Questions from Democrats about the true intent of legislation drafted to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law peppered discussion in a House committee Tuesday.
The legislation would have allowed voters to use college IDs as a form of accepted identification. The bill would rewrite a section of the current code that blocks their use. In HB 229’s original language, college IDs were simply not mentioned.
However, that changed with freshman Rep. Jeremy Durham’s amendment that “basically just eliminates the college IDs part of the bill,” Durham told the Local Government Committee. “I think it’s good public policy to make sure the right people are voting.”
The amendment drew a slew of questions from Democratic committee members as to the true intent of the bill.
Rep. Bo Mitchell, of Nashville, made the argument that state-funded institutions of higher learning are “part of the state of Tennessee” because they receive funding from the state.
“There’s plenty of people who get direct money from the state, but I don’t want them to write down on a napkin who’s qualified to vote,” Durham, R-Franklin, said.
Rep. Larry Miller, of Memphis, was one of three Democratic members to ask either Durham or House sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, if they could describe any “real-world occurrences” where students had committed fraud using college IDs to vote. Neither could provide an example.
When Rep. Mike Stewart, of Nashville, asked Durham for an example of a problem with college IDs, Durham said, “I suppose that the real problem is if we stick with just state and federal, I think that’s better than having 20, 30 different forms of ID from all these different state-funded universities.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned what effect the bill may have on a decision before the Tennessee Supreme Court regarding the use of photo library cards as acceptable ID. The bill forbids using them to vote as well.
“A court decision would not affect the current law,” Lynn said. “A judge is not a lawmaker, and a judge can’t just deem that local IDs are acceptable if the General Assembly has passed a law saying that they are not acceptable, and the governor has signed the law.”
The companion bill, SB125, passed the full Senate last week. However, it allows college IDs to be accepted as valid forms of identification but disallows library cards and out-of-state IDs.
Because the two chambers’ versions differ, it is possible that a conference committee will be appointed to try and reach an agreement, which is necessary before final passage is possible.