A U.S. Senate panel will hold a hearing in January on voting reform laws that Democrats say will suppress voter turnout.

The hearing, which will take place on January 27th, just four days before the state’s presidential primary, will be conducted by the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Rights, chaired by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Florida’s senior Senator, Bill Nelson, requested the hearing to review laws that he and fellow Democrats say were designed to restrict black, Hispanic and young voters.

According to the Florida political blog Saint Petersblog:

In October, Nelson asked for a congressional probe of controversial voting restrictions in Florida and other states. So far this year 14 states have implemented cut backs on voting either with legislation or via executive order. Nelson was informed late last week by the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), that the first field hearing on the cut backs would be held in Tampa.

Hillsborough County is one of five Florida counties where changes to state voting laws must be cleared by the Justice Department because of past racial conditions that could have undermined voting rights. And, Nelson said, “The community has many diverse groups of voters that might be affected the most under Florida’s new law, like seniors, young voters and minorities. One recent and credible study says new laws like Florida’s could suppress millions of votes nationwide in the 2012 election.”

Since its passage earlier this year, the law in Florida already has resulted in the nonpartisan Florida League of Women Voters abandoning its voter registration drive after 72 years. And two high school teachers have run afoul of the law after trying to preregister some of their students.

Among other changes, the law reduces the time for early voting in Florida from 14 days to eight and requires voters who want to give a new county address at the polls to use a type of ballot less likely to be counted. Seniors like early voting and college students change their addresses frequently. The law also requires those who sign up new voters to first register with the state and then submit all voter applications within 48 hours. It subjects people like the schoolteachers to hefty fines even for inadvertent mistakes.

There are numerous critics of the law, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP and the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza. They contend Florida’s new law and similar measures in a number of other states are designed to suppress the votes of people who tend to vote against the GOP – most notably seniors, young voters and minorities.

In a post on Nelson’s Senate website, Durbin is quoted from a letter he wrote to Nelson, saying: “in a democracy as vibrant as ours, there is perhaps no right that is so sacred or fundamental than the right to vote. I am deeply troubled by the disenfranchising impact of these recently passed state voting laws.”