LITTLE ROCK — The House on Wednesday narrowly passed legislation that would require voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls, after contentious debate and some procedural maneuvering that had Democrats grumbling.
The 51-44 vote followed a House Rules Committee ruling that the Senate Bill 2 properly passed the Senate with less than a supermajority vote.
The House also approved legislation intended to attract film companies to Arkansas and the Senate a bill intended to make it easier for parents to understand the public school report cards for the schools their children attend.
On SB 2, the House Rules Committee rejected an argument by Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, that the proposal would change Amendment 51 of the state constitution, which establishes requirements for voter registration, and therefore would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
SB 2 passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote, one vote shy of a two-thirds majority in the 35-member body.
The sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, has said the bill has nothing to do with voter registration. The House committee heard testimony Wednesday from lawyers who argued on both sides of the issue, and then voted on a motion to advise the House speaker that the bill was properly before the House.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith, ruled that the motion passed in the 15-member committee, which is comprised of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, all of whom were present. Three members raised their hands to ask for a roll-call vote, but Malone did not recognize them. When asked later why she did not allow a roll-call vote, she declined to comment.
Presenting the bill later on the House floor, Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, said poll workers in Arkansas already ask for a photo ID, although voters are not required to present one, and that many Arkansans already believe a photo ID is required to vote.
The bill would require the secretary of state’s office to provide county clerks with the equipment needed to issue free ID cards to voters who request them. A voter who cannot present a photo ID would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said the intent of the bill was "to repress voter presentation and representation." He likened it to poll taxes that were historically used to suppress the black vote.
"Most of you who sit here don’t have my color or my history, and you’ve never been deprived or denied the right to vote," said Walker, who is black.
Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, said that while he is in a wheelchair because of an accident, many others are in worse shape because they fought for their country and for the right to vote.
"I don’t think it’s too much to ask to honor our citizens, honor the folks who have given their life for our right to vote for you to reach into your cockeyed wallet and pull out a driver’s license," he said.
After lengthy debate, Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, moved for immediate consideration, a motion that required a two-thirds vote to pass. House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, ruled that the motion passed in a voice vote. The House then passed the bill, in almost a straight party-line vote, with just one Democrat, Rep. Walls McCrary of Lonoke, joining with Republicans to pass the bill with no votes to spare. Carter did not vote, in keeping with his usual practice.
The bill goes to the Senate for concurrence in a House amendment.
Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, who lost the speaker’s race to Carter after the November election, said after Wednesday’s vote he believed proper procedures were not followed when Malone did not allow a roll-call vote in the House Rules Committee and when Carter ruled that the motion for immediate consideration had received a two-thirds vote.
"We have rules for a reason, and when we operate outside of our rules, then I think there’s a problem," he said, though he conceded that the bill had enough support to pass.
Carter said he did not believe a roll-call vote would have mattered in the rules panel because it was clear "where the votes were." He said he ended debate in the House because at that point it was time to vote "before we just continued on and on and on and on."
Nickels said he believed the measure will be challenged in court if it becomes law. He also said he would ask for an attorney general’s opinion on whether the bill conflicts with Article 3 of the state constitution, which deals with qualifications to vote and "(does) not say a thing about a photo ID."
King said anyone can file a lawsuit over any bill.
"You can make any argument you want to, I guess. Whether it’s factual or not is a different story," he said.
Movie-making in Arkansas
The House voted 64-22 to approve House Bill 1633 by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, which would offer film companies a 20 percent rebate on production costs to film in Arkansas.
A 2011 law offers a 15 percent rebate.
The bill goes to the Senate.
School report cards
The Senate passed SB 752 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which he said would make it easier for parents to understand the public school report cards for the schools their children attend. The bill passed 28-5 and goes to the House.
"It requires that school districts basically come up with a more easy to understand grading system for parents and for people in the school district to know how they are doing," Hendren said after the Senate session.
The bill requires schools receive letter grades — A for "exemplary," B for "achieving," C for "needs improvement," D for needs improvement-focus" and F for "needs improvement-priority."
The state Board of Education would be required to adopt the rules necessary to adopt the new rating system and make sure it is consistent with the Common Core State Standards, all state and federal education laws.
"Instead of what we have now, ‘needs improvement, needs improvement greatly … it goes to something we all understand, A, B, C, D, F," Hendren said.
The Senate also passed:
—SB 374 by Sen. Jane English, D-North Little Rock, which would allow the Pulaski County judge to call an election to allow residents in four Pulaski County townships — North Little Rock’s Park Hill, Gray Township near the Little Rock Force Base, Union Township in Little Rock and Bayou Meto north of the airbase — to vote on whether they want alcohol to be sold in their communities. The bill passed 25-9 and goes to the House.
—SB1140 by Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, which would allow wineries to use revenue from a wine excise tax to promote research concerning the production of Arkansas wine and grapes, and to promote agritourism. The measure passed 34-0.
—SB 785 by English, which would amend the state law concerning financial interest statements to require candidate or elected official to include the name and address of each governmental body to which owe money, including a description of the nature and amount of the obligation. The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.
—SB 910 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, which would allow a county quorum court to enact a leash law in a subdivision if it is requested by the residents. The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.