Undocumented workers in Wisconsin would be able to obtain drivers’ licenses under a bill proposed by Rep. Garey Bies (R – Sister Bay) and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D – Milwaukee). The two legislators held a press conference at the state Capital on Feb. 19 to introduce the bill.
Nine other states and the District of Columbia have already passed bills to issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented workers.
“For me, coming from my law enforcement background, there’s a real safety issue,” Bies told the Pulse. “I acknowledge, and I think everybody else does, we have a lot of undocumented people in the state of Wisconsin. And I think most people acknowledge a lot of those people are a part of our driving public, so my interest is if you’re going to be out there, let’s make sure they are qualified, give them a document that shows they are qualified. That then allows them to get insurance. It will be safer for anyone who uses our public roadways. You’d like to have some assurance that the guy coming down the road at you has proven that he has the ability and skill to be there.”
The bill also notes that those applying for the license should not worry that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will be immediately mobilized to deport them.
“My position on that, that’s a federal issue,” Bies said. “The state doesn’t have the time and money to really get into deciding whether someone belongs here or not. The INS isn’t interested in coming up for one or two illegals unless they were involved in some sort of criminal activity.”
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Two bills authored by Bies (R-Sister Bay) received approval Feb. 18 from the state Assembly, while a third passed the state Senate.
The SAFE Act (Stopping Abuse Fatalities through Enforcement) passed on a voice vote and establishes a uniform procedure to ensure that domestic abusers who are prohibited under federal and state law from possessing firearms actually surrender their firearms. The bill is modeled after a successful pilot program in four Wisconsin counties and now moves on to the Senate for further consideration.
“Wisconsin’s statute has been in effect for 20 years and during that time we didn’t have any process in place to verify that domestic abusers relinquish their firearms,” said Bies. “This has left so many women and children in danger. I’m hopeful the procedures established in this bill will provide them with added protections from additional acts of violence. ”
The other bill receiving approval from the state Assembly relates to investigating deaths involving a law enforcement officer. Under the bill, every law enforcement agency is required to have a written policy stating the investigation shall be conducted by at least two investigators, one of whom is the lead investigator and neither of whom is employed by the law enforcement agency that employees the officer involved. This bill is a result of 15 months of meetings with the different law enforcement organizations, district attorneys, law professors, the Department of Justice and families of the deceased.
“Law enforcement officers should have peace of mind that all questions were answered leaving no cloud of suspicion,” explained Bies. “The family of the deceased should have the assurance the investigation was complete and accurate. And the public should have confidence that the investigation was handled properly and without bias.”
Also passing in the state Senate was Assembly Bill 107, introduced at the request of Sharon Grutzmacher, executive director of the Peninsula Music Festival. The bill relates to a non-resident entertainer tax, the threshold for which hasn’t been changed since the law was enacted in 1987.
“If you came to our great state and performed or played sports and you made $3,200 or more in the calendar year, you had to have six percent of your payment withheld, or you had to place a six percent surety bond with the state,” Grutzmacher said. “At the end of the year it appeared on your W-2 or 10-99, and you had to file taxes in the state of Wisconsin to see if you could get it back. The amount of $3,200 as a cap has never changed even though inflation and everything else has. This dinged 80 percent of my orchestra.”
At a meeting of the Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance last February, Grutzmacher brought up the non-resident entertainer tax to Bies.
“So Garey and I talked, and he introduced the legislation with co-signers that would increase the cap to $7,000, and would no longer include travel expenses,” Grutzmacher said.
She said the new cap will mean a huge reduction of accounting and paperwork for her organization and many other arts organizations around the state, as well as at the Department of Revenue, which was in full support of the bill.
“For once it’s actually a paperwork reduction act for the government,” Grutzmacher said. “It means that, basically, 80 percent of my orchestra just got a six percent raise. The best thing, it really, really helps the small organizations that were getting hit by an inordinate amount of paperwork. I was very, very excited about this because it’s huge for the Peninsula Music Festival and it’s huge for a lot of small arts organizations in Wisconsin. I have heard from quite a few other organizations, the Association of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestras, of course, has been watching this closely. Arts Wisconsin has been watching it closely. I’m sure that there will be dancing in the street and ticker tape parades…they’ll still get their money from the football and baseball teams.”
Grutzmacher was unable to testify when Bies introduced the bill on Aug. 6 of last year because it was opening night of the 61st season of the Peninsula Music Festival, but she is hoping to be there when Gov. Walker signs the bill into law.
“I would like to be there. I’m actually pretty proud of this one,” she said. “Next I’ll try and take on the sales tax on ticket sales. I think we’re only one of five states in the country that charges taxes on nonprofit admissions. That’s another one that’s a beast. That one may be a little harder.”