AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hours after the Texas Senate passed a sweeping election restriction bill, a Texas House panel considered another Republican effort to further tighten voting rules in the state.
The Texas House Elections Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 6 on Thursday. A hearing on the bill was initially scheduled last week but was abruptly canceled after a procedural error.
The bill would provide additional protections to poll watchers — limiting an election judge’s ability to expel them from a polling location — and prohibit government officials from sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications to voters. People assisting disabled voters with their ballot would have to provide identification and a reason for helping the voter if the proposal is approved.
The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 7 early Thursday morning after a seven-hour debate. The bill, if approved in the Texas House and signed into law, would ban mail-in ballot drop boxes and most drive-thru voting.
Republicans say it “ensures election integrity.” Democrats say it’s voter suppression and makes it harder for people with disabilities and ethnic minorities to vote.
The bill now heads to the Texas House, and committee hearings are expected to begin when lawmakers reconvene Thursday.
The bill would also require voters with disabilities to prove they cannot get to the polls in order to qualify for a mail-in ballot. The legislation would require authorization from top state leaders before any private funding over $1,000 could be doled out to local elections departments.
It would also keep local election officials from encouraging people to fill out vote-by-mail applications even if those people qualify for it.
“Overall, this is designed to address areas through process where bad actors can take advantage, because we want the people of Texas to be confident their elections are fair, honest and open,” State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, told KXAN’s Wes Rapaport. Hughes was the author of the bill.
Democrats say all Republicans did was make it harder for Texans to vote — especially those with disabilities.
“Every eligible Texan deserves to have their voice heard at the ballot box — regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, age, income, or party. SB 7 makes it harder for every Texan to vote,” a statement from the party said. “We aggressively fought this bill because we know it will disenfranchise racial and ethnic minority voters and voters with disabilities, including veterans.”
American Airlines, which is Texas-based, took a stand against the proposed legislation as well.
“To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it. As a Texas-based business, we must stand up for the rights of our team members and customers who call Texas home, and honor the sacrifices made by generations of Americans to protect and expand the right to vote,” the airline company said in a statement.
SB 7 has a state price tag of nearly $35 million, according to a financial estimate by the Legislative Budget Board. It would also cost local governments various costs for training, software updates and new equipment. The local entities would be on the hook if the state does not fund the extra changes.
The head of the Texas Secretary of State’s elections division recently told lawmakers the state “had an election that was smooth and secure.”