Assembly Bill (AB) 589 would restructure the current system for licensing sign language interpreters to create qualification levels and allow more interpreters to gain employment faster while providing consumer protections.

Authored by State Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), Representatives Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), and Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin), AB 589 recently received a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy.

“The deaf community has sent a message. They feel that their voice has been silenced. We can’t let that happen,” said Senator Testin. “This bill will help more interpreters enter the job market while ensuring that only the most qualified interpreters are working in high risk medical or legal situations. Moreover, it enables members of the deaf community to better communicate any questions or concerns that they have with practitioners. It’s a win for interpreters and the communities that count on them to be their voice.”

The Bill will also create the Sign Language Interpreter’s Examining Board in order to periodically identify if updates are needed. More than 50 supporters of the bill from across the state traveled to the Capitol to testify in favor of the bill including a group of 17 UW-Milwaukee Interpreter Training students directly affected by it.

“Current Wisconsin law and licensure regulations have created a perfect storm for our deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing neighbors: A serious shortage of experienced interpreters at the same time that rookie interpreters just out of school are allowed to interpret complex medical procedures, psychiatric appointments and legal court proceedings. AB 589 will raise the quality and standard of services by appropriately placing an interpreter in environments best suited to his or her skill level,” said Representative Brostoff. “This is simply about accountability, accessibility, and getting people back to work.”

More Wisconsinites sent written testimony ahead of the hearing and 32 registered in support. Three hundred people were tuned in online.

“Nobody knows and understands the needs of the community better than consumers themselves, said Representative Skowronski. “That is why working to draft this legislation with organizations such as Wisconsin Association of the Deaf and Wisconsin Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf was so key. I am proud to be an author of this legislation.”

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