(WORT) Republican lawmakers in the state of Wisconsin have been drumming up support for a bill that restricts the ability of local governments to issue their own photo identification cards.
The bill states that IDs issued by cities and villages cannot be used to vote or access public benefits, and it forbids counties and towns from funding or issuing their own photo IDs altogether.
The bill’s author, Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), says the measure will help prevent voter fraud and abuse of state programs such as food stamps. But he says the main purpose of the bill is simply to save money and clarify the law at a time when local ID initiatives are proliferating.
“If the city or village wants to issue those cards, that’s fine,” he says. “The county level is where we’re saying they can’t issue them…. From a taxpayer perspective, it’s a redundant service. The state already issues ID cards following state requirements as well as federal requirements.”
Representative Sanfelippo and Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) began circulating their proposal late last year in response to a joint city-county initiative in Milwaukee that was approved with widespread support in November.
That initiative allocates county funding to create city IDs, supporters of which include a broad range of immigrant, homeless, runaway youth, and LGBTQ rights advocacy groups. They say that the county-subsidized municipal IDs would help residents without other forms of identification access basic services, from filling prescriptions to opening a bank account.
Supporters of the Milwaukee initiative have emphasized that the ID is not intended to be a valid form of voter identification.
Sanfelippo says his bill merely codifies this into law.
But Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group which worked with Milwaukee officials to develop the city ID proposal, called Sanfelippo’s bill “shameless political posturing” that “takes away a basic human right of some of the most vulnerable among us.”
Neumann-Ortiz says the need for local IDs began to be felt more acutely after Wisconsin started to comply with the federal “Real ID” law, which tightened requirements for obtaining a state driver’s license.
“We have a member whose son-in-law broke his back during work and then was unable to get pain medication after surgery because he didn’t have a current government-issued ID,” she says. “And so a city ID would respond to that.”
Although Madison and Dane County are not currently pursuing local IDs, County Executive Joe Parisi says he’s been hearing from people whose lives have been complicated by the Real ID law too.
“One of the challenges now for people who are undocumented is that they can’t obtain a valid Wisconsin driver’s license.” He adds, “I think it would be very helpful if locally we were able to issue something like that.”
Neumann-Ortiz says the coalition behind Milwaukee’s municipal ID proposal hopes to make those cards available to residents in late 2016.
Representative Sanfelippo is hoping his bill which would block county funding for such action will receive a public hearing in a few weeks and be passed into law during the spring session.