Gov. Jim Doyle approved measures March 10 requiring individuals to prove legal residency before obtaining drivers' licenses and also increasing Milwaukee's school-choice cap by 50 percent.
The Democratic governor's approval of the two controversial bills prompted accolades from most Republican lawmakers but alarmed many Democrats, who cite the measures as fundamentally flawed.
Real ID bill
Assembly Bill 69 — which mandates Wisconsin's Division of Motor Vehicles to validate legal residency before issuing drivers' licenses — is part of the federal Real ID Act, a nationwide effort to combat terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"By tightening our requirements, Wisconsin will no longer be one of the weak points where terrorists can obtain an ID," AB 69 author Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, said in a release. "An ID is power. It gives you many privileges in our country, from opening a bank account and renting a car to boarding a plane."
Under the federal law, an identification card or driver's license approved by Real ID Act standards is required to enter a federal building or board an airplane.
The Real ID Act orders states to reform their licensing laws to comply with the federal standard by May 2008 under penalty of state residents being barred from boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings.
As Democrats charge the measure will promote racial profiling and discrimination, Doyle maintains the federal mandate left him with no other choice.
"The state Department of Transportation advised the governor that if he didn't sign this bill, our citizens wouldn't be able to use their drivers' licenses to get on commercial airlines," Doyle's spokesperson, Dan Leistikow, said. "But he does have concerns about the bill."
Such concerns include the danger of unlicensed drivers and their effects on roadway safety, as well as the tremendous cost the new law poses to the state to initiate the necessary licensing reforms.
But, according to Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, the measure's most frightening concern is its effect on the state's undocumented workers who do not threaten homeland security.
"I think it's a shame that the excuse of homeland security is being used in this regard when the real impact is going to be on the poorest in society who do the hardest work," Black said.
Black was one of 35 representatives to vote against AB 69 when the Assembly considered it last year. The Senate approved the measure last month in a largely partisan 26 to 7 vote.
Doyle acknowledged the worries of the measure's opponents and added that the federal government failed to think through all the challenges presented by the Real ID Act.
"People of race have a lot of concerns about this bill, but at the end of the day, the governor is facing a federal mandate and had no other realistic option," Leistikow said.
Doyle also signed legislation increasing the cap on Milwaukee's school-choice program from 15,000 to 22,500 students.
"This is a balanced package that not only increases the cap but brings real accountability to the choice system," Leistikow said, adding the initiative includes provisions to require voucher schools to undergo standardized testing and other accountability measures.
The measure, Leistikow added, also increases funding to the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program to help reduce class sizes.
"The governor has been fighting for three years to get funding for smaller classrooms. The only reason that the Republican Legislature approved it is because of this package," he said. "[Doyle] has to deal with the realities of a Republican Legislature, and this is a very good deal for kids."
While cap-increase supporters cite the measure as a way to offer quality private-school educations to thousands of low-income children, opponents argue it will unfairly disadvantage Milwaukee Public School students.
According to Kris Collett, communications specialist for the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, the cap increase will create a huge strain on the MPS budget.
"[The cap increase] is just not good for kids," she said. "I don't see how this can make sense to anyone."
Collett added the measure will not only negatively affect Milwaukee's children, but also its property-tax payers.
Rep. Pedro Colón, D-Milwaukee, agreed, calling the cap increase "a double whammy for Milwaukee."
According to Colón, voucher students will not be counted in MPS' funding formula, severely straining the district's budget. Secondly, Colón added, the measure will force MPS to go to the city's taxpayers to make up for the lost funds.
"It will kill property owners in Milwaukee," he said. "And the unfortunate part is that they know it. Everybody knows it's bad for Milwaukee, and they just went ahead and did it."
Leistikow maintained, however, that Doyle remains committed to taxpaying citizens and will work to address the funding concerns in the next biennial budget.
Despite the governor's promises, traditional Doyle supporters continue to voice their disappointment.
"We feel that Doyle has served in the interest of public education in the past, but we feel that this is not one of the times that he has done this," Collett said.
Colón added the measure might work against the governor by fueling discontent among his Democratic allies.
"I'm sure he had his own reasons to do it, but it doesn't bode well when you're taxing Milwaukee taxpayers — which, by the way, are the biggest group of Democratic taxpayers in the state," he said.
The measure, called Senate Bill 618, was the product of a controversial agreement between the governor and Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, and was pushed through both the Senate and Assembly in largely party-line votes.