House seeks to soften voter ID bill as Tillis addresses concerns about GOP agenda

jfrank@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2012 

NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis


Republican lawmakers are renewing a push for a compromise measure that would require voters to show identification at the polls, conceding that voiding a veto of a tougher bill is unlikely.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said he is intent on overriding more of Gov. Bev Perdue’s vetoes before adjourning at the end of the month. But he recently acknowledged the one hill too big to climb may be the voter ID legislation vetoed by Perdue that would require voters to show a driver’s license at the polls. A veto override requires a three-fifths majority, meaning a handful of Democrats would need to side with the Republican majority.

The compromise measure being negotiated would allow voters to show a broad range of documents to prove identity, including bank statements, utility bills or any government documents with name and address. Voters without such documents would be required to show that their signature matched their voter registration form.

“Unless something changes ... we may not have the votes to get the true, hard-line bill that we had hoped to pass,” Rep. David Lewis, the House election committee chairman, said at a legislative briefing for Republican activists last weekend.

Tillis said the compromise is near certain: “I’d give it high odds that you are going to see a voter ID (bill) pass. If it gets vetoed the veto will get overridden.”

But Democrats who first suggested the softer approach say it’s unnecessary because fraud cases are relatively few compared to the number of voters. Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat negotiating with Republicans, said current laws that already require a signature to affirm identity “are more than sufficient.”

“It’s not a situation where we have a crisis,” he added.

At the GOP convention, Tillis told activists that more veto overrides were coming, ignoring a challenge in a pending lawsuit that suggests the House waited too long to consider the vetoes, given that Perdue rejected the bills last year.

“I expect there will be one or two others we will override,” Tillis said.

One override target is Senate bill 709, a measure that advances offshore energy drilling and establishes the framework for natural gas exploration through a controversial practice known as fracking. Tillis said he expects Republicans can void Perdue’s June 2011 veto, after working the bill for months.

At the same time, Tillis faced tough questions from activists who want the legislature to take a more conservative stance on issues. One asked why the House approved a measure to expand gambling on Cherokee tribal lands, saying it was “inconsistent” with GOP beliefs.

Even though a majority of Republicans voted against it, Tillis defended the vote to allow Las Vegas-style live dealers at the Cherokee casinos. “It’s the tough choices we have to make,” he said.

Tillis avoided taking a stance in opposition to Agenda 21, a nonbinding United Nations doctrine advocating sustainability and “smart growth” policies. Tea party backers want lawmakers to ban state and local governments from implementing any policies aligned with Agenda 21. The speaker said he didn’t know enough to comment.

As for a push to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax, Tillis said supporters need to wait until next year when the Republican leadership, if re-elected, plans a complete overhaul of the state’s tax code. “We’d like to simplify it by eliminating it,” Tillis said to applause.

Tillis explained to critics that Republicans need to reach out to conservative Democrats and independents to keep power. “When we make certain policy decisions, understand that’s what we’re working in,” he said.

Staff writer Rob Christensen contributed to this report.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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