Yelling "just kidding" to all Texans who believed for once that their state representatives could get along and work together, the Texas House voted Wednesday to repeal a bipartisan bill intended to help elderly and disabled nursing home residents cast votes, which Governor Greg Abbott had already signed in June.
State Representative Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) tacked on this repeal measure to Senate Bill 5, which would enhance penalties for mail-in voter fraud. The House voted 90-37 in favor of SB 5, making it the first piece of legislation to pass both chambers during the special session. The bill, with Goldman's amendment tacked on, will now head back to the Senate — where the measure to help disabled and elderly people in nursing homes vote passed unanimously during the regular session.
Which begs the question: Is the Senate really going to send SB 5 up to Abbott if it also overturns the rare piece of legislation that everyone, for once, agreed was good? Would Abbott repeal a bill he already signed and even cheered?
The nursing home voting bill, House Bill 658, was hailed as a major voting rights victory by both Democrats and Republicans last spring. There was something in it for everyone: While expanding voting to the elderly and disabled by bringing election judges to the nursing homes, the bill also cracked down on voter fraud at those nursing homes, since the election judges would be there to collect absentee ballots in person and oversee the process.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long held that nursing home absentee ballots have been most prone to voter fraud given the elderly are among the most vulnerable adults. So when lawmakers decided to address the problem while also creating an even better solution, Texas Democratic Party Legislative Director Glen Maxey called House Bill 658 "the biggest expansion of voting rights in Texas since we moved to early voting."
On Wednesday, he had a different idea.
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“Texas Republicans have ripped out the only real voter fraud protection that has passed the legislative gauntlet in recent history," Maxey said in a statement. "The bipartisan nursing home legislation would have actually done something to stop voter fraud and simultaneously expand access to the ballot for seniors."
Goldman had told the House floor that he believed this bill was "an oversight that we had missed" when the Legislature passed it this spring, adding it was an "unfunded mandate," as the Texas Tribune reported. Representative Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), who worked on the nursing home legislation, pushed back at Goldman, saying it was "sad that at the end of the day we’re more interested in punishing offenders than we are in preventing a crime."
SB 5, one of Governor Abbott's 20 priorities for the special session, comes on the heels of a mail-in voter fraud scandal in local Dallas elections. Residents had reported receiving mail-in ballots even though they didn't request them. and strangers knocked on their doors saying they were there to collect them, prompting the Dallas County District Attorney's Office to launch an investigation.
With the clock ticking, lawmakers have just one week to work out any differences they may have about the repeal of the nursing home voting bill — plus pass 19 other bills — before sending it up to Abbott.