State Resolutions for Including Poland
in Visa Waiver Program

The crescendo of concluding words had a familiar ring: "WHEREAS, it is appropriate that the Republic of Poland be made eligible for the United States Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program; therefore, be it RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-FIFTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING HEREIN, that we respectfully urge the President of the United States and the Congress of the United States to make the Republic of Poland eligible for the United States Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program; and be it further RESOLVED, that suitable copies of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, the presiding officers of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, all members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, and to Dr. Janusz Reiter, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the United States."

Accordingly, on May 18, 2007, the state Senate of Illinois became the twelfth state to have passed - since May 2004 - Joint and other Resolutions in support of Poland being admitted to the Visa Waiver Program of the United States Department of State. All told, these twelve legislatures represent states where according to the 2000 United States Census 5,449,704 (60.7%) of our nation’s total number of 8,977,444 Polish Americans live and vote:

  Massachusetts, 323,210 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, May 2004)
  New Jersey, 576,473 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, October 2004)
  Vermont, 20,484 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, January 2005)
  Pennsylvania, 824,146 Polish Americans: (Senate, February 2005; House, April, 2005)
  Connecticut, 284,272 Polish Americans: (Senate, May 2005)
  Maine, 24,982 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, May 2005)
  Nebraska, 62,475 Polish Americans: (Unicameral Resolution, June 2005)
  New York, 986,141 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, June 2005)
  Ohio, 433,016 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, June 2005)
  Michigan, 854,844 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, June 2006)
  Arizona, 126,665 Polish Americans: (Joint Resolution, April 2007)
  Illinois, 932,996 Polish American: (Joint Resolution, May 2007)

In Illinois, the Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution (SJR0017) had been filed by Senator J. Bradley Burzynski, its sponsor, on February 8, 2007, and was "referred to committee" - in this case, the Rules Committee - that same day, a standard procedural requirement, where it normally would await a decision, that being, to be "referred out of committee" to the legislature for discussion and vote. Well over a year earlier, Illinois resident Barbara (Matusik) Miller, a National Director of the Polish American Congress and the Treasurer of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America, set up a telephone conference call involving herself, Senator Burzynski, and Dean Anthony J. Bajdek, the National Vice President for American Affairs of the Polish American Congress. During that telephone call, Senator Burzynski agreed to sponsor a Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution in the Illinois legislature.

As of May 2, 2007, the Rules Committee went on to "assign" the legislation to the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. Although it was highly unlikely that Senator Burzynski’s Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution would either "die" or be "lost in Committee", as the old American expression goes, one never knows when it comes to the legislative process and politics. Being referred to committee is a standard legislative procedure. But the committees utilized in state legislatures are, in title at least, not uniform across the United States. So whereas the Rules Committee and State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee reviewed Senator Burzynski’s Resolution in Illinois, in Connecticut a similar Resolution was referred to the Government Administration and Finance Committee, and in Arizona, to the National Security and Property Rights Committee. The objective of a sponsor whose proposed legislation is referred to committee is to have it referred out of committee favorably as soon as possible. In Michigan, Representative Steve Bieda’s Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution of 2005 sat in committee for nearly a year before being referred out of committee and then successfully passed as a Joint Resolution in June 2006. Supporting the on-site efforts by fellow Polish American Congress National Director Jerry Surowiec, Bajdek pressed Bieda not to allow the reviewing committee to condemn the Resolution to "die" or become "lost" in committee. To ignore a proposed piece of legislation so that it dies or is lost in committee is often a strategy employed by unsympathetic legislative power brokers and tangential lobbyists.

As such, there was some brief concern in Illinois about its assignment to State Government and Veterans Affairs, but eight days later, on May 10, that Committee "adopted" Senator Burzynski’s legislation and concurrently placed it on the Calendar Order of the Secretary’s Desk Resolutions. In yet another eight days, the Illinois state Senate "adopted" (i.e., passed) the Resolution and sent it on to the House of Representatives. Four days later, the Senate added as Chief Co-Sponsor, Senator Dan Kotowski. Burzynski, a Republican, and Kotowski, a Democrat, are the only two Polish-surnamed members of the Illinois state Senate. Of critical importance, Senator Kotowski was a member of the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Several weeks earlier in our nation’s southwest, the state Senate of Arizona completed passage of that legislature’s final phase of its own Visa Waiver for Poland Joint Resolution on April 2, a process that began when the House of Representatives initially passed the Joint Resolution at the beginning of March. Legislative credit for full passage of the Joint Resolution in Arizona belongs to state Representative John Kavanagh. Representative Kavanagh is devoid of Polish ancestry but he took on the role of sponsor at the request of Mr. Bogumil Horchem, President of the Arizona Division of the Polish American Congress. Earlier in October 2006 at the National Directors’ Meeting of the Polish American Congress that took place in San Diego, California, Horchem answered an appeal made by Bajdek for volunteers to work on Visa Waiver for Poland Resolutions in states having Divisions of the Polish American Congress yet to pass such Resolutions. Beginning in May 2004, Bajdek has orchestrated the national campaign in state legislatures for passage of Visa Waiver for Poland Resolutions.

With regard to Arizona, Bajdek and Horchem concluded that the best approach was to collect signatures on petitions and then present them to the most likely supporters, namely, two Polish-surnamed legislators, Representatives Bill Konopnicki and Tom Prezelski. However, to his amazement and disappointment, Horchem and his delegation of some twenty fellow-Polish Americans found Konopnicki and Prezelski unsupportive during a face-to-face meeting in the state capital, despite the fact that Horchem had presented for their consideration over 1000 signatures that he and his associates had collected on petitions urging the state legislature to adopt and pass a Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution.

Luckily for Horchem and Polonia, what attracted a sponsor for the Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution was the fact that both Horchem and Representative John Kavanagh were members of the Knights of Columbus in the same parish. Another irony, therefore, was that after being turned down by the two Polish American state legislators, Horchem found a champion in his own parish, and the champion was an Irish American.


Somewhat of an irony created by the passage of the Visa Waiver for Poland Joint Resolution in Arizona’s state legislature occurred after the fact of Republican Presidential candidate John McCain’s failure to vote in the United States Senate a few weeks earlier for the passage of Bill S.4 that contained the Voinovich/Collins amendments providing for the admission of Poland to the Visa Waiver Program. The Senate voted 60 to 38 in favor of passage. McCain’s colleague from Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl, voted against S.4, further adding to the irony.

Though most of the Senators who voted against S.4 were Republicans, ten Republicans nonetheless voted in favor of S.4; they were Senators Coleman (Minnesota), Collins (Maine), Dole (North Carolina), Inouye (Hawaii), Murkowski (Alaska), Smith (Oregon), Snowe (Maine), Specter (Pennsylvania), Stevens (Alaska), and Voinovich (Ohio). Worthy of note was the fact that some two years earlier in 2005 the state legislatures of Maine and Ohio passed Resolutions supporting Poland’s admission to the Visa Waiver Program.

The United States House of Representatives is considering passage of its own version of a similar Bill, H.R. 1. Though similar, but not a duplicate, the House Bill will require considerable review, discussion, and modification by those members of both federal legislative branches who support Poland and other nations being admitted to the Visa Waiver Program. Shortly after the Easter recess, both the Senate and the House of Representatives were expected to appoint some of their members to a Conference Committee whose objective will be to explore possible agreement on expansion of the Visa Waiver Program as well as other measures concerning immigration and national security in the House Bill.

In Texas at about the same time, Dr. Marian Kruzel, President of the Texas Division of the Polish American Congress, had been and continues to follow up on his volunteering to Bajdek in San Diego in October 2006 to bring Texas into the list of states passing Visa Waiver for Poland Resolutions. Though he tried on several occasions to enlist the support of Senator Kyle Janek in the state legislature, his efforts - that include collecting signatures on petitions -- were not successful. However, upon approaching his district Representative in the House of Representatives, Hubert Vo, Dr. Kruzel attracted an initial sympathetic response. Representative Vo is a Vietnamese American. On his part, despite the fact that he decided not to seek re-election, Dr. Kruzel expressed determination to pursue the matter of a Visa Waiver for Poland Resolution to a successful conclusion in the state legislature of Texas.

Sad to say, it has become evident to Bajdek -- a retired Associate Dean and Senior Lecturer in History of Northeastern University in Boston, MA -- in his national quest that some American politicians of Polish descent who become elected officials at the state level do not necessarily support legislative initiatives of interest to Polish Americans and of benefit to Poland as the preceding in Arizona illustrates. In Maryland’s state legislature, further, Representative Carolyn Krysiak is yet another example of a disinterested Polish American. In New Hampshire’s state legislature, Representatives William Butynski, Carolyn Gargasz, and Angeline Kopka are added examples. Rhode Island State Senators V. Susan Sosnowski and William A. Walaska are yet further examples. Yet, we Americans enjoy living in a democracy wherein every individual is entitled to his or her opinion, politicians included. This is precisely the reason why concerned Polish American voters in all states must not be shy about educating their elected officials in state legislatures on matters of interest to Polish Americans and of benefit to Poland.

 
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