FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, people wait in line for early voting at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga. The sweeping rewrite of Georgia's election rules that was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday, March 25, 2021, represents the first big set of changes since former President Donald Trump's repeated, baseless claims of fraud following his presidential loss to Joe Biden. Georgia’s new, 98-page law makes numerous changes to how elections will be administered, including a new photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File)

After more than five hours of public testimony, largely in opposition, a Texas Senate committee on Friday night advanced a wide-ranging elections bill that would further tighten the state’s already restrictive voting rules and clamp down on local efforts to make it easier to vote.

      Senate Bill 7 — one of Texas Republicans’ priority elections bills — would limit extended early voting hours, prohibit drive-thru voting and allow partisan poll watchers to record voters who receive help filling out their ballots. It would also forbid local election officials from encouraging voters to fill out applications to vote by mail, even if they qualify.

      They also would not be able to proactively send out applications to voters who do not request them — a practice that is commonly used by political parties. Some Texans would also have to provide proof of disability to qualify for mail-in voting under the bill.

      SB 7, which was offered under the banner of “election integrity,” sailed out of the Republican-dominated Senate State Affairs Committee on a party-line vote and now heads to the full Senate. The bill is a significant piece in a broader legislative effort by Texas Republicans this year to enact sweeping changes to elections in the state that would scale up already restrictive election rules.

      In presenting the bill to the committee on Friday, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes described the legislation as an effort to strike a balance between “maintaining fair and honest elections with the opportunity to exercise one’s right to vote.”

      But the bill was met with a chorus of opposition. Advocates for people with disabilities and voting rights tagged the proof of disability requirement as harmful and potentially unlawful. The bill was also widely panned as detrimental to local efforts that would widen access to voting, particularly extended early voting hours and drive-thru voting offered in Harris County in November.

      In written testimony delivered to the committee, the AARP warned the bill would result in “disproportionate and unnecessary risks of disenfranchising older voters in Texas.” The League of Women Voters raised concerns about increased barriers in urban areas home to Black and Hispanic voters and voters with disabilities. And organizations with histories of fighting unlawful voting rules, including the Texas Civil Rights Project, the NAACP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, raised the prospect of litigation if the legislation became law.

      “What this bill does, whether intentionally or not, is in several ways treats voters with disabilities differently than other voters — both in terms of having to prove their disability and not trusting the people that assist them,” said Jeff Miller, a policy specialist with Disability Rights Texas. “And that’s problematic on lots of levels, but fundamentally it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”