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OPINION: State Capital Highlights: Ruling prevents state from enforcing voter ID law

AUSTIN — An Oct. 9 ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos of Corpus Christi prevents the state from enforcing the voter identification law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 as Senate Bill 14.

In the case, Marc Veasey et al. v. Rick Perry et al., Ramos ruled the law was enacted with a discriminatory purpose and an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans. Ramos said the law places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote that is, in effect, a poll tax. “Plaintiffs,” she wrote, “have thus demonstrated that every form of SB 14-qualified ID available to the general public is issued at a cost.”

Supporters of the law said the law, which requires each voter to present an official photo ID card, is needed to combat voter impersonation fraud, to build public confidence in election results, and to increase participation in elections.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who fought against the passage of SB 14 and testified in the district court proceedings, commented: “As the court ruled, the voter ID law is essentially a modern day poll tax and has the same effect as other laws used in decades past to keep scores of lawful, legal Americans from voting. It was wrong then, it is wrong now, and I’m pleased the court stood up to protect the right to vote for all Texans.”

Ramos further ordered, “Any remedial enactment by the Texas Legislature, as well as any remedial changes by Texas’s administrative agencies, must come to the Court for approval.”

Lauren Bean of the Office of the Texas Attorney General on Oct. 9 said, “The State of Texas will immediately appeal and will urge the Fifth Circuit (Court of Appeals in New Orleans) to resolve this matter quickly to avoid voter confusion in the upcoming election. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional so we are confident the Texas law will be upheld on appeal.”

Election day is Nov. 4, with early voting to be conducted Oct. 21-31. The last day for Texans to register to vote was Oct. 6.

Texas prepares for Ebola

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first individual diagnosed with Ebola virus in the United States, died in the isolation unit of a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8. And now, a hospital worker who had contact with Duncan has been diagnosed with the disease.

According to the Department of State Health Services, Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear, which can occur two to 21 days after exposure. Early symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain and weakness.

Gov. Rick Perry on Oct. 6 announced the creation of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, to “assess and enhance the state’s existing capabilities to prepare for and respond to pandemic disease, such as the Ebola virus.” He publicized a list of state agency heads, medical researchers and other prominent people to serve on the task force. The task force is to issue its first report by Dec. 1 and a second report by Feb. 1, 2015.

Perry, who called on the federal government to increase screening efforts at all points of entry to help prevent the disease from entering the country, toured the Galveston National Laboratory at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston on Oct. 7. One of two national biocontainment laboratories in the U.S., the facility’s personnel study infectious diseases such as Ebola. There also are 13 regional biocontainment laboratories in the U.S.

Perry visited Fort Hood on Oct. 9 to encourage a brigade of soldiers being deployed to Liberia to build Ebola treatment units.

Sales tax revenue increases

State Comptroller Susan Combs on Oct. 8 announced state sales tax revenue in September was $2.17 billion, up 7.9 percent compared to September 2013.

“Significant growth in sales tax revenues occurred across all major economic sectors, reflecting strength in both business and consumer spending. The gains were led by remittances from the oil and natural gas-related and manufacturing sectors, as well as from restaurants and retail trade,” she explained.

Combs said cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts will receive October local sales tax allocations totaling $621.7 million, up 7.2 percent compared to October 2013.

Holiday arrest total comes in

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers made 1,175 driving-while-intoxicated arrests during a special enforcement period from Aug. 15 through Sept. 2, which included the Labor Day holiday.

The enforcement effort, abetted by a Texas Department of Transportation grant, also resulted in 18,615 speeding citations, 2,840 seat belt/child safety seat citations, 838 fugitive arrests and 665 felony arrests, DPS Executive Director Steven McCraw said.

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