Advocate for Equal Access to the State’s Natural Resources

A hand holding a fishing rod extended out over a lake.

Imagine you are a Wisconsin resident who, like thousands of others every year, wants to go fishing. So you go online to buy a fishing license on the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) web-based system only to find that you’re not eligible to make the purchase because you lack the required form of ID.

Many Wisconsinites don’t have to imagine this scenario. The DNR’s Go Wild system, where you can buy fishing and hunting licenses, register boats and off-road vehicles, and sign up for safety education courses, requires a driver’s license to create an account. The system does not accept state ID cards, which can be used for almost all other official identification purposes. That means the 29 percent of state residents who are nondrivers are out of luck.

“If I wanted to pop up to Devil’s Lake to try my hand at catching walleye, I can’t buy a fishing license online like most people,” the Council’s Executive Director Denise Jess says.

“It’s that simple. I don’t have a driver’s license so I can’t use the Go Wild system.”

It sounds like an easy problem to fix. However, because the driver’s license requirement is written into state law, it can only be addressed through legislative action.

La Crosse area resident Steve Johnson, an active outdoorsman (and former Council board member) living with impaired vision, was troubled by this discriminatory system and started talking about it a few years ago. Steve didn’t live to see the law changed. He died from complications related to diabetes in 2019.

But in June of this year, bills were introduced in both houses of the State Legislature that would add state ID as acceptable proof of residence for purposes of licenses and other services provided by the DNR. The proposal, Assembly Bill 421 and Senate Bill 422, has been nicknamed “Steve’s law” to honor his commitment to the issue. To date, however, the bills have languished in committee and have not yet received a hearing.

What Exactly is “Go Wild?”

The Go Wild system was launched, exclusively online, in March of 2016. The idea was to create an easier way for state residents to access Wisconsin’s natural resources.

Here’s how it works: Once you sign up using your driver’s license, the Go Wild system stores your information, and you can make all your licensing payments online.

If you are stopped by a warden while hunting or snowmobiling, your driver’s license is used as proof-of-licensure. The warden simply scans your license to pull up your entire Go Wild account, eliminating the need for paper licenses.

What Would “Steve’s Law” Do?

Current law says that a person may use a driver’s license to establish residency for approvals issued by the DNR. Steve’s Law simply adjusts the language to include state ID. That’s it.

The problem with Go Wild is just one example of unnecessary obstacles nondrivers, including those living with impaired vision, face. Why does Go Wild require a driver’s license? There is no good reason. It was simply an oversight that occurred because lawmakers forgot to think about access and inclusivity. Unfortunately, that oversight was written into law.

So while the change that Steve’s Law would make is small, the implications are enormous. Equitable access is one of the Council’s core priorities, so when we see instances like this, where bias and assumption leave people with disabilities on the sidelines, we feel obligated to take action.

“All Wisconsinites have the right to equitable access to state services, whether it’s buying a fishing license, signing up for a COVID vaccine or registering to vote,” Jess says. “It’s why civil rights issues like this are a high priority in the Council’s advocacy work.”

Advocate for Steve’s Law

Your elected officials need to know why AB 421 and SB 422 are important. Tell your legislators this is an equal access issue, and every resident has the right to be able to utilize all state services. We also encourage you to contact the chairs of the Assembly Sporting Heritage Committee (Rep. Pronschinske, Rep.Pronschinske@legis.wisconsin.gov) and Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Small Business and Rural Issues (Sen. Stafsholt, Sen.Stafsholt@legis.wisconsin.gov) and ask them to schedule hearings.

Find your elected officials and their contact information on the state legislature website.

You can also reach your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline at 608-266-9960 or 800-362-9472. 

Resources

Learn more about the Go Wild system on the state DNR website.

Find the Assembly and Senate bills to amend the current statute on the Wisconsin State Legislature website.

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