Legislation designed to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law generated heated exchanges and raised more questions than answers on the House floor before the final vote left the bill at odds with the Senate version.
Earlier this week, the House substituted HB229 for SB125. The House also approved an amendment barring students from using their IDs from state-funded colleges to vote – a move the Senate sponsor says he will fight.
“The Senate voted 2-to-1 against disallowing state-issued college IDs when that amendment was before us,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, who initiated the legislation. “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”
When or if that committee may be convened remains up in the air, according to a legislative assistant the Murfreesboro Republican.
In addition to college IDs, the bill would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of the latter form of identification is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law.
The House floor debate about the legislation became rather heated at times, and even though other issues surfaced, it passed 65-30. The Senate version, which allows students IDs to be used, passed earlier this month 24-3.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Democrat from Memphis, called the bill “another form of voter suppression.” Fellow Memphis Democrat Rep. Antonio Parkinson claimed he was “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” because the bill that passed the House Local Government Subcommittee allowed student IDs to be used, but an amendment in the full committee stripped that provision.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick emphatically proclaimed, “This talk about voting suppression is just not true!”
The Chattanooga representative said the legislation is designed to stop voter fraud. He said that “a state Senate election was stolen in the city of Memphis just a few years ago” and that a recent documentary had a chairman of the NAACP talking about “the machine in Memphis” that would load people on a bus and take them to multiple polling stations to cast their votes “over and over again.”
Republican Rep. Vince Dean, of East Ridge, and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong, of Knoxville, expressed concerns about blocking out-of-state IDs for those who own property in Tennessee but live in another state.
Rep. Susan Lynn, who sponsored the House bill, said she was not sure whether the state would issue an ID to a nonresident.
“What we’re doing with this legislation is trying to most closely match the legislation that passed in Indiana, because that legislation did survive all the way to the United States Supreme Court,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said.
Armstrong claimed the bill would change the way the city of Knoxville elects its mayors and city council members because property owners are allowed to vote in municipal elections even if they don’t live there.
Had the bill been in effect when Gov. Bill Haslam first ran as mayor of Knoxville, Armstrong said, the outcome could have been changed. Three thousand property owners voted, and “a lot of them live out of state.” Haslam won by 1,500 votes.
“Now we have a sitting governor that benefited from the law,” Armstrong said.