Capitol: Voter ID bill likely to stall; child welfare up next

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February 27th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – The Legislature began debate Monday on a controversial voter ID bill. But senators saved their harshest rhetoric for child welfare issues they’ll debate over the next several days.

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Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont introduced the voter ID bill. If it’s amended as the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee recommends, it would require voters to show either a government-issued photo ID or a county-issued acknowledgement of registration before voting.

Sen. Charlie Janssen has proposed a bill that would require voters to bring identification to the polls. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Supporters say it’s a common sense measure to protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say it will suppress turnout among poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters who are less likely to have a driver’s license, for example. Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege asked Janssen about its practical effect. Carlson said in Holdrege, poll workers are likely to recognize 95 percent of the people voting, and added, “I think that other five percent should have to show their ID.”

Janssen replied “I think all 100 percent should show the ID.” But Carlson said, “That’s a nuisance. That’s the nuisance part of this bill.”

Carlson then turned his questioning to Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, an opponent of the bill. “Sen. Avery, why can’t we put common sense to a law which is meant to serve a good purpose?” Carlson asked.

“Common sense would say if we have a problem, fix it,” Avery said. “We don’t have a problem. There is no fraud. It’s like fool’s gold. It’s shiny, and it glitters, but it’s fool’s gold.”

Janssen predicted he would eventually have to seek a cloture vote, requiring two thirds of the legislature, to cut off an expected filibuster and vote on the bill. Such votes traditionally don’t happen until eight hours of cumulative debate. With only two and a half hours on the clock so far, and lawmakers now scheduled to take up child welfare bills, a vote is not likely to take place this week.

Sen. Steve Lathrop said the privatization of child welfare has been "a miserable, unmitigated failure." (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

On child welfare, senators warmed up their rhetoric in advance of major bills being considered. At issue Monday was a relatively small bill expanding the work of seven child advocacy centers around the state. The expansion is estimated to cost less than $1 million in a child welfare system that has grown from about $105 to $130 million as the state tried to privatize it over the last two years.

After senators expressed concern about the child advocacy centers, Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop spoke up. “We are not going to have this conversation here and do it without spending money,” he said. “This is not a special interest group. It is the kids. It is a duty the state has to the welfare of the children, and we’ve made a complete mess of it. The privatization effort has been a miserable, unmitigated failure.”

The harsh rhetoric wasn’t limited to registered Democrats like Lathrop, who has often clashed with the administration of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, also a Republican, said, “The process was ill conceived, not thought out well, not contracted well, no management oversight, no financial oversight,” he said. “The restoration of where we need to go is going to cost money.”

Carlson, also a Republican, expressed reservations. “The problem is if we have problems, which we do, throwing more money at a problem doesn’t solve the problem.”

Senators voted 41-0 to advance the bill, but the heavy lifting still lies ahead.

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