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NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Guv Inks Tighter Voter ID Provisions

Library cards and other types of county-or-city-issued photo ID cards are no longer enough to cast a ballot in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a General Assembly measure outlawing their use at polling places.

The bill, sponsored by Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, was an initially more extensive overhaul of the state’s existing voter ID law.

Most notably, it aimed to add college ID cards — both for students and staff — to the list of acceptable forms of identification.

That effort drew skepticism from some other Senate Republicans, but Ketron’s argument that the changes would make the law more “consistent” eventually won out in the upper chamber. The Senate passed the legislation 21-8. Four Republicans voted “no.” They were Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, Mike Bell of Riceville, Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Jim Summerville of Dickson.

However, Ketron’s reasoning fell on deaf GOP ears in the House.

Sponsor Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, readily accepted an amendment from House Local Government Committee Chair Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, that stripped the college ID provision. The language nixing library cards stayed.

Hill told members of the House during floor debate on the measure back in March that his committee removed college IDs because they felt the cards were “too easy to duplicate, they’re too easy to access, too easy to acquire.”

“Some of them do not even have expiration dates on on them, and that poses a danger and a hazard to the voting process,” Hill said.

While discussion in the Senate focuses almost entirely on the college ID issue, some lawmakers in the House were equally vocal in their concern regarding the move to ban the use of library cards on election day.

Chief among them were Democrats from Memphis who said the legislation as a move to overrule a state Supreme Court decision allowing library cards to be used in that city.

Johnnie Turner didn’t mince words, calling the proposed changes “a form of voter suppression,” and chiding House Republicans for meddling in local affairs.

“Locals have voted for, it has been approved by the courts,” Turner said. “Speaker after speaker after speaker will say, ‘We don’t want the federal government telling us what to do.’ And yet, on the state level, we’re doing the same thing.”

Antonio Parkinson, also a Memphis Democrat, said he felt he had been “hoodwinked” and “bamboozled” by Republicans. He accused GOP lawmakers of focusing attention on the more contentious issue of college IDs to draw scrutiny away from their real objective to nullify the decision of the state’s courts.

Going heavy on the sports metaphors, Parkinson said “the end run play was ran and you scored a touchdown, scored the final dunk and now you’re on the House floor with this bill.”

“The point of the matter was simply this,” Parkinson continued. “To run interference of a decision that was to be made by the Tennessee Supreme Court in regards to library cards that were being proposed to be used by the city of Memphis.”

The House passed the bill, largely along party lines, by a vote of 65-30 and the Senate subsequently concurred with the House version, dropping the college ID language with little discussion on the floor.

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Dems Push Back, But Per Diem Downsize Passes House

Even if a reduction in expense payments to lawmakers sails through the Senate like it did in the House Monday night, lawmakers will still make more than the average worker in Tennessee.

Five Democrats joined all but three Republicans in voting, 72-15-3, to eliminate the $107 payment for lodging received by lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol. House sponsor Rick Womick said HB80 is the right thing to do.

“Right now, we receive $107 a day for hotel plus $66 a day for food,” the Rutherford County Republican said. “It’s hard to look at my constituents in the eye when they ask me, ‘Why are we paying you $107 a day for a hotel that you don’t use?’”

In place of the per diem, lawmakers would receive mileage reimbursement, at 46 cents a mile, for each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville. The bill would limit the payment to one round trip per day.

Legislators would still receive $66 a day for meals and incidentals.

According to Womick, both per diem amounts are taxed by the federal government under a law that requires anyone who lives within 50 miles of where he conducts business to pay taxes on all per diems he receives.

“We’re taking taxpayers’ money, and 38 to 48 percent of it is shipped straight to Washington, D.C.,” Womick said. “I’d rather keep that money right here in Tennessee and let Tennessee and this state government use that money, and in return, be reimbursed for my mileage.”

Lawmakers receive an annual salary of $20,203, plus $12,000 a year for an office at home – whether they set it up or not. These two figures alone are almost $8,000 more than the $24,197 per-capita income of Tennesseans in 2011.

Add to that the per diems, health insurance and 401(k) retirement benefits, and the total take-home gets close to $60,000, according to the City Paper.

Although only three Democrats spoke out against the bill, two of them would not be impacted if the legislation passes the Senate. Senate Bill 107 is supposed to be heard Tuesday in the State and Local Government Committee, but is not listed on its calendar.

Democratic House Caucus Chair Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, questioned the equity of the legislation.

“It’s always hard when you’re figuring per diem. The only way to really do it is do it kinda across the board,” the 12-year veteran of the House said. “I think what you’re doing makes the system totally inequitable, and I’m going to vote against it for that reason.”

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he values himself and the people he represents more than the per diem amount legislators receive.

“I live 200 miles out, but if I didn’t live but 10 miles from here, for the time that I spend away from my family, having to be here and not being able to work for myself, I think it’s a little off-kilter for us to take that sixty whatever dollars that is from those persons who could give it to their families,” Shaw said.

While she lives in Memphis, Rep. Johnnie Turner agreed with Shaw that a price cannot be put on the time lawmakers spend away from their families. She also said that those who live in the immediate area have it harder because they are “always confronted” by people in their district who want to talk issues.

The three-term Democrat expressed fear that if this reduction is approved, “we’re going to come up with another law to reduce the per diem or mileage for those who live beyond 50 miles.”

According to an article by the City Paper, senators took home more than $14,600 on average in per diem in 2012, while state representatives averaged more than $13,800 each.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol.

If the bill becomes law, the change will not impact sitting legislators, just those elected in 2014 forward.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.