first witness in the case, testified even though Texas has not called all its witnesses. Because of travel schedules, witnesses for the opposing sides are being called out of order and Texas will continue making its case on Wednesday with an expert witness.
The six-term state representative, who's chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he and his colleagues tried repeatedly to block or slow down the voter ID bill. He said it was difficult to determine why the legislation was on a fast track.
"The rationale was constantly changing," he said. "One of the comments was this was 'a solution in search of a problem.'"
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, told the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
the legislation was not hurried. He said similar bills had been discussed during two prior sessions.
"I believe the process was fair and legal, and that the legislation should remain intact," he said.
The environment at the state Capitol was different than in previous years, Martinez Fischer said. Votes in the Senate and House were split along party lines.
While acknowledging sharp partisan divides were common in Austin, Fischer described a regular effort at bipartisan civility that he said seemed to dissipate in 2011.
"We had a governor that wanted to secede," he said, referring to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. "We had a select committee on state sovereignty."
State Rep. Rafael Anchia also testified that he felt the legislative process was rushed.
"We thought the secretary of state's office could furnish (data on voters) to us so that we could make good decisions," Anchia said. "That data was never provided."
The Justice Department also called an expert witness to testify Tuesday. J. Morgan Kousser, a California Institute of Technology professor, said Republicans in the Texas Legislature had been trying to pass a voter ID law since 2005. He said debate about the bill had become progressively nastier in 2007, 2009 and culminating in the law's passage in 2011.
Kousser described a 2007 fight about the legislation that prompted one lawmaker, who had recently undergone a liver transplant, to set up a hospital bed inside the Capitol complex to ensure that a voter ID bill did not clear the Senate.
Kousser called the Texas electorate "very racially polarized" and said it's become increasingly clear over time that the state's Democratic Party is dominated by minorities.
"In 2011, the vast majority of Democratic legislators are minorities. So a bill that has partisan effects would have racial effects," he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in remarks Tuesday at the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Houston, said he opposes Texas' photo ID requirement. He said it would be harmful to minority voters and that the Justice Department "will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right."
Many who don't have IDs would have to travel far to get them, he said, and some would struggle to pay for documents needed to obtain such IDs.
Holder said that while only 8 percent of white people do not have government-issued photo IDs, about 25 percent of black people lack such identification.