State lawmakers moved one step closer to overhauling mining regulations after Senate and Assembly committees approved an amended and controversial mining bill Wednesday.
The Senate and Assembly Committees on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue met in sessions to address their bills, and the Assembly committee debated amendments three legislators made to the bill before bringing it to a vote.
Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, introduced 13 amendments to the contested mining bill at a press conference Monday. The amendments changed language regarding environmental regulations and created more certainty in the permitting process.
Wednesday’s executive session votes on these amendments saw controversy, with some Democrats seeking an adjournment until March and claiming the legislation is being pushed through the Legislature too quickly.
“This is the most sweeping legislation considered in this session, other than the state budget,” Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo said. “For an issue this important, we can’t afford to not get this right.”
Republicans, however, have adamantly argued it is time to start creating jobs in the state and assert the topic has been discussed for too long. Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said compromise between parties is necessary to keep the process going. He said the process has been extensive and open, and without taking a risk, Wisconsin may lose out on the benefit of thousands of jobs.
In the Senate committee, Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, emphasized the importance of coming up with a process that will both work and protect the public interest. He said an alternative bill drafted by Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, was an exemplary product of input from all sides. Throughout the Senate session, Cullen’s bill drew comparison to the Republican-supported bill under debate.
An amendment outlining a memorandum between the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers saw contention in both the Senate and Assembly committees. It would require the DNR to work with the Corps of Engineers on a timeline for approving a permit request.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, referenced a letter the Corps of Engineers sent to Cullen, claiming the agency had not been consulted with this language and stating federal clean water standards will not be compromised by a memorandum.
Rep. Kevin Peterson, R-Waupaca, said the emphasis placed on state and federal environmental agency compromise shows how the bill strengthens environmental protections. Peterson said not many states work with the Corps of Engineers.
The amendment passed to the dismay of many Democrat Assembly committee members. Most of the other amendments passed with a 10-6 vote in the Assembly committee with the Republican majority.
Republicans in the committees continued to stress the importance of compromising and finding a common ground and chided Democrats for objecting to ideas without presenting new solutions. The main argument in both the Senate and Assembly revolved around whether the amendments would make a true change to the bill or prove meaningless.
“This is a political bill, not a jobs bill,” Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said, claiming the language does little to remedy the underlying issues.
The Senate bill passed on a 3-2 party line vote and the Assembly bill passed on a vote of 10-6 in their respective committees with a Republican majority. Both bills will now move on to the Joint Committee on Finance and then to the Senate and Assembly floors.