Dems Kill Voter ID Bill, and Nearly All Others Too

Texas Democrats declared victory in the partisan battle over tightening voter identification laws, but their five-day filibuster left hundreds of bills dead and threatened to spark a special session this summer.

With six days left in the 2009 session, there's theoretically time to resurrect almost anything. But a midnight deadline Tuesday night for the voter ID bill came and went in the House, and leaders from both parties said the controversial election reform had gone down in flames.

"I guess it's dead. I don't see any way it can be resurrected at this point," said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, leader of the House Democrats. Dunnam, whose delay tactics brought the legislative machinery to a virtual crawl, described the demise of the voter ID legislation as a victory for the voting public.

"We successfully stood up for people's voting rights and have shown that we're not going to be bullied into suppressing people's votes," Dunnam said.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, maintained his trademark hands-off approach as midnight approached and mostly left the public relations job to Rep. Larry Taylor, chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

Taylor said Democrats would pay a hefty price for killing off the voter ID legislation and inflicting "a lot of other casualties in that process."

"I think there's got to be some repercussions," Taylor said. "I think the average Joe at home isn't going to be pleased that an issue like voter ID knocked off all those other issues people have been working on."

Scores of reforms appeared to be lying on the legislative scrap heap for now -- major insurance reforms, tuition relief and key health care legislation among them. The House also failed to pass a bill to accept $555 million in unemployment funds. Gov. Rick Perry had opposed the legislation on the grounds that too many strings were attached to the federal money.

But there's still time to save important reforms.

Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who is trying to get an endangered college tuition relief bill passed, flashed a new tie as a symbol of his hope: it showed a rabbit being pulled from a hat.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has indicated he could call a special session if the Legislature does not send him a windstorm insurance reform bill. Without it, Texas could be on the hook for untold billions of dollars in liability if a major storm hits the state.

The stalling tactics began Friday as Democrats used up their time privileges to hold an entire slew of bills hostage. The target was the voter ID bill, which Republicans say is necessary to combat ballot box fraud while Democrats say it would diminish voting rights.

The legislation would require Texans to provide a photo ID or two non-photo alternatives before being allowed to cast a ballot.

Democrats called on Republicans to join together and take up other bills. But that takes a supermajority -- a two-thirds vote -- and Republican lawmakers vowed not to give in.

At one point, Taylor, the Republican leader, said compromising with the Democrats would be like negotiating with "kidnappers or terrorists." He hastened to add that he wasn't likening Democrats to criminals but compared them to "whiny kids throwing a fit on the floor."

One bill did appear to be on the verge of rescue: legislation by Rep. Kino Flores, D-Mission, giving property tax exemptions to disabled veterans. Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, worked to get Flores' bill tacked onto a bill he had authored and that was heading back to the House from the Senate.

Officials said they expected a vote on the measure as soon as Wednesday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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