Republicans move forward with voter ID
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Republicans move forward with voter ID

Date: May 12, 2008
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HJR 48, SB 858, SCS SB 909

JEFFERSON CITY - Senate Republicans pushed forward with a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow voter identification laws in the state. The issue is one of the most partisan issues to be raised in the session.

The committee passed the bill with a vote of 5-4 and a final version could be passed before the session ends Friday if Republicans force a vote.

Shortly before the committee vote, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Missouri's highest ranking election official, made a personal plea against the legislation, citing examples of Missourians who would not be able to vote.

She spoke about the financial burden that could be placed on people born in other states, those with disabilities and the poor, who may not have state-issued photo identification and may not have access to the primary documents -- birth certificates and marriage licenses, for example -- that are necessary to receive one.

Under the proposed legislation, the state would provide a free identification card to those who do not have one but does not address the costs of obtaining primary documents necessary for obtaining it. Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, who is chairman of the committee and the legislation's sponsor, said that is one issue that could possibly change.

Proponents of the proposed legislation said it could eliminate voter fraud in the state and said providing identification to vote is logical because it must be presented to perform other everyday activities.

"People understand that the photo ID is the gold standard. You've got to have it to rent a video or get on an airplane; why shouldn't you have it?" Scott said. "It's a simple solution."

Although the proposed change focuses on voter fraud, critics accuse the plan of creating a solution to a problem that does not exist.

"I would love to try to do something that focused on real problems in our state rather than these mythical problems," Carnahan said. "I will tell you I've not heard a report since I've been secretary of state."

Some Democratic senators worry it would disenfranchise groups that tend to vote for their party, such as the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

"It's not about doing anything that makes sense; it's about deterring those less likely to vote Republican," Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, said.

Following the committee vote, Senate members met in a closed meeting to discuss possible compromises on the legislation but Carnahan, the top state election official, did not attend.

"I've not been invited," Carnahan said.

Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, attended the closed meeting and said Carnahan was not involved because it is the Senate's responsibility to discuss possible legislation.

"We're senators. We do this; it's our job and we know what we're doing," Days said. "Her input is really not needed at this time."

Coleman said she doesn't expect the closed meeting to produce a compromise Democrats will accept.

"Democrats have a real problem with any move to take away a person's right to vote, and we're weary of the motives [behind the bill]," Coleman said.

Days said the Senate leaders who attended the meeting created a list of possible compromises that will be reviewed by Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons to determine if the changes could affect if the bill will pass by the end of the session.

Scott said despite the closed meeting, he expects Republicans will have to force a vote on the plan because Democrats and Republicans have different opinions on the issue.

Current Missouri law requires voters to display identification issued by a college, state or the federal government. Voters can also provide a bill with their name and address, such as a utility bill.

The proposed legislation would only give the state the ability to make laws requiring photo identification, a move made necessary after a 2006 ruling by the state Supreme Court which found that requiring photo IDs placed an unfair burden on voters.

The committee also passed separate legislation that could allow photo identification laws to go into effect immediately if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters.

In other legislative news, an all-inclusive immigration measure was shelved today and sent back to its committee in the House, greatly damaging its chances of passing through the legislature.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Louis, said there still might be a chance his bill could pass through, but he's turning his attention to getting individual critical House legislation on immigration passed in the Senate.

Rupp's bill would have prohibited sanctuary cities in the state, barred illegal immigrants from receiving public funding and mandated that Missouri employers participate in a federal immigration database program. Rupp said one reason for this reversal was that the House decided the bill needed more clarification on employment statutes.

The bill's handler in the House, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, said the bill's setback in the House makes its chances of passing "very greatly diminished." The bill had previously passed through the Senate by a vote of 26-7 on April 3.

Following the frenzied petition season this spring, the Senate set aside a bill that would impose citizenship requirements on petitioners. The bill would also limit the ability of petition circulators to circulate multiple petitions and to be paid per signature.

Democrats raised multiple amendments, including a contentious amendment by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, that would have required that petitioners read the ballot title, which could be up to 100 words. The legislation was set aside and could come up later this week.

--Matt Tilden contributed to this report.