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House passes voter assistance bill

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Legislation to amend the state elections law as to how much a person may assist others in voting was passed by the House on April 26.

Committee Substitute House Bill 148, authored by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite, received a final vote of 93-48, but not before lengthy and contentious debate on the House floor a day earlier.

Opponents of the bill, who were rebuffed in multiple attempts to amend the bill, warned that its passage likely would result in a federal court challenge under Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, a part of the law that affects states showing a pattern of discriminatory behavior in election-related practices.

An official state analysis of CSHB 148, in short, asserts: “In certain localities, individuals receive compensation for harvesting mail-in ballots or for going door to door collecting eligible ballots and posting them on behalf of voters. Such individuals are compensated on a per-ballot basis. There currently is no limit on the number of times a person may act as a courier for mail-in ballots in a given election, and concerned parties contend that some mail-in ballot harvesters provide unlawful assistance or unlawful witness to voters and may even electioneer in the presence of an active ballot.”

The bill would create a misdemeanor offense for a person convicted of compensating an individual for assisting 10 or more voters in prohibited ways, and for engaging in other specific and prohibited voting-related actions.

WEST CONTINUES REBOUND

Relief assistance of all kinds poured into the city of West last week.

West has been in a state of disaster emergency since April 17, when a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant tore through the town, killing 14 people and injuring as many as 200 others.

A memorial service for those lost and injured in the explosion was held April 25 at Baylor University in Waco. President Barack Obama spoke, honoring those who rushed to assist and giving solemn regard to “the wounded, the heartbroken, the families who lost their homes and possessions in an instant.”

Veteran capitol correspondent Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.

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