House panel OKs photo ID voter law

photo House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville speaks to reporters in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - A Republican-backed bill requiring Tennesseans to show photo identification before voting cleared a major House committee on Tuesday.

The bill passed the House State and Local Government Committee on a voice vote. It has already passed the Senate.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, the bill's sponsor, said the measure "is necessary because it protects the integrity of the ballot box," citing three prosecutions for voter fraud in Shelby County.

Her counterpart, Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, called the bill a "backdoor poll tax" on poorer Tennesseans, who may have difficulty paying for a driver's license or other photo ID.

But Turner backed off a bit after learning that Senate Republicans and Maggart are exploring ways to help poorer Tennesseans, although he still said the bill is being pushed forward too quickly.

"If we're going to fund that photo ID and pay for it, as has happened in some other states ... this changes the whole complexion of this bill," he said. "I might even support this. Why are we in such a big hurry to proceed?"

Maggart said she is "going to try my best to get it funded," but she insisted on moving the bill out of committee.

As it now stands, the bill exempts people in nursing and group homes as well as people with religious objections to being photographed. Voters casting absentee ballots would not be affected. Voters without a photo ID could cast provisional ballots and present identification within two days.

In other legislative action on Tuesday:

• Defendants in domestic violence or stalking cases could be required by judges to wear global positioning monitoring systems as a condition of bail under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said judges already generally instruct defendants when they are setting bail not to go near alleged victims.

"What this will do, if they [judges] so choose, is to say, 'We're going to GPS track and don't come around the victim's house,'" Berke said. "That way they can find out where the person is and they would revoke the person's bond if they see the individual going to that [victim's] house or they can contact the potential victim."

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The bill now will go to the Senate floor. The House version comes up in a subcommittee today.

• Despite objections from business groups, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 8-1 to require state employers to use the federal E-Verify system to detect illegal workers. The bill requires employers to use the system for most hires after Jan. 1.

An amendment gives the Department of Labor and Workforce Development more leeway in enforcing penalties. The commissioner could require fines of up to $1,000 on first offense, up to $2,500 on second offense and up to $5,000 on third and subsequent offenses.

Business groups and the Tennessee Farm Bureau remain opposed to the bill, which last week began moving in the House.

• In the House Education Committee, Maggart delayed her bill restricting collective bargaining rights for teachers. She later said she is awaiting action by Senate Republicans, who intend to amend their version of the bill.

Senate Republicans' version eliminates collective bargaining entirely. Their amendment would make it clear that school boards must still listen to teachers' concerns, although school boards would not be required to act on them.

Meanwhile, a petition containing the names of 9,000 members of the main teachers' union, the Tennessee Education Association, was delivered to lawmakers, urging them not to pass the collective bargaining bill, eliminating TEA's representation on the state pension board and ending payroll deductions to pay TEA dues.

"I think it will clearly show it is a huge issue all across the state and teachers are not taking this as education reform," TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said. "It is really a slap in the face of the teaching profession."