Attorney General’s Opinion Flags Voter ID Bill

A proposal to require Tennessee voters to present a photo ID at their polling place ran into a speed bump at the state capitol Wednesday. Tennessee’s attorney general issued an opinion saying that the Voter ID bill would likely be found unconstitutional.

Representative Craig Fitzhugh, the House Democratic Leader, was one of the lawmakers who requested the Attorney General’s opinion.

“I mean it’s a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.”

It would be a violation – says the attorney general – because requiring a voter to pay for an ID would amount to a “poll tax,” outlawed under the twenty-fourth amendment to the Constitution.

Fitzhugh says if the state pays for IDs for all those who don’t have one, the Voter ID bill would create a new cost to the state. So the bill would probably have to go through the committee process all over again.

The bill, from Hendersonville Republican Debra Maggart, is set to be taken up by the full House Thursday.

Representative Maggart says she’ll go forward with her bill, HB 7/SB 16 Ketron, and count on passing other bills to fund free IDs in order to meet constitutional objections.

“I have other bills that are hopefully help fund it, so I’m gonna continue working like I have been to get those other pieces funded, so that people have an ID.”

The Senate passed the same bill, 21-11, on Feb. 14.

The attorney general’s opinion is here.

It’s clear – in fact it’s a footnote in the AG’s opinion – that if the state decides to pay for photo IDs for those voters who don’t have one, the bill would be in the same shape as an earlier Indiana law that passed constitutional muster.

But providing those free IDs would cost something.

Fitzhugh looks at the upcoming House action on the bill:

“If for instance, the bill were to go forward tomorrow and an amendment would be put on, to fund it, it would have a fiscal note, and by prior practice it would go back to Finance [Committee] and work it’s way through the system there.”

A separate bill with different sponsors had already been promoted. It would have the state provide free IDs for all those 18 and over who need one – the same provision that Indiana used.

The fiscal note for that bill, HB 1682 Odom/SB 1384, estimates that providing free photo IDs for people 18 and over who don’t already have one would cost about $1.5 million.

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