April 20, 2014

Mining bill clears committees

Legislation to rewrite Wisconsin mining laws remains on the fast track at the Capitol, despite the protests of Democrats who said the process has lacked information and public input. Republicans on the Assembly committee considering the bill maintain there’s been plenty of opportunity for public input – when previous versions introduced last session are factored in. “We’ve been doing this for two years now, talking mining,” said state Representative Kevin Petersen of Waupaca. “A turtle could have walked this through the legislature quicker. It just goes to show that the people that are against mining are going to be against mining.”

Oshkosh Democrat Gordon Hintz said that was a different bill – and this bill deserves more time. “It’s as if there’s an inverse relationship. The bigger the impact on the state, the shorter the amount of time you should actually discuss it,” said Hintz. “This would be the fastest I’ve ever seen a bill move, yet it’s one of the largest and biggest.” The bill has had one public hearing, held at the Capitol.

The legislation, which GOP leadership and Governor Scott Walker have made a priority, is seen as paving the way for a massive, open-pit iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron Counties. Democrats have claimed the bill was largely written at the behest of the mining firm making the proposal. “It was done mostly behind closed doors,” charged Poplar Democrat, state Senator Bob Jauch. “I’m astounded at how it is that Wisconsin has been sort of forced to deal with a highly controversial issue with so little information, and so little good faith on the part of this company,” said state Representative Fred Clark, a Democrat from Sauk City.

Democrats on the Assembly mining committee attempted to put off action on the bill, and amendments, until next month. “They’re complex amendments, it’s a complex bill,” said Appleton Representative Penny Bernard Schaber. “I want everyone to have input, and I think we’ve made those efforts,” said Republican state Representative Jeff Stone of Greendale. “I think to say that somehow we’ve disregarded that, is not true.”

“There are an awful lot of people who gave up a day’s pay, got up at 2:00 in the morning, and were told “you don’t count,”" said Jauch. “Whether we agree with someone’s point of view or not, they are entitled to have their voice expressed. And they have been shut out of the process.”

The bill passed the Assembly committee on a 10-6 party line vote, with several Republican authored amendments. The Senate measure, on a parallel track in that chamber, passed on a 3-2 vote. The next stop for the measure will be the Joint Committee on Finance.