The original bill to potentially solve the problem of farmers and manure haulers getting cited for overweight equipment has passed the Wisconsin Senate, but its future isn't clear in the state Assembly.
Senate Bill 509, the Implements of Husbandry (IOH) measure, was amended and passed by the Senate on a voice vote March 11. It was backed by a coalition of farm and commodity groups in the state who say it is important for the coming growing season that farmers be allowed to run their equipment legally on the roadways.
Senate Bill 509, authored by State Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) and State Representative Keith Ripp (R-Lodi,) is the result of discussions between lawmakers, the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, and a number of agricultural organizations.
Support for the Senate bill and its companion in the Assembly comes from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Pork Association and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.
Farm Bureau has stated that the bill is its top priority before the legislative session ends.
"This was a major step by passing the bill through the State Senate, but our work is not done," said Paul Zimmerman, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation's executive director of governmental relations.
"Farmers need to call their state representative to ask them to support the implements of husbandry legislation, Senate Bill 509."
Zimmerman said the bill gives farmers the ability to operate their farm machinery on roadways of the state legally and safely without fear of law enforcement action. He hopes the bill can be finalized before spring planting.
Though the bill is admittedly a compromise, Zimmerman said it does many things right.
"It clarifies the definition of what qualifies as an implement of husbandry (IOH). It creates a new definition for agricultural commercial motor vehicles. It creates a no-fee permitting system that allows farmers to legally use their machinery on roadways if they exceed weight limits without threat of hefty fines," he said.
"Even better, towns and counties can opt out of the permitting system if they choose," Zimmerman added.
But not all of the state's farm and ag groups are on board with this bill. Some are objecting to the permitting system. Others backed away from the bill, saying that the bill's author's promised to fix what's wrong with in a later bill and they don't like the idea of passing a bill that needs to be fixed later on.
Many farmers have not experienced problems and favor an approach that would not pass any new legislation but would "let well enough alone."
Equipment dealers have been in the unusual position of trying to sell farmers smaller equipment because they fear that larger planters and other implements may be deemed illegal under new legislation.
Some farm groups, including the Dairy Business Association have told lawmakers that SB 509 will make some of their farm implements illegal to run on the roads.
In response, another bill on the same subject was introduced. Assembly Bill 842 would allow total gross weight of 92,000 pounds for implements of husbandry, without limiting weight per axle.
The bill, authored by Reps. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Lee Nerison (R-Westby) and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City,) was introduced on March 5.
It was referred to the Assembly Committee on Agriculture but no action has been taken on it there.
The provisions in this bill would apply for about 18 months allowing state farmers to get through two planting seasons before the legislature would need to take further action on IOH.
The bill would eliminate per-axle weight limits and increase the gross weight limit for IOH, including agricultural commercial motor vehicles that are operated on state and local roads.
Under the bill, gross weight for an IOH without a permit could not exceed 92,000 pounds.
Laurie Fischer, executive director of the DBA said doing the wrong thing would be worse for farmers and agribusinesses than doing nothing at all. Her group believes SB 509 is the wrong approach.
It supports the Ballweg bill. "AB 842 provides a fair, reasonable, and immediate solution to the primary IOH road issues without placing unnecessary burdens on farmers and agribusinesses."
The DBA also said that AB 842 provides lawmakers more time to develop a more comprehensive solution for oversized farm implements over the next 18 months.
Several lobbyists have noted that farmers have assumed — incorrectly — that they are exempt from road weight limits with their farm implements. Several farmers were given citations and their vehicles (manure spreaders) were halted until they could be unloaded to make the implements legal.
Those incidents touched off the work of a task force whose recommendations largely were folded into the Petrowski-Ripp bill.
There is concern among some in the farm community that now that the issue has been contested in the Legislature, there will be more awareness of it and more citations will be issued if no new legislation is passed.