Much of the drama of this summer’s special legislative sessions has focused on Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority election bill, which spurred a quorum exit from Texas Democrats that ended this week.
Eclipsed by the political battle in Austin: the Texas legislature passed several bills during the regular session. And only some of the new voting laws have no controversy.
Some of the most controversial bills were led by Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who before being elected in 2014 served as Harris County’s tax advisor and collector, who at the time he was the county electoral registrar.
Bettencourt has been outspoken about the election since then and last March tabled seven proposals he called “electoral integrity projects.”
These include Senate Bill 1111, which prohibits Texas voters from registering using a mailbox as an address.
Bettencourt’s argument: no one lives in a two-by-three-inch mailbox.
“We have 4,800 people registered at private UPSs across the county, and that’s certainly enough to influence the outcome of local legislative races or district races of all kinds,” Bettencourt said.
SB 1111 is one of three Bettencourt bills that were passed and will go into effect Sept. 1 among more than 650 new state laws.
Another new Bettencourt law coming into force: SB 1113, which allows the secretary of state to deny funds to election registrars if they fail to remove certain individuals from the lists. If you don’t work, he argued, you shouldn’t be charged.
The enactment date of the laws comes as Texas Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature save on an omnibus election bill that would add new voting restrictions to the state. The GOP-sponsored bill would ban automatic and 24-hour voting (both measures that Harris County enacted in the 2020 election to expand voter access during the COVID-19 pandemic) and hinder, among other things. , email voting.
Texas House Democrats broke the quorum to end the regular session in May and did so again last month to derail the first special session, after criticizing the omnibus bill (SB 1) as an attempt to suppression of voters.
Democrats broke the quorum earlier this month to block the passage of the bill in a second special session, but some have returned since then, making their passage more likely.
Not all voting laws have been controversial. Bettencourt’s third law, SB 1116, is designed to increase transparency on local government websites, making it easier to search for election details. It happened with bipartisan support, sponsored in the House by Democratic State Representative John Bucy of Austin.
But Bettencourt’s other measures have sparked fierce opposition from local officials and civil rights defenders. Her successor as Harris County voter registrar Isabel Longoria, an election administrator, said her argument that no one physically lives inside a mailbox misses the point.
“They both assume that voters are liars, it assumes that all voters have a typical situation of living in a house with four walls and a door, and it also creates this very vague idea of who was supposed to start (the votes) and how they get started, ”Longoria said.
Longoria said SB 1111 specifically discriminates against minority voters and youth. Currently, the Latin civil rights organization LULAC is suing Harris County for its application.
The Harris County official accused his predecessor of trying to suppress the vote by changing the law so that it would require current election registrars to do things he was not allowed to do when he held office. After the 2008 election, Democrats sued Bettencourt for rejecting election requests. This demand was finally resolved.
“Apparently, he thought maybe some of them lived in addresses that weren’t really home addresses,” Longoria said. “Therefore, it removed people from the electoral lists illegally.”
SB 1113 makes it difficult for voting rights advocates for a similar reason. It is reminiscent of a failed 2019 effort by then-Secretary of State for Texas David Whitley to purge the electoral censuses of more than 90,000 suspected noncitizens.
“I’ve thought of this bill and others as essentially a form of extortion by the state government,” said James Slattery, a Texas Civil Rights Project staff lawyer. “This is a very big stick that the secretary has to handle and we know they haven’t always been a good faith actor.”
Next up is House Bill 3920, authored by Republican State Representative Jay Dean of Longview. It becomes more difficult to apply for a ballot for medical reasons.
Disability advocates say the new law can discriminate against people with disabilities who may show up without warning, such as multiple sclerosis.
“I think for many in the disability community you just have to make sure that the idea behind this is not to be a‘ gotcha moment ’to say‘ well, your disability isn’t enough for you “Disabled,” said Chase Bearden, deputy director of the Coalition of Jeans with Disabilities.
Neither Dean nor the project’s Senate sponsor, Republican Bryan Hughes of Mineola, responded to requests for comment.
HB 3920 appears to make it easier for pregnant women to request a postal vote around election day. This is a welcome addition to some voting watch dogs.
“We know this is a real witness at the (Texas) Capitol that is a vulnerable time for both mother and child, and we appreciate them being in the bill,” said Cinde Weatherby, president of rights of the Texas Women’s Voting League
There is also bipartisan legislation that will come into force on September 1st. HB 1382, produced by Bucy State and State Senator Bryan Hughes, and sponsored by Bettencourt, would allow people to keep track of their email newsletters to make sure they did. has been received.
“We hope voters take advantage of that and can safeguard their ballots so things don’t go wrong,” said James Slattery of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
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