Update on Your Voting Rights and Healthcare

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Dear Friend,

The biggest news affecting Texas in recent weeks has come out of Washington, DC. I want to use this week’s Express to provide some new details on the Voter ID case and update you on what the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act means for Texas.

I hope you find this information helpful.



Voter ID Hearing

On July 11th, I testified against Texas’ voter ID law before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, DC. I told it like it is: the voter ID law is just a stealth poll tax. (For press coverage of the hearing, click here, here, here, and here.)

Texas has a long and sad history of making it difficult for people to vote. Elected officials repeatedly used the law to keep people out of the voting booth. Decades later, history rightly judges those men and women in a harsh light.

Because of Texas’ past history of discrimination, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act it must receive “preclearance” from the US Justice Department before enacting any changes to our state’s voting laws. Earlier this year, the DOJ rejected preclearance of Texas’ controversial voter ID law because it failed to protect voters.

Study after study have shown that the so-called voter ID legislation will make it significantly more difficult for potentially over one million eligible Texas voters to exercise their right to vote. Texas’ voter ID law is one of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. The law — opposed by groups ranging from AARP to MALDEF to the NAACP and LULAC — requires voters to show picture identification in order to vote.

Under Texas’ voter ID law, all voters must present one of the following forms of photo identification in order to be eligible to vote:

Driver’s license, election identification certificate, personal identification card, or concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety;
U.S. military identification card containing the person’s photograph;
U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph; or
U.S. passport.

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, all of the forms of identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented at the polling place. And while there is no fee for the election identification certificate – the “free” option for those without another form of SB 14-approved ID – an applicant for an election identification certificate will be required to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate.

Furthermore, none of the DPS offices in Harris County are open on the weekend. Save for an occasional 7 pm closing time, all of them are open from 8 am to 5 pm – when people work. According to testimony and studies, long lines and frustrating waits at DPS, and three or four hour waits aren’t out of the norm. Of course, the voter ID law did not take into account budget cuts, which will further increase the strain on the already over-tasked DPS employees.

According to DPS, approximately 77 counties in Texas currently have no DPS center for voters, forcing Texans into long drives and more time in order to get a mandatory ID. This is a double burden for those with no vehicles or access to public transportation. There are no DPS offices located in most inner-city neighborhoods in Texas. For instance, in Houston, there are no DPS offices located inside of the I-610 loop.

Keep in mind, however, that the voter ID requirements are not currently in effect. The trial in which I testified will help to determine the fate of the election law changes, which currently remain in legal limbo.

The truth is that there are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation. After years of testimony and debate, supporters of Texas’ voter ID law still cannot prove their case that voter impersonation is even a minor problem in Texas. We, unfortunately, have plenty of evidence that it will disenfranchise legal student, elderly, African American and Hispanic voters. The Department of Justice saw that evidence and made the right decision.

Voter ID laws are essentially no different than the poll tax and 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 hope the court will stand up and protect the right to vote for all Texans.

I thank the Justice Department, Senator Wendy Davis, NAACP, AARP, MALDEF, LULAC and all those who have stood against Voter ID and up for voting rights. We should know soon if our efforts to protect the right to vote have succeeded.

Election Day

The primary run-off is now upon us. This Monday marked the first day of early voting, and next Tuesday, July 31st is Election Day. Be sure to cast your ballot and make your voice heard.

For more election information, you can go to http://www.votetexas.gov/. This site can help answer all of your questions about the voting process in Texas.

To request a postage-paid voter registration form from the Texas Secretary of State, just click here.

Want to find an early voting location near you? Click here or call the Harris County Clerk at (713) 755-6411 for more information.

REMEMBER, the stringent voter ID requirement will not be in place for the July runoff elections. If you have your voter registration card or other forms of ID you can vote. So if someone says you must have a photo ID in order to vote, stand your ground and demand your right to vote.

Supreme Court upholds Affordable Care Act

The fundamental question in the health care debate is simple: is access to quality health insurance a right or privilege? I believe everyone has the right to affordable health care, and the contents of one’s wallet should not determine the quality of one’s care.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me, but thankfully the U.S. Supreme Court did the right thing and upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While not perfect, this law is the greatest step toward universal access to affordable health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, and it will help millions of uninsured Americans receive the care they need and deserve.

Many people have and will benefit from the ACA, but what Texas decides to do may well determine the future of health care in this state and whether or not the uninsured and under-insured have real access to affordable care. I am extremely disappointed that Governor Perry said he plans to do nothing to implement key provisions of the ACA that would provide access to health insurance for millions of hard-working Texans. I believe his plan is short-sighted, and fortunately, it is not the final word. Next year, the legislature can take steps to implement health exchanges and expand access to Medicaid, and I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make this happen.

Many popular ACA provisions are already in effect, and Texans are benefiting. Health plans must now spend 80 to 85 percent of every premium dollar on health care, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, young adults can be covered under their parent’s plan until 26, and tax credits are available to small businesses to help cover premium costs. More than 120 of Texas’ largest employers have received over $445 million in federal support to make early retiree health coverage more affordable. In addition, 2.2 million Texas seniors in Medicare received preventive services or check-ups with no co-pay, and Texans saved $135 million on prescription drugs as a result of closing the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole.”

Of course, the greatest gains would come in 2014 when approximately two million more uninsured Texans could gain coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, but Texas must opt in to the expansion and the governor and others are refusing to act.

This issue is too important to let politics and rhetoric rule the day. Texas leads the nation in percentage of uninsured, has one of the highest poverty and food insecurity rates, and has vast shortages of doctors, dentists, and nurses. In fact, while Texas already ranks at or near the bottom in nearly every important health care statistic you can name, those in charge chose to cut $10 billion more from our health care budget, underfunded Medicaid by about $4 billion, and made deeper cuts to already-minimal services. Texas has an historic opportunity to finally do something about these dismal numbers, but, instead, some choose to stand in the doorway and say ‘no.’

That is not good enough.

The purpose of the ACA is to extend coverage to the majority of individuals, most notably portions of the most vulnerable populations, that are currently excluded from Medicaid coverage because they do not have children and are not pregnant or disabled.

This Medicaid expansion would provide coverage for low-income adults who are at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,856 per individual or $30,657 for a family of four), are less than 65 years old, and do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid. For these individuals, Medicaid will mean the opportunity to have a primary doctor and continuity in care, thereby reducing their reliance on the expensive care currently provided in emergency rooms. If implemented, Texas will receive a 100 percent match for the first three years, which will gradually reduce to a 90 percent match by 2020.

Even if Texas decides not to run its own exchange, individuals at or above 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) will have the ability to purchase health insurance with subsidies through a federal health exchange or one-stop shop for health insurance, ensuring these populations will have access to quality, affordable health insurance. Unfortunately for most individuals below 100 percent FPL who are not currently covered by Medicaid there is no safeguard, so we must do the right thing and enact laws to protect these Texans.

Critics of the ACA constantly say ‘Texas knows how to take care of Texans better than Washington.’ Well, it is time to prove it. Instead of just saying ‘no,’ let’s see a plan to provide more Texans with insurance. No more politics — let’s see a plan that actually helps Texans.

Here are some good links on how the ACA works, what it will mean for Texas, and how you can get covered. Also, if you want to tell the Governor to expand access to health care in Texas, click here.

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