Texas lawmakers clash over GOP push for voter ID law

AUSTIN _ A partisan showdown over legislation requiring photo identification to vote unfolded in the Republican-led State Senate on Tuesday as the chamber's leading Democrat denounced the bill as a "recipe for catastrophe" that would echo a "history of voter suppression" in Texas.

"It's more likely for a person to be struck by lightning than impersonate a voter," Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who leads the Senate's Democratic Caucus, said in denouncing what she said was an unneeded and politically motivated bill.

Republicans are pushing the measure in response to what they say is one of the top demands from their constituents: preventing fraud at the voting booth. Similar legislation died in the 2007 Legislature when Senate Democrats blocked the measure in a confontation with Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

In a party-line vote of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, senators adopted a rarely used procedure to form themselves into a committee of the whole to hear testimony on the measure. Under the scenario, Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, president pro tem of the Senate, was to replace Dewhurst as presiding officer while the lieutenant governor would take Duncan's place on the Senate floor.

The issue emerged as a white-hot partisan issue on the first day of the 2009 Legislature in mid-January when the Senate aproved a controversial rules change that effectively kept Democrats from blocking the bill.

Since then, both sides have steadily staked out their strategy in preparing for Tuesday's hearing, with Republicans contending that the ID requirements are urgently needed and Democrats warning that it would disenfranchise the elderly, minorities and other constituencies unlikely to have photo identification.

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