State Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, an African-American lawmaker from Baltimore, says a bill filed under his name that many of his fellow Democrats say would suppress the black vote, wasn't his.
Oaks, a former delegate who is the Senate's newest member, said the bill to require a government-issued photo identification card to vote was apparently listed with his name as sponsor because of a mistake by the Department of Legislative Services. He said he would withdraw the bill. General Assembly records confirm that it was withdrawn March 1.
The legislation was sponsored in the House of Delegates by Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Washington County Republican.
Oaks' listed sponsorship of the Senate version stood out as an anomaly — much as a Western Maryland lawmaker filing a bill to ban bear-hunting would be.
Civil rights groups oppose bills that would require identification to vote because, they contend, many low-income voters can't afford or don't have access to government-issued IDs, such as driver's licenses.
Oaks asked a reporter Monday why any black legislator would sponsor such a bill.
The new senator said a bill was also mistakenly filed under his name to raise the salary of the state's attorney for Anne Arundel County, a bill that would normally be filed by the county delegation or one of its members. Oaks said that bill was also withdrawn.
Oaks said he believed the mix-up was related to his transition from the House to the Senate in mid-session.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the botched bill filing was not Oaks' fault. Miller, a Senate member since 1975, said he could not recall a bill having been filed under the wrong senator's name in the time he's been there.
The voting bill, similar to legislation passed in some Republican-dominated states but stymied in the courts, stands little chance of passage in Democrat-dominated Maryland General Assembly. But Oaks said he received a call about the bill from the ACLU after the Seventh State blog reported his apparent sponsorship.
A veteran lawmaker, Oaks was recently chosen to replace former Sen. Lisa Gladden after she retired for health reasons.
Warren Deschenaux, executive director of the legislative services department, blamed the misfiled bill on a "clerical error." He said each bill has a ppublic number -- in this case Senate Bill 1133 -- and an internally used number. In this case, Deschenaux said, they got mixed up during Oaks' transition from the Senate to the House.
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"We were certainly embarrassed by the whole incident," Deschenaux said.
Parrott said he was happy when he saw Oaks' name on the bill, which has since been killed in a House committee.
"I thought he had seen the light," Parrott said. He said there actually was no Senate sponsor.
Parrott said he proposed the measure because "people need to have confidence in the election process."
"Right now people don't have that confidence," he added. Parrott said the objection that the requirement would suppress black votes "couldn't be farther from the truth."