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An aerial view of the Wisconsin state Capitol building.

Eighty-one percent of Wisconsinites want to see some form of common sense gun legislation. Fifty-one percent support marijuana legalization, and 83% support medical marijuana. There is widespread public support for changes to health care, environmental issues and campaign finance reform. How many of these bills have been passed? How many have gotten a vote? How many have even gotten a public committee hearing?

Twenty-four states have a mechanism that allows their respective citizens to have a direct impact on the laws that govern them. I want to make Wisconsin the 25th. With what we saw in the chambers of our Legislature last week, it is clear that the system of representative government no longer represents the people of Wisconsin. I want the people to have the ability to make the choices that the Legislature lacks the spine to make. I want the people to have a direct line to democracy, bypassing special interest groups like the NRA who have outsize influence over certain legislators. I want to put the people back in democracy, back into a system that has been horribly gerrymandered and distorted. I want the people to get their voice back.

That’s why I am introducing the Wisconsin Direct Voting on Initiatives for Citizen Empowerment Amendment — the Direct VOICE Amendment, for short. Here’s what it does: any citizen can draft a bill and register it with the Secretary of State. Then, that person can collect signatures — likely somewhere around 130,000 (the threshold will be pegged to 5% of the total number of votes in the last election for Secretary of State, for the fellow policy wonks out there). If that number of signatures is collected and certified, the bill then goes on the ballot for the next election. If a majority votes in favor of it during that election, it then goes to the Legislature. Your representatives and governor will have one session to consider and take action on the bill. If they pass and sign the bill, it becomes a law right then and there. If it does not pass, is vetoed or is ignored by the Legislature, it goes back onto the ballot in the next general election to be voted on by the people once again — and this time, the representatives who chose not to enact it are on the ballot right next to it. If the bill gets a majority vote a second time, it becomes law.

This process sounds much more complicated than it is. In reality, it can be simplified to (1) signatures, (2) majority vote, and either (3) legislative approval or (3) second majority vote. If you can do those three things, you’ve got a law — and the majority party cannot ignore an issue that is contrary to the beliefs of its corporate sponsors.

I have had some people ask me why the amendment is so complicated. Why not just have signatures and a vote and be done with it? That is how it’s done in some other states. But the answer to that is twofold. First, the people deserve to know where their representatives stand on an issue that is important enough to get a majority of Wisconsinites to vote for it. Second, we want to ensure that our representative system of government is not trampled by this amendment. We understand the concerns of our citizens outside of population centers. Our system exists to ensure that all voices can be heard, and to cool passions that can be inflamed in the heat of the moment. The way this amendment is structured ensures that it still is subject to the procedural checks and safeguards that are already enshrined in our constitution. But it is clear that the system is not accurately and fairly representing all people, and this amendment works to help cure that.

The recent special session (or lack thereof) is a perfect example of why we need the Direct VOICE amendment. Our constitution gives the governor the power to direct the legislature to consider bills that he deems necessary for the good of the state. Instead of having an open, honest debate about gun safety, the Republican leadership used procedural trickery to end the session in less than a minute. The core demand of representative democracy is to vigorously debate competing ideas, then vote on them. I know many, if not most, of my Republican colleagues have ideological issues with gun safety laws — but I do not know what they are, because they will not debate them on the floor. It’s a fundamental undermining of the American system of government, and the time has come to change that system — if the legislature won’t debate a bill, the people can do so directly.

The goal of this amendment is simple: give the people of Wisconsin a direct voice in their government. This bill will not replace the Legislature, nor will it weaken our representative form of government, nor will it infringe on anyone’s individual rights. All it will do is to give the people an opportunity to have their voice heard in government — because as we saw last week, that voice is being drowned out.

Rep. David Crowley represents the 17th Assembly District in the city of Milwaukee.

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