United States

Texas lawmakers to consider sweeping voting restrictions

2 minute read

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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July 10 (Reuters) - Texas lawmakers will consider new voting restrictions on Saturday as part of a special legislative session called by Republican Governor Greg Abbott after Democrats blocked earlier versions of the legislation in a dramatic walkout.

Republican state senators introduced their latest version of the bill, now known as SB 1, on Thursday, sparking outcry from Democrats and voter advocates who said it was being rushed through the legislative process to avoid public scrutiny.

Lawmakers will consider SB 1 and its House counterpart in committee hearings early on Saturday.

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The timing of the hearings suggested they could occur simultaneously, making it difficult for opponents to testify on both measures, said Anthony Gutierrez, Texas director of good-government watchdog Common Cause.

On May 30 during the regular legislative session, Democratic lawmakers denied Republicans the quorum needed to pass the original measures. It was a notable victory for Democrats, who have unsuccessfully fought a slew of similar laws passed since the beginning of the year in other Republican-controlled states.

The Republicans' new proposals in Texas overlap significantly with the original versions in limiting early voting hours, adding new identification requirements to mail-in voting and empowering partisan poll watchers. They do not include a controversial limit to Sunday early voting hours, which some Republican lawmakers said had been erroneously included in the original legislation.

At a Friday press conference, Democratic state senators called for a hearing on their own voting reform counter-proposal. Their bill would extend the early voting period, enable online voter registration, give voters a chance to fix mistakes on mail-in ballots and require that poll watchers receive training from the secretary of state.

Texas state Senator Royce West, a Democrat, said he hoped the legislature's Republican leaders would be willing to "strike compromises" between SB 1 and his party's alternate bill.

"Let me assure you, we'll do everything in our power to get a hearing on this bill," he said, though he acknowledged it was unlikely Republican leaders would grant that wish.

Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes, the chairman of the Texas Senate's Committee on State Affairs, which is hearing SB 1 on Saturday, did not respond on Friday to requests for comment on whether his committee would hear the Democrats' bill.

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Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis

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