Even as the feds move to block South Carolina from requiring voters to show a photo ID, a handful of other states are set to ring in 2012 with new laws mandating that voters produce picture identification cards before they are permitted to cast ballots.
Beginning on Jan. 1, new laws will take effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas requiring residents present a certified government-issued ID if they want to vote, according to a list of new 2012 laws compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which co-authored an extensive report earlier this month detailing 25 voter restriction measures that passed in 2011 – eight of which were photo ID laws – say the measures represent a coordinated conservative effort to repress the voting rights of minority groups.
“Many surprises came out of the 2008 elections, including record turnout, registration and participation,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP’s Washington bureau director, who called the number of voter laws that passed last year “unprecedented.”
“If you look at who is most heavily targeted through voter suppression through these tactics, you see they are progressive voters who happen to be African-American and poor,” he said.
Last week, the Department of Justice agreed and rejected South Carolina’s effort to require photo ID’s.
“…(T)he state’s data demonstrate that non-white voters are both signficantly burdened by [the photo ID requirement] in absolute terms, and also disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification among the forms of identification that would be necessary for in-person voting under the proposed law,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote in a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
As a jurisdiction with a history of discrimination in voting, South Carolina is required to submit changes in voting procedures to the Justice Department or a court for clearance under the Voting Rights Act before such changes can take effect. It remains unclear whether the department act against other states with voter ID laws.
The new photo ID requirements are among dozens of new laws taking effect next week, including those affecting civil unions, alcohol and drug policy, human trafficking, impaired driving and military and veterans.
A handful of states passed laws in 2011 restricting texting and the use of cell phones while driving. In Nevada, for instance, drivers will be prohibited from texting and using handheld phone devices while driving, while in North Dakota, drivers under the age of 18 will be barred from using cell phones in their cars and all drivers will be banned from texting, according to the NCSL.
In California, a new taking effect Jan. 1 requires that school districts ban students suspected of having suffered a concussion or head injury from participating in sports, and can only allow them to return after receiving a health evaluation and written clearance.
Sports-related concussions made headlines this year when contact sports like football and hockey caused fatalities among student athletes and a group of former professional football players filed a lawsuit against the National football League for failing to protect them from head injuries.
On the West Coast, the possession and sale of shark fins will be prohibited in Oregon and California, where restaurants may 0nly sell the delicacy bought before Jan. 1 until Jan. 1, 2013. While the ban has pleased environmentalists, opponents have said shark fin soup is an important part of Chinese cuisine and culture.
Meanwhile in the South, new laws in Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia will require businesses there to enroll in the federal E-Verify program and prove employees’ eligibility to work in the country by confirming their immigration status.
Several transportation-related laws are also set to go into effect across the country, according to the NCSL. In Minnesota, drivers will be asked to contribute $2 to a donor awareness campaign when applying for a driver’s license or state ID card, while in Oregon, the state’s Transportation Department has been directed to construct a roadside memorial sign for police officers killed on duty. And in California, the number of years children must stay in booster seats until they are 8-years-old – a two-year increase from the previous rule – or until they are four feet nine inches tall.