Proposed mining legislation faces a crucial test at the Capitol today. The bill, which would streamline the permitting process for a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, is set to go before the state Senate for a vote.
Supporters of the proposal are hoping to avoid a repeat of last session, where a similar bill fell one vote short of final passage after a Republican lawmaker sided with Democrats. Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in the chamber this session, although uncertainty still remains about whether the votes are present to pass the measure.
State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the sponsor of the current legislation, says he’s expecting a lively and lengthy debate. While he would not say if Republicans have the votes needed this time, he says he’s optimistic about the chances of being able to pass the bill.
AUDIO: Sen. Tom Tiffany (:09)
Democrats are expected to offer several amendments to the bill, which they argue weakens key environmental protections and limits the ability of the public to challenge mining projects. Tiffany says current water and air quality standards remain in place though, and supporters have made multiple changes to address opponents’ concerns. He says it’s “time to call the vote.”
If the Senate approves the bill, it would head to the Assembly for a final vote. Governor Scott Walker has indicated that passing the legislation is a key priority in the spring session.