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Mining Likely to Dominate Early Wis. Legislative Session Days

Posted at: 01/07/2013 9:23 PM
Updated at: 01/14/2013 10:34 PM
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

Wisconsin's legislative session begins, overhauling state mining regulations is the top priority for Republicans. Party leaders said Monday that it will be the very first bill they introduce.

Those Republicans expect a vote in March, and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he wants the bill to pass with bipartisan support.

Those words on a mining bill came before 28 new lawmakers were sworn in Monday afternoon. Of those 28 lawmakers, 13 are Republicans and 15 are Democrats. Like in the last two years, the GOP controls the Senate and Assembly.

On the first day back, both parties said a session filled with cooperation is a top goal.

Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly Minority Leader, said "we want true bipartisanship and that means truly working together on ideas."

Speaker Vos said "hopefully, if at all possible, we want to find bipartisan cooperation in as many areas as possible."

But Democrats question whether it will continue past the first portion of the session. Sen. Chris Larson, the Minority Leader, said "it'll be good to see if the actions follow that but we're willing to give them [Republicans] the chance and we're ready to work with them."

The bill to streamline mining requirements that will likely dominate the early days of the session comes on the heels of a failed bill in the last session. It prompted company Gogebic Taconite to drop their plans for a mine in the Penokee Range of Ashland and Iron Counties. That was news that came as a surprise to community members.

In March of 2012, a Mellen resident told Eyewitness News, "I saw that and I was like 'woah, you have got to be kidding me.'"

Prior to the announcement, Governor Scott Walker had said the mine would bring more than 2,000 jobs to the Northern Wisconsin community over the long term. 

Also last year, Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, argued the bill didn't adequately protect the environment - an issue Speaker Vos addressed ahead of being sworn in Monday.

"We'll put together the ideas from Republicans, Democrats and the public so a bill passes that protects the environment and also does it in a way that gets the jobs here," Speaker Vos said.

Even if the bill does pass, there is no telling whether GTAC will express interest in Northern Wisconsin again. But Walker has said that he is confident they will.

During party leadership news conferences Monday afternoon, Speaker Vos also said he won't allow a bill making Wisconsin a Right-to-Work state come up for a vote. Right-to-Work legislation limiting union power became law in neighboring Michigan in December, despite protests.