A bill passed the state Senate on Monday, 21-11, requiring all Tennesseans to have a photograph on their driver’s license, regardless of age, by removing a senior-citizen exemption that has existed since the mid-80s.
The bill, SB2267, removes from law the exemption for people 60 and older and requires a photo on all licenses issued or renewed after Jan. 1, 2013.
The proposal saw almost no debate on the floor, with the only vocal opposition coming from Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, who said that he would follow the lead of Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who as governor a couple decades ago vetoed a similar bill because of the perceived inconvenience to senior citizens.
“We should not require our senior citizens to go stand in lines and endure additional hardships, absent some compelling reason,” said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who voted against it. “And no such compelling reason has been given, nor can be given.”
The proposal follows up on the GOP’s push last year to require that all voters present a photo ID at the polls to cast their ballot. Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to repeal that requirement, arguing that not all voters have an ID with their picture on it.
Although the state’s new voter ID requirements were considered controversial, a statewide poll by Middle Tennessee State University found that four out of five Tennesseans are in favor of them, and only 285 voters, out of 620,000, reported having problems casting ballots because of the new law on Super Tuesday.
“I think a photo ID in this world today in 2012 is very important,” Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, the Senate’s transportation committee chairman, said last week. “You have to have photo ID to check into a hotel, photo ID to buy beer at a convenience store. To ship a UPS package you need to have photo ID, so I think it’s important to do that today.
The bill is estimated to cost state taxpayers $10,000 for computer programming to require photos on all licenses. The bill also means an influx of $98,000 in revenue a year from people who will have to pay an extra $2.50 to put a photo on their driver’s license.
According to the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, the bill is necessary to ensure that the state doesn’t have any laws that are in conflict — or, in lawmaker terms, competing.
Last year’s voter ID law could be seen as competing with the current driver’s license exemption for older residents, Sexton told the House Transportation Committee at a March 6 meeting. The purpose of the provision is to make sure all of the state’s laws are in compliance, he said, adding that Tennessee is the only state that has an age exemption for driver’s licenses.
Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, argued the measure was well-intended but unnecessary.
“Why don’t we just let the seniors choose?” Stewart said. “The ones that want to vote, they can go get the license or they can go figure out a number of ways to accomplish that.”
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Finance Subcommittee this week.