The Assembly Natural Resources Committee has approved a bill which puts authority to name a DNR secretary back in the hands of the Natural Resources Board. During Wednesday’s committee session, committee chair, Madison Democrat Spencer Black, said he didn’t want any side issues to distract from the focus of the bill. “We can hear a lot of discussion . . . about different things people would like to do, separate than this bill, but the question is the bill before us,” Black said. “One of the jobs of a legislator is to not be diverted by side issues or red herrings.”
Black ruled an amendment offered by La Crosse area Republican Mike Huebsch, to split the DNR into two agencies, was not germane. “I won’t disagree with the chairman that we probably shouldn’t take that up today,” said Republican Representative Scott Gunderson of Waterford. “But that is an issue that this legislature, and quite frankly this state, has to really start taking a hard look at.”
The panel rejected four other amendments offered by Huebsch, including one which would have required that at least two members of he Natural Resources Board have hunting and fishing credentials, and that a third member have an agricultural background. Mequon Republican Jim Ott withheld his support for the bill because of the failure to adopt the amendment. “I think simply handing them the ability to chose a DNR secretary, without having some assurances that the people on the board are actually going to have the same interests that I do, as far as hunting and fishing is concerned, I don’t know that necessarily improves the situation,” said Ott. The amendment was similar in scope to a separate bill authored by Republican Representative Daniel LeMahieu, and committee chair Black said he intends to schedule a public hearing and a vote on that legislation.
Representative Huebsch compared the debate over the DNR to the national debate over health care reform. “Individuals can take a look at a problem, see the same facts, recognize the same conclusions – that things are not right – and yet come up with different solutions. I think that’s what is happening here today,” said Huebsch. “We all recognize that there are problems at the DNR.”
Republicans Lee Nerison and Jeffrey Mursau voted with Democrats as the committee passed the bill on a 10-to-6 vote. The legislation is now available to be taken up by the full Assembly.
Governor Tommy Thompson removed the authority to appoint DNR secretaries from the Natural Resources Board and made the post a cabinet level appointment named by the governor.