The Council’s policy work is a full spectrum effort. We work closely with a variety of partners and allies to protect and advance the rights of people with disabilities. Whether urging legislators to establish an equitable personal identification system or working alongside our Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition partners for accessible elections, the Council’s advocacy is a robust, year-round endeavor built on relationships across the state.
The current legislative session is in full swing, and there are several proposals the Council is paying special attention to. These bills are in various stages of consideration in the Assembly and Senate.
Senate Bill 310 / Assembly Bill 306, also known as “Steve’s Law,” speaks to the inequities of systems that require a driver’s license to prove one’s identity or state residency. Under current state law, a driver’s license must be used to prove Wisconsin residency in order to establish an account on the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Go Wild system, the online system for purchasing recreational permits such as hunting and fishing licenses. The system will not accept a State ID as proof of residency. This creates an unfair barrier for anybody who does not drive. Steve’s Law would address this inequity by changing state law to allow the DNR to accept State ID for purposes of proving state residency for their programs.
The bill was named for Steve Johnson, a former member of the Council’s Board of Directors. Until his death in 2019, Steve, who was blind, was an avid fisherman, hunter and outdoorsperson. “Steve believed that anyone who wanted should have access to all the amazing outdoor opportunities Wisconsin has to offer,” said Council Executive Director Denise Jess in her testimony on the bill this fall. “Amending statute by passage of AB 306 would keep Steve’s dream alive,” she says.
While Steve’s Law would open up DNR account registration to folks who do not have a driver’s license, it does not address other places where state statutes discriminate against nondrivers by requiring a license for ID purposes.
“This is a microcosm of a bigger issue,” Denise says. “We need a blanket bill that would clarify that a State ID is equivalent to a driver’s license for identification and residency purposes.”
Another bill making its way through the Legislature is Assembly Bill 121/ Senate Bill 122. This measure would allow Wisconsinites to create what are called ABLE bank accounts. ABLE accounts enable people with disabilities to save money pre-tax for health-related expenses. The money in these accounts is not factored into Medicaid eligibility calculations.
AB 121 also expands age eligibility for these accounts. Currently, the onset of the disability must have taken place before the individual was 26 years old. AB 121 would change that to age 46.
A third proposal to watch is Assembly Bill 408 / Senate Bill 398. This bill creates a nonrefundable income tax credit for the costs of transportation to a place of employment paid by a person who is blind/legally blind. The transportation services eligible for the credit must be provided by mass transit, paratransit, taxi or a transportation network company. The credit is equal to 50 percent of the cost of those transportation services paid during the year, with a maximum credit of $1,500. While this bill addresses just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to transportation equity for people with vision loss, it is a step in the right direction.
The Council encourages readers to watch these bills and to weigh in with their state legislators. To learn who represents you, visit the Wisconsin State Legislature website or call the Legislative Hotline at 800-362-9472.
And keep the Council posted! Please let us know of your advocacy activities and what kind of response you receive. Email us at info@WCBlind.org.
We also encourage you to keep up to date on the bills the Council is active on by signing up to receive our Advocacy Action Alerts.