Legislative Session Ends with Some Wins and a Strong Foundation for Future Progress

Legislative Session Ends with Some Wins and a Strong Foundation for Future Progress

State lawmakers are leaving Madison for the year as the 2023-24 legislative session comes to an end. The Council worked diligently over the past year to advocate for bills that would positively impact the lives of people with vision loss and other disabilities across the state, and against bills that could have caused harm. Through our work with legislators, state agencies and other policymakers, the Council and its allies scored a few wins and laid a strong foundation for future progress.

One of the Council’s biggest wins this session was the passage of 2023 Wisconsin Act 114, also known as “Steve’s Law” in tribute to Steve Johnson, an avid outdoorsperson and former member of the Council’s Board of Directors.

Under the former law, the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) online Go Wild system required a driver’s license to prove Wisconsin residency. Those without a driver’s license were unable to register an account online to purchase things like fishing and hunting permits through the system. Steve’s Law allows people to use a State ID to prove their state residency as well, enabling nondrivers to access the Go Wild System. Steve’s Law was signed into law by Governor Evers in March.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, there is still more work to be done.

“I see the bill as a good victory, but it only fixes one tiny part of the problem,” Council Executive Director Denise Jess says. “It lays the foundation for us to say that there is precedent here, now let’s rewrite statutes so that there is no prohibition on digital ID transmission.”

Denise says that she is reaching out to the authors of Steve’s Law to have them introduce a blanket bill allowing State IDs to be used as proof of residency in all situations next session.

Another important bill passed this session was Senate Bill 668 / Assembly Bill 617, now Wisconsin Act 267, which allows ABLE savings accounts—already available in most other states—to be set up in Wisconsin. ABLE accounts help people with disabilities ages 45 and under save money on health-related expenses.

This bill will particularly help low-income people. Thirty percent of older adults with vision impairment in Wisconsin have annual incomes below $20,000. While the ABLE accounts are only available to those ages 45 and under, they will help people save money when spending on care providers, new equipment, and other things to help with their care or quality of life. Governor Tony Evers signed the bill into law in April.

Other bills passed this session that will help people with disabilities are Senate Bill 398, now Wisconsin Act 142, which provides a tax credit to blind workers for transportation costs to and from work; and Senate Bill 728, now Wisconsin Act 189, which exempts service animals from the dog license tax.

Some victories this session include bills that didn’t become law. One such bill was Assembly Bill 572, which would have required staff at residential care facilities to notify residents’ families Special Voting Deputies conducted in-person absentee voting in the facility. This change would have violated voters’ privacy, so the Council was pleased when Governor Evers vetoed it.

“Every eligible Wisconsinite should be able to cast their ballot without fear of interference or intimidation, including aging and older adults,” Governor Evers said in his veto statement. “I cannot support legislation that could enable voter intimidation and interference while depriving eligible aging and older Wisconsinites casting their ballot of the dignity, privacy, and independence afforded to every other eligible Wisconsin voter.”

While good progress was made in the 2023-24 legislative session, some helpful bills were left on the table. One of them was Assembly Bill 904, which would make all State of Wisconsin websites fully accessible. While some state websites, such as those of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Department of Transportation, have made major strides towards accessibility, others, including the State Legislature’s, are still inaccessible.

The bill’s authors worked closely with the Council to develop the language of the bill, which had a public hearing but was not voted out of committee.

Every Wisconsin resident deserves full access to state government information, and websites that are not designed for access technology, like screen readers and captioning, or are designed with inadequate color contrast, create barriers for people with low vision. Denise is reaching out to the bill’s authors to bring that bill back next year.

“The Department of Administration (DOA) is very supportive of it,” Denise says. “We’ve worked with the DOA since 2020 on website accessibility. They have a high interest in it, and they’ve dedicated a lot of resources to it. This administration really favors it, but I wanted it in state law in case we have a change in administration. That’s why bringing it back next session and getting it into state statute is so important.”

Another bill that didn’t make it to the floor of the Legislature would have mandated that drivers come to a full stop when pedestrians cross the road, instead of just yielding. While Wisconsin does have a White Cane Law, this bill would extend those protections to all pedestrians.

This bill was introduced in the final days of the legislative session, too late for action to be taken on it. The Council thanks the authors of the bill for their work and looks forward to learning more about their intentions for the bill next session.

As we celebrate the session’s wins, we continue to plan for the hard work ahead. That includes working to protect and grow state funding for public transportation, paratransit and specialized transportation, along with promoting the rest of the Council’s funding priorities as we enter another state budget cycle. You can find more information about our budget and legislative priorities on the Advocacy page of our website.

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