State Views: In 2014, let's focus on positive reforms, strong voter participation
MADISON -- As the state Legislature gears up for the final few months of its session, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has a few priorities we hope lawmakers will address, beginning with bills that have already been introduced.
A promising bipartisan proposal (SB 259) would empower Fox Cities communities to make transit decisions regionally, rather than in piecemeal fashion, through a Regional Transit Authority. Voters in each local municipality would decide whether to authorize a small sales tax to provide stable transit funding. This would have a huge economic impact by helping people travel seamlessly from one community to another for jobs, education, shopping, appointments and events.
The bipartisan “second chance bill” (AB 387 and SB 308) would return nonviolent, 17-year-old, first-time offenders to the juvenile justice system. A law passed in the mid-1990s moved this age group into the adult system. Recent science has shown that the judgment centers of the brain take longer to develop than previously thought, and the juvenile system provides more appropriate services and opportunities for a young person's restitution and behavioral change. The offender, the family and the community will all benefit from a lower rate of recidivism.
Every qualified citizen should have fair chance to exercise the fundamental right to vote. In 2014 it is high time to update our electoral systems to provide permanent and portable statewide voter registration. While an online registration bill (AB 225) passed the Assembly last year, the proposal is tied to measures that would double campaign contribution limits, benefiting the moneyed interests that seek to influence our elections. The bad far outweighs the good on that proposal, and it should be rejected. We need a clean online registration bill.
Voters should have a reasonable choice of candidates on the ballot, which won't be possible as long as politicians are allowed to draw district maps. Proposals (SB 163 and AB 185) have been introduced to adopt a plan similar to that in Iowa, where a nonpartisan agency has drafted district maps for legislative approval for decades. These proposals deserve a well-noticed public hearing this month.
The league will be watching closely if Gov. Walker's suggestion of eliminating the income tax is introduced as legislation. The league has long supported an income tax based on ability to pay as the fairest way to finance most essential government services.
A strong democracy requires active and informed participation in government. Rather than passing laws that unfairly make voting more difficult for certain groups of citizens, the Legislature should work to make voting more accessible and to encourage turnout. Citizen participation continues between elections, too, and this requires an open government that welcomes public input.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters will be working to register voters and educate citizens about the candidates in the 2014 spring and fall elections. We invite people to join the league and help us work for a responsive government and a high voter turnout in 2014.
Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, 612 W Main St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703; phone 608-256-0827. The league is a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. Wisconsin has 17 local leagues.