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Lawmakers urge farmers to push bill

Feb. 12, 2014 | 0 comments

WISCONSIN DELLS

The world has changed and farm implements have changed, but the laws governing their size and use on state roads haven't changed.

If some of the 1,800 farmers attending the Corn/Soy Expo last week weren't aware of the fact that the state is considering changes to implement use on their roads before, they are now.

Most of the record crowd at the event packed into a breakout session with two lawmakers who have proposed an Implements of Husbandry law, based on a study group's recommendations.

Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) and Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) explained to the crowd that their bill would give farmers more leeway with large equipment than they currently have.

The proposed legislation is Assembly Bill 648 and the identical companion bill is SB 509 in the state Senate.

"A lot of people thought farmers were exempt, but that has never been the case," said Ripp.

"If we don't pass this, you will be seeing more of your local sheriff's department," he added. Both lawmakers said farmers need contact their legislators to urge passage of the bill.

Six counties have purchased portable scales to weigh large farm implements in order to ticket them and keep them off the roads, the men added. "If they have them, they're going to use them," said Ripp.

Petrowski said the issue came to a head when tickets were issued in Marathon County last year and the large farm manure spreader in question was impounded — with its load.

Pulled over

"The last thing any farmer wants is to be pulled over by law enforcement," he added.

The industry has changed over the last 40 years and so much of the agriculture community thought the laws didn't apply to them, Petrowski added.

The rural community has changed too, he added, with more people moving out to the country and calling law enforcement if they see something on the road that they don't like.

The large manure spreader that began the discussion in Marathon County went through a subdivision and the police were called. When they weighed it they discovered it was 37,000 pounds over weight.

The equipment sat for several days because they had to figure out how to make it legal by getting some of the weight off it.

"Nobody's getting everything they want and that's a sign that it's probably a pretty good bill," said Ripp, who chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee.

The legislation is based on a task force that worked on recommendations all of last year and included the Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection as well as 20 stakeholders — farmers, machinery dealers and municipalities.

"They tried to find answers that everybody can live we. Keith and I have to be able to sell it to 132 lawmakers," said Petrowski. "We need counties, towns and the agriculture community on board."

Petrowski said he thinks they can pass the bill. "It's not perfect. We had to give up things." One of those concessions was in the permitting system.

"It's doable, not perfect and some farmers won't like it. The counties and towns think they gave away too much too," Petrowski added.

Get it done

"We need the farm community to get this done."

The proposal would allow farmers 15 percent more weight than is currently allowed under the law. It would also spell out length, width and height requirements as well as requirements for reflectors, flashers and reflective tape on implements.

The 15 percent number was used, said Petrowski, because it's the level used in the fall harvest exemption, which is based on available science.

"Towns and counties said if you go to 20 percent over (the current limits), it cuts down on the roads' life by 100 percent," he added.

Lt. Michael Klingenberg, is a State Patrol officer who serves in the motor carrier department with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He joined the lawmakers on the panel at Corn/Soy and said other townships and counties are now keeping an eye on large farm machinery.

Once officers started to weigh farm implements the reaction was this — It weighs that much? Those go over our roads every day," he said.

Klingenberg said that officers don't have the option of overlooking weight or size infractions. If the law says it's illegal there must be enforcement, he said.

"There has never been an exemption for agriculture," he added. "I don't want people to think we'll be hiding behind every tree and cornstalk. A big part of this will be education (for farmers.)"

Petrowski said Marathon County has purchased three sets of portable scales. "They don't intend to let them sit in a warehouse."

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