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Voter ID bills die in Mississippi Legislature

Some Mississippi Republican senators on Tuesday helped kill a proposal to make voters show identification at the polls, one of their party’s top issues for the 2009 legislative session.

Sen. Merle Flowers of Hernando said he wants every voter to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID, but he said a House bill had provisions that he and some of his Republican colleagues found unacceptable, including allowing people to start voting 15 days before an election.

Under current law, Mississippi voters may cast absentee ballots, but only for specific reasons such as knowing that they’ll be out of town on election day.

“Allowing 15 days (to vote) is 14 more days to cheat than we have now,” Flowers said.

Several states, including neighboring Arkansas, allow early voting.

The Mississippi House debated for several hours last month before passing a bill that included voter ID and early voting. That bill died in the Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday under a technical move led by Flowers — one that appeared to surprise the Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Terry Burton of Newton.

“I think we missed a golden opportunity to have a compromise bill between the House and the Senate, for the first time in all the years this issue has come up,” Burton said. “I know a lot of people are tired of hearing the debate every year.”

Republicans and some conservative Democrats have been saying for about a decade that Mississippi needs to require voter ID to protect the integrity of elections.

Opponents say there’s been little proof that people are trying to vote under others’ names. They also say an ID requirement could be used to intimidate older black voters who were subject to Jim Crow laws decades ago.

A separate voter ID bill passed the Senate last month and died this week in the House Elections Committee, when the chairman, Democratic Rep. Tommy Reynolds of Charleston, didn’t bring it up for consideration. Reynolds’ decision to ignore the Senate bill was not a surprise to most Capitol insiders.

Reynolds said in an interview Tuesday that every House member had a chance to express an opinion during earlier debate and he thinks “it’s a real tragedy that all that work went for nothing.”

“I think there are some folks who don’t want an agreement,” Reynolds said, taking a jab at Republicans. “They want an issue.”

Tuesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to consider bills that had passed the other chamber.

At this point, legislators could revive voter ID only by having a two-thirds vote in both chambers. That’s unlikely to happen — but the issue won’t disappear from Mississippi political discussion.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has said repeatedly that he wants voters to show photo identification. After the two bills died Tuesday, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said: “The governor is interested in a voter ID bill, but we’ll just see what happens next.”

After word spread that Flowers had helped kill a voter ID bill, Democratic Rep. George Flaggs of Vicksburg stopped Flowers on the Capitol’s central stairway and thanked him for killing a bill many Democrats opposed.

“It’s always good to see people doing your work for you,” Flaggs teased Flowers, within earshot of reporters.

The bills are House Bill 1533 and Senate Bill 2548.

Here’s a glance at the status of some other bills in the Mississippi Legislature. Tuesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to act on general bills that had already passed the other chamber. There is a later deadline for budget and revenue bills.

ALIVE

MEDICAID — House Bill 105 would keep the Division of Medicaid in operation. In its current form, the bill would require some Medicaid offices to stay open longer hours to make it easier for recipients to do their annual in-person re-enrollment.

SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY — Senate Bill 2628 and House Bill 1142 have similar provisions that would make it easier to fire superintendents and school board members, both appointed and elected. It also would allow any employee in a district that’s been taken over by the state to be fired. All employees would still receive due process, said State Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds, who is promoting the measure.

CHARTER SCHOOLS — House Bill 1142 includes provisions to create more charter schools — public schools that operate free of some state regulations.

TEENS TANNING — House Bill 214 would require people 18 or younger to get permission from a parent or guardian to use a tanning bed.

DEAD

SEX EDUCATION — House Bill 234 would allow the state to establish a sex education program in two public school districts.

HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION — Senate Bill 2300 would increase the homestead exemption from $75,000 to $100,000 for people who are over 65 or totally disabled.

STATE JET — House Bill 1065 would’ve authorize the state to sell an eight-seat Cessna Citation jet, often used by Gov. Haley Barbour and other officials.

EMBRYOS — House Bill 561 would authorize people to adopt embryos, either frozen or not.

UTILITY REGULATION — House Bill 1090 would’ve given the three elected public service commissioners oversight of the public utilities staff, which was made a separate entity nearly two decades ago.

FEES — House Bill 1338 would’ve increased the fees charged by the state for driver’s licenses, motor vehicle titles and other services. Sex offenders also would pay higher fees for their mandated registration with the state.

STATE ADVERTISING — House Bill 1296 would’ve set regulations for state agencies to meet for advertising in newspapers, on Web sites or on TV or radio.