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Issues in legislature will affect farmers

Dec. 23, 2013 | 0 comments


Issues facing Wisconsin farmers in the legislative arena in the coming year include not only a federal farm bill, but also many state issues as well.

Leaders of Wisconsin's farm groups say a bill on "Implements of Husbandry" is expected to be introduced soon.

Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the draft of the bill he has seen "is a good first draft."

The issue of farm implements — their weight, size, height and lighting — related to safety on state highways and town roads has become an issue since police started handing out citations for manure spreaders. Town officials have discussed the damage to roads as a big issue.

When those citations started going out, Ben Brancel, Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection facilitated the creation of an Implements of Husbandry study group with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

There were more than 20 stakeholders from farm groups, law enforcement, equipment companies and local municipalities who worked on a set of recommendations that were then taken out to a series of well-attended town meetings around the state.

The study group's final recommendations were presented to the Legislature — to view them go to www.dot.wisconsin.gov/business/ag/index.htm.

Two lawmakers, Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) and Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) are the lead authors on a bill to implement some of the changes recommended by the study group.

Lobbyists expect that the legislation will make changes to the legal per-axle weight for implements of husbandry as well as width and safety issues like lighting.

Paul Zimmerman, the top lobbyist at Wisconsin Farm Bureau, said there has been broad public comment on the study group's recommendations and he expects that will continue through the legislative process.

"It's a complex issue and there are things related to lighting and safety," he added.

Another issue that will emerge in the coming year at the capitol is access to water for farmers.

High-cap wells

Senate Bill 302, authored by Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) was introduced in September and has now gone through the Senate's Natural Resources Committee, which recommended its passage on a 3-2 vote.

Zimmerman said the bill was a reaction to the Lake Beulah decision in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In that case the Wisconsin Supreme Court found unanimously, in July 2011, that the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to consider effects of wells on other waters of the state, including lakes, streams and rivers.

The Lake Beulah vs. DNR case questioned whether the agency had the authority to consider the impact that pumped groundwater has on other bodies of water. The case related specifically to a high-capacity municipal well in the Village of East Troy.

Those who brought the case argued that the DNR should have considered the effect of the well on Lake Beulah. High capacity wells are defined as those designed to pump 100,000 gallons of water a day.

The Senate bill is aimed at restoring regulatory certainty over the high-cap well permitting process, which has been in turmoil since the Lake Beulah ruling.

In a recent meeting with farm reporters Gov. Scott Walker noted that the permitting process for these high-cap wells has a backlog of 350 permits at DNR. He said personnel may need to be redirected at the agency to clear this logjam.

One of the things that SB 302 would do is put into law the idea that wells can be transferred with property without triggering a state requirement for a new well approval. The bill would also create more certainty for reviews that are needed in order to repair or replace a well that has failed.

Advocates said the bill should help speed the DNR's review that is needed for these repairs or replacements of existing high-cap wells because it would require that the agency provide an answer to a well application within 65 days of the completed application being submitted.

Farmland preservation

There is also a chance that lawmakers will consider a bill to preserve more farmland through Agricultural Enterprise Areas (AEAs)

Because the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will hit its limit on AEAs by the end of 2014, the program could stagnate. It was created as part of the Working Lands Initiative in 2009.

The bill, being circulated for sponsorship by Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), would increase the limit on these AEAs from a million to 2 million acres.

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