Week of May 2-8, 2016

Supreme Court sends Voter ID case back to Fifth Circuit
AUSTIN — Texas’ voter identification law will remain in effect for now, but the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed a lower court to rule on its constitutionality before November’s election.
On April 29 the Supreme Court temporarily upheld a stay granted by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 14. The stay has allowed the Texas law to remain in effect.
Justice Clarence Thomas, acting on behalf of the high court, ordered the New Orleans-based appellate court to decide Veasey v. Abbott by July 20, well in advance of the November 8 General Election. 
The plaintiffs allege the state law’s requirement — that in order to cast a ballot at an election poll a voter must present certain approved photographic identification — places a discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional burden on blacks and Hispanics.
Earlier decisions in lower courts found that the law did violate Section 2 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of certain language minority groups identified elsewhere in the act. Denial of a citizen’s right to vote and intentional dilution of the voting strength of a community of common interest are common tests courts use in determining whether an election law is discriminatory.
The Fifth Circuit set May 24 as the hearing date, the exact date of the state runoff election. Also of concern is that poll workers must be trained in time to oversee and assist voters in accordance with any court decisions come Election Day in November.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton commented after the Supreme Court issued the order: “Texas enacted a common-sense law to provide simple protections to the integrity of our elections and the democratic process in our state. We appreciate the Supreme Court allowing the law to remain in effect at this time and look forward to defending the merits of our case in front of the entire Fifth Circuit next month.”
Cascos reminds voters
Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, the state’s chief elections officer, on April 21 reminded voters that the law does not allow them to cross parties between the primary and the primary runoff election.
“If you voted in a party’s primary or nominating convention, you must stick with that party for any runoff elections,” Cascos said. However, he added, “Eligible Texans who did not vote in the primary or participate in a nominating convention are free to vote in either primary runoff election.”
Early voting in runoff elections will begin May 16 and end on May 20. Election Day is May 24.
Obama grants disaster aid
President Obama on April 25 granted Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 24 request for individual assistance to residents of the flood-stricken counties of Fayette, Grimes, Harris and Parker.
“I would like to thank the president and FEMA for quickly granting Texas’ request for individual assistance following last week’s severe weather,” Abbott said. “The State of Texas will continue to work with our local and federal partners to aid Texans recovering and rebuilding from flood damages and ensure all those affected receive the assistance they need.”
Citizens who reside in the affected counties now may apply for “individual assistance” grants of up to $33,000 and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Alcohol stings are planned
Last month, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission publicized its stepped-up effort to curb underage drinking during the prom and graduation season.
Undercover operations are being focused on TABC's North Texas region and will target premises that sell alcohol for on- and off-premises consumption.
Undercover TABC agents will accompany minor-aged volunteers into selected retail establishments that sell alcoholic beverages. “The minor will attempt to purchase alcohol from the retailer, who could face TABC administrative action if a sale is made. Retailers who sell alcohol to a minor could face TABC administrative action,” the agency stated in a news release.
Motorcycle campaign begins
The Texas Department of Transportation on April 27 promoted its “Share the Road: Look Twice for Motorcycles” campaign and May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.
On average, according to TxDOT, a motorcyclist dies in a crash on Texas roads every day. Motorcyclists are nearly five times more likely than car or truck occupants to be injured in a crash and 26 times more likely to be killed. 
The agency’s safety suggestions to motorists include: 
- Look twice for motorcycles, especially at intersections;
- Use turn signals when changing lanes;
- Check mirrors before changing lanes;
- Don’t follow a motorcycle too closely; and
- Always assume motorcycles are closer than they appear.