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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


State transforms Commerce Department, allows development on wetland

The Senate and Assembly passed two bills Wednesday that will transform the Department of Commerce and allow development to proceed despite water regulations on a wetland near Green Bay.

The first bill would replace the DOC with a public-private entity called the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. While the DOC has regulatory authority in addition to economic development, the WEDC would focus solely on job and economic development and would transfer regulatory jobs to other state departments.

Republicans view the bill and the authority it creates as a step forward in fulfilling Gov. Scott Walker’s call for 250,000 new jobs.


“This is an important day for the administration and Legislature and most importantly for the jobs and workers in the state of Wisconsin,” Sen. Mary Lazich,R-New Berlin, said on the floor of the Senate.

Democrats who voted against the measure cited transparency and accountability issues, doubts the bill would actually create jobs, an apparent ability for the WEDC to go into unlimited debt and fears DOC beneficiaries in the past would not receive the same benefits once the authority changes face.

Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, made reference to other states’ failing public-private commerce authorities.

“Florida is firing the head of Enterprise Florida after 15 years, choosing to opt for returning the Department of Commerce instead of the corporation,” Barca said.

The bill passed the Senate and Assembly along bi-partisan lines. The vote total was 21-10 and 59-33, respectively.

The other bill would allow prominent car dealership owner John Bergstrom to bypass a grievances petition from the Wisconsin Wetlands Association opposing his plan to develop a protected wetland near Green Bay.

Walker introduced the bill that Republicans and proponents believe would create jobs and help reform an onerous permit system.

“This bill is not about the developer or a retailer, but about a process fundamentally flawed, unfair to everyone and unworkable moving forward,” said Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukana.

He added the bill would create 300 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs.

Democratic opposition was not only concerned about conservation of the wetland, but also the implication that businesses would be able to use the law to bypass citizens’ right to redress grievances as granted by the Constitution, said Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said if the bill passed no retailer would build on the land because of the bad publicity the project has received.

Hulsey and four other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter last week to the Bass Pro Shops, the business originally planning to build on the wetland. Bass Pro Shops has since pulled out of the project.

After Democrats continued to point out no Republican wanted to be listed as the author of the “bad” bill, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, asked the speaker to become the official author of the bill. The speaker granted his request.

Republicans said the development project would only destroy 1.3 acres of wetland while repairing four acres and planning for wetland conservation education opportunities.

The bill passed the Senate and the Assembly, 20-11 and 56-35 respectively.

The Assembly also heard a third bill that would require new rules and regulations to be reviewed by Walker prior to any legislative procedure. Republicans said the bill would bring accountability to the executive branch because Walker would have to write his name on every rule that he reviewed and approved.

The bill would not give more power to the executive as Democrats attest, but would reduce the amount of burdensome rules state agencies put through the Legislature, according to the bill’s author Rep. Thomas Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst.

Republicans voted against Democrat amendments that would require the governor to complete a review in 30 days to prevent the bill from entering limbo in the gubernatorial office, which is a realistic concern, said Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie.

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