Senate approves voter ID measure

The second day of a special session ended Thursday with Senate approval of a voter-identification bill, a hike in unemployment benefits, metal-theft restrictions and the reauthorization of the state employment agency.

The costly special session isn’t over, and it appears House lawmakers will be required to return over the Memorial Day weekend. They had hoped to reconvene Tuesday along with the Senate, but House staffers said the rules require permission from either Barbour or the Senate. Neither had granted it late Thursday, though Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said he wouldn’t object to the House coming back next week.

Unless told otherwise, House Speaker Billy McCoy said he plans to call lawmakers back Sunday. “It’s their prerogative if they want to show up,” added McCoy, D-Rienz. “I would hope they would, to fulfill their duty.”

In addition to the unemploy-ment benefits, the House will consider a Medicaid funding bill that Barbour expects to propose after they return.

Voter identification cleared the Senate in a 30-17 vote after hours of debate. The bill will probably die in the House. House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, called the bill “sheer political posturing.”

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, agreed: “Someone with ulterior motives wants this bill. November elections are going to make a difference in this state in who serves us in Washington.”

If the bill eventually became law, some wondered whether the U.S. Department of Justice would approve the new law in time for residents who don’t have the proper documents to receive an identification card from the state.

Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, said the bill makes it a felony to intimidate voters. That argument has historically killed the legislation among lawmakers concerned about older African Americans who were once threatened for trying to vote.

“How long can it take to tell a poll manager, ‘Don’t intimidate anybody, but ask for an ID?’ The whole idea is to maintain the integrity of the election,” said Burton.

Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said, “There has not been rampant voter fraud.”

Clarion Ledger
5/23/8