Lawmakers hoping to usher in a rebirth of iron ore mining in Wisconsin – Monday stepped closer to that goal.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee advanced a mining bill to the full Assembly and Senate.
There was no magical “coming together” of the two distinctly divided parties during the debate at the Capitol.
Democrats came armed with amendments, but no amount of cajoling or chastisement wavered the Republican dominated committee from its course. Each measure culminated with some variation of a 4 to 12 or 12 to 4 vote. The committee is comprised of 12 Republicans and four Democrats.
A final stab for bill modification came down to a battle of words.
Legislative Council explained how a Democratic amendment would differ from the proposed mining bill when it comes to protecting public health. “There are seven criteria that if all of them are met, the department has to issue a ferrous mining permit. One of those criteria is that the proposed mining is reasonably certain not to result in substantial adverse impacts to public health safety or welfare,” according to council.
The final Democratic amendment would have changed the language to read that the proposed mining will not result in substantial adverse impacts to public health, safety or welfare.”
Democratic Assemblyman Cory Mason of Racine implored the committee to assure that public health is as important as guaranteeing a mining company a decision on a permit. “All we’re asking is that the current standard for public health and safety be maintained and not diminished,” Mason said.
Republican Senator Mary Lazich of New Berlin dismissed the change, saying it would drive potential mining companies away from the state. "I would encourage my colleagues not to vote for this because this amendment just guts the whole process; it’s over. There’s no mining when you put such absolutes because these types of absolutes just don’t exist,” Lazich said.
The committee co-chairs issued a statement soon after the Joint Finance vote, stating: “After numerous public hearings and more than 70 hours of testimony and debate, we are pleased to support a bill that will protect the environment and create family sustaining jobs.”
Debate will likely remain lively and heated as the mining bill makes its next stop Wednesday before the GOP dominated Senate.