Two Democratic legislators announced they will hold a public listening session regarding the mining bills in northwestern Wisconsin, where those most affected could voice their opinions without needing to go so far from home.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, said Friday they would hold the session in Ashland next month. Jauch indicated this session will not be a partisan event and is intended to help inform local citizens about the two mining proposals that the Legislature is considering.

The bill that Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, authored is viewed by its critics as one similar to the mining bill that failed in the Senate last year. Legislators held a hearing about that bill last week, although some criticized the hearing because it took place in Madison, not northwestern Wisconsin.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, authored an alternative bill that has the support of at least one Republican senator, Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, whose no vote ensured the mining bill’s failure last year.

Jauch and Bewley hope to make information about the issue more accessible to citizens who were unable to attend the public hearing in Madison last week. 

“We’ll have a truly open conversation on legislation,” Jauch said. “It will be fair, first of all, and respectful.”

Jauch spoke on behalf of citizens who attended last week’s hearing, where speakers were allowed two minutes to argue their case. He said he hopes to give citizens deprived of offering their positions an opportunity to express themselves – people who he said are “often forgotten.”

Jauch said they are going to alternate hearing from those who are for and against the both bills in an attempt to make it as fair and balanced as possible.

Along with Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, Jauch voiced dissatisfaction with Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing session in northern Wisconsin. 

“I want to thank Sen. Jauch and Rep. Bewley for organizing and hosting this important listening session regarding mining,” Erpenbach said in a statement released Friday. “Both Bob and Janet recognize the fact that northern Wisconsin will be directly impacted by the proposed legislation, yet no public hearing has been scheduled in northern Wisconsin.” 

All are invited to attend, both Democrat and Republican, Jauch said. He noted a number of legislators have accepted their invitation, noting Schultz, the Republican senator, is among them. Jauch said he hopes to hear more acceptances in the days to come.  

Although Tiffany, who authored the GOP mining bill, declined to comment on the listening session and comments Jauch and Erpenbach made about not wanting to host it in northern Wisconsin, he did remind attendees at Wednesday’s hearing of the extensive attention this bill has received.

“We have had numerous hearings over the past two years,” Tiffany asserted at the hearing last week. “Four hundred and seventy-one people have testified and we have heard 52 hours of testimonies and 8 hearings in regards to this issue. It has been heard across the state of Wisconsin.”

Gogebic Taconite, the mining company present at the Wednesday hearing, said the session marked the fifth public hearing they have testified at and reminded they will continue to remain open and offer assistance throughout the process.