The Wisconsin branch of the NAACP recently blasted two state bills which they said will negatively affect minorities, calling the bills “threats” designed by Republicans to spur their absent Democratic colleagues to action on a larger issue.
The state senate’s Democrats in late February left the state for Illinois in protest over a proposal by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his conservative allies to strip state employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. The Senate 14 Democrats left to prevent a vote on the Union Bill measure, as the 19 Republicans cannot vote on spending bills without at least 20 total senators present.
However, Senate Republicans can vote on non-spending bills, and attempted to take action on two: one would repeal a law passed in January that requires law enforcement officers collect data on the race of drivers during traffic stops to help determine if racial profiling is occurring (Racial Profiling Bill), and another would require individuals to present photo ID before they vote (Voter ID Bill).
Senate Republican lawmakers on Feb. 23 voted to pass the Racial Profiling Bill. The measure must still pass the state Assembly and be signed into law by Walker.
A day later, on Feb. 24, the Senate stopped just short of also approving the Voter ID Bill, unable to move forward without their Democratic colleagues due to a fiscal component of the bill. Under the proposal because voters would be reimbursed by the state for the cost of obtaining an ID, a 20-senator minimum is needed for a vote.
Advocates of the measure said they believed that removing that component would in effect create an illegal poll tax, requiring voters to incur a cost to them in order to be allowed to vote, and virtually ensuring the law would be struck down in court.
The state’s NAACP called action on both bills a political ploy to get the state’s Democrats to either return to vote on the union bill or risk allowing restrictive policies to pass.
“These two issues—Racial Profiling Bill and Voter ID Bill—have significant impact in minority communities. Senate Republicans should not pass these measures in haste. These issues deserve full debate by both parties,” Thomas White, president of the Wisconsin State NAACP Conference, said in a statement. “It is just plain wrong for Senate Republicans to use threats of destroying minority rights as political leverage to entice Senate Democrats back to Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin State Bar also opposed the passage of the Racial Profiling Bill. State Bar President James C. Boll Jr. said the existing law is essential for the public’s confidence in the state’s justice system.
“For the public to have trust and confidence in the justice system, it must believe that all persons are treated equally,” Boll told committee members in a memo. “The State Bar supports the collection and analysis of data with regard to racial and ethnic profiling. Further, upon the empirical evidence of such practices, we support mandates to end such practices as well as funding for training of law enforcement to address such practices.”
The state Assembly nevertheless passed the Union bill in the early morning hours Feb. 25 in a 51-to-17 vote, but that bill remains mired in an impasse with the Senate.
The statehouse drama, now entering its third week, has drawn national attention at a key moment in state-level budget cutting.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said the organization is “profoundly concerned and deeply disappointed” by the collective bargaining rights roll-back measure. “We cannot cut our way out of the recession, living wage job creation increases our tax revenues and consumer dollars which are the policies that will grow our economy, strengthen our families and communities and ultimately reduce our deficit,” he said Feb. 26 in a statement.