RICHMOND (AP) -- A bill requiring voters to bring photo identification with them to the polls will become law next year in Virginia.
Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the election bill that his fellow Republicans said was a safeguard against voter fraud. Democrats bitterly denounced the legislation as a Jim Crow-era tactic to suppress the votes of the elderly, minorities and the underprivileged.
The legislation provides for a free valid ID with the bearer's photo to any registered voter who lacks one.
"To ensure that citizens are not denied their ability to cast a ballot because of this change, the governor is simultaneously issuing an executive order directing the State Board of Elections to implement a plan to inform the public about this change in voting laws and to assist them in obtaining appropriate photo identification prior to the 2014 elections when this measure becomes effective," said spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
ProgressVA executive director Anna Scholl condemned the move.
"It is simply outrageous that conservative politicians are throwing up new barriers to the ballot box when the Commonwealth already has voter ID law that was passed just last year and with a $2 million price tag. Our elections should be free, fair, and accessible.
In other action, McDonnell added exceptions to a bill that would ban the use of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft with exceptions for search-and-rescue operations. He's also reducing fines for a new law that would ban texting while driving.
Advocates applaud the new law saying Virginia joins 35 other states with primary laws against the behavior.
"We hope Virginians who engage in the dangerous practice of texting and driving are already starting to change their behavior,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia and spokesperson for the Virginia Coalition for Distraction Free Driving.
McDonnell also offered 52 amendments to the state's budget. They include changes to address constitutional concerns about whether a commission to oversee Medicaid expansion complies with the state constitution.
He also lowered the hybrid car car tax in his transportation package from $100 to $64. Beth Kemler, the state director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the problem wasn't the money.
"People who are doing their part to reduce oil consumption reward all of us with cleaner air and less climate pollution -- but now Virginia will turn around and punish hybrid car owners. Just like many companies offer health incentives for quitting smoking, Virginia should reward, not punish, people who drive the cleanest, most fuel-efficient cars," she said.