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Senate Vote Sends Controversial Mining & Hunting Bills to Gov. Walker's Desk

Elvis Kennedy, flickr
Deer hunting in Wisconsin's Nicolet National Forest.

Wisconsin's Senate took up key pieces of legislation Tuesday. Two of the most controversial bills are now headed for Gov. Walker's signature.One bill eases sulfide mining regulations, and the other opens up hunting to kids of any age.

The Republican-controlled Senate also passed a bill that loosens wetland restoration requirements for public utilities. And, in a rare bipartisan moment, the Senate unanimously passed a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp.

Mining Bill

But there was zero harmony when it came time to vote on the bill that eases requirements for mining sulfides -- elements such as copper and zinc.

Senator Jon Erpenbach tried his hand at striking a bipartisan chord. The Democrat from Middleton reminded colleagues of a bill approved 20 years ago that the new sulfide bill would replace.

That 1997 statute is often called the “prove it first” law, because it mandates that companies prove they won't cause environmental damage, before setting up a new mine.

“What happened in 1997 was an extremely proud moment for the Wisconsin State Legislature and the governor of the state at the time. You don’t get that strong of a vote on that tough of an issue unless everybody at the time, Democrats and Republicans alike, including Gov Thompson, felt that way. That was historic what happened back in ’97.” Erpenbach added, “Here we are today thinking we know better because the mining companies have told us ‘new technology, don’t worry about it.”

But Erpenbach’s concerns, and those raised by a string of Democratic senators, were met with silence from Republicans. Sen. Tom Tiffany lead the effort to change the law. He believes the bill will preserve core environmental protections, while creating much-needed jobs in northern Wisconsin.

Hunting Bill

The bill eliminating the minimum age requirement for hunters caused consternation among Democrats.

Current law allows only "one firearm, bow or crossbow can be possessed jointly between the hunter and the mentor"; this bill eliminates that limit.

Republican Senator Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls urged Democrats to approve the measure. “What would be wrong with allowing a 5, 8, 9 year old to hunt with a mentor under supervision. This bill simply allows Wisconsin to align our law with 34 other states, including all of our neighbors around us. This bill passed the Assembly in bipartisan fashion and I would hope that we could do the same here,."

The Assembly vote was 57 to 32.

Several Democratic senators queued up to speak out against the proposal. Dave Hansen of Green Bay says his concern was shaped by the fatal shooting of a young boy back in 2005.

“A 12-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed I believe a 14-year-old cousin boy while deer hunting in Marinette County. The 12-year-old was not familiar with the shotgun he was using and apparently thought the safety was on.” He added, “At that time, I promised that family that I would never support any deer hunting below the age of 12 because of this incident that took this 14-year-old’s life.”

The Senate approved the bill to remove the minimum age requirement on a vote of 19 to 14.

Both bills now make their way to Gov. Walker’s office.

The Senate meeting audio was provided courtesy of WisconsinEye.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>