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Bill to Block College IDs for Voting Draws Dem Doubts

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.

Rep. Jeremy DurhamJeremy Durham

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.

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

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Democrats Can’t Slow Voter ID Bill in Senate

Tennesseans who lack proper photo identification are a few short votes away from having to bring a new form of identification with them the next time they hit up the ballot box.

A bill passed Monday in the Senate requires that in order to cast a ballot, a prospective voter must produce identification bearing his or her name, address, and photograph of the voter. According to Senate Bill 16‘s summary, a voter’s social security card, credit card bearing the applicant’s signature, or other document bearing the applicant’s signature, would no longer be adequate identification.

Acceptable forms of ID under the bill include a valid Tennessee driver license or ID card issued by a state or the federal government, a passport or a U.S. military ID.

Despite futile cries from Democrats that mandating photo identification creates additional bureaucratic barriers to voting for the poor and older voters, the majority party — with the help of one Democrat — outmuscled SB16’s detractors and sent it on its way to the House of Representatives.

Prior to the bill’s passage, opponents tried to attach six amendments to it ranging from adding a Medicaid ID to the list of six eligible identifications that would be acceptable, allow the local Election Commission office to take a snapshot of the photoless voter and offering to dole out state IDs for free. All the amendments were shot down.

“Republicans did not want our input, even when that input was to make sure that senior citizens could have the right to vote,” said Sen. Andy Berke, a Chattanooga Democrat. Dresden Sen. Roy Herron called the bill the equivalent to “a modern-day poll tax.”

Nonsense, said Murfreesboro GOP Sen. Bill Ketron, who described the bill as nothing more than an effort to secure the integrity of the system to ensure that people who can’t legally vote don’t. Ketron noted that the bill has contingencies for the elderly, poor and those who refuse to be pictured for religious reasons to vote without a photo ID.

The lone Senate Democrat who voted for the legislation was Nashville Sen. Dougas Henry.

A nationwide advocate for seniors weighed in via a press release shortly before the Senate was called to order, offering the view that the lawmakers ought to be trying to make voting easier, not more difficult.

“AARP has concerns about any legislation that creates obstacles for eligible voters, particularly those who are older, poor and geographically isolated,” said AARP Tennessee State Director Rebecca Kelly.

The measure now awaits a hearing in the House, where it is sponsored by GOP Caucus chairwoman Debra Maggart.