-By Larry Sandler
October 3, 2011- Reacting to a new state law that requires photo identification for voting, some state and local officials are pushing to waive the $20 fee for copies of Milwaukee County birth certificates.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted the voter ID law, which says voters must show one of several approved forms of photo identification – such as a driver's license – at the polls, starting next year. For those who don't have a driver's license, lawmakers provided for the state Division of Motor Vehicles to waive fees for state ID cards at a voter's request.
But applicants still need copies of their birth certificates to obtain either driver's licenses or state ID cards. And state law sets fees of $20 for the first copy and $3 for subsequent copies.
That's $60 for a family with one voting-age child "to exercise the constitutional right of voting," state Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) told a Milwaukee Common Council committee Monday. "That just seems like it's a poll tax."
Coggs has introduced legislation to waive the $20 fee for Milwaukee County residents who state in writing that they need copies of their birth certificates to obtain identification to vote.
The council's Judiciary & Legislation Committee unanimously recommended the full council endorse Coggs' legislation. It acted at the urging of Ald. Milele Coggs, who is related to Spencer Coggs and two of his Assembly co-sponsors, Reps. Elizabeth Coggs and Leon Young, both Milwaukee Democrats.
In July, the County Board adopted a similar resolution, sponsored by Supervisor Nikiya Harris.
At the same time, Mayor Tom Barrett is seeking grants to cover the cost of providing free or reduced-cost copies of birth certificates. Barrett raised the issue as part of his 2012 city budget.
During the original voter ID debate, the measure's Republican backers argued photo identification would help prevent voter fraud. Democrats said the legislation would do little to fight fraud, but would make voting more difficult for minorities who largely vote Democratic. The Democrats' position reverberates through the birth certificate fee debate as well.
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) failed in an attempt to include a statewide fee waiver in the voter ID law. Spencer Coggs said the fee should be waived in Milwaukee County because the law would disproportionately affect county residents.
More than 80% of Wisconsin residents have driver's licenses, but in the county, 47% of African-American adults and 43% of Hispanic adults don't have licenses, Spencer Coggs said. Statewide, 1 million adults have neither driver's licenses nor state ID cards, including 23% of elderly residents, he said, citing statistics from the state's Legislative Reference Bureau.
Wisconsin natives can obtain copies of their birth certificates from the state Department of Health Services or the register of deeds in the county where they were born. People born in Milwaukee or West Allis also can obtain copies from those cities' health departments.