As the state legislative session heads into its final frantic weeks, much of the attention of farmers and agricultural leaders is focused on the proposed bill that deals with "Implements of Husbandry" but there's another tractor bill that could have profound effects on farmers who are part of tractor clubs.
Dave Drella, an antique tractor enthusiast from the Pulaski area, says that in Wisconsin a motorcade of tractors going down the road to get to an event or to draw attention to some charity could get all of those drivers in a lot of trouble.
He first learned of a huge potential problem when a police official came to his tractor club's meeting. "He told us he thought what we did is great, but said that as written state law says we cannot use tractors on the road for other than agricultural purposes.
"If one of the tractors got into an accident, he told us, all the members of the club could potentially be sued."
Drella is hoping a bill, now pending in the legislature – Senate Bill 195 with companion bill in the Assembly AB 259 – could solve the problem. But he fears the measure may not get a vote.
Drella is so concerned about the potential harm current law could do to tractor club members that he has dropped out of his own club, and hopes the bill could be signed into law to protect him and others in similar tractor groups.
Though there's no hard record, Drella guessed that there are probably several hundred such tractor clubs in the state, which mostly feature restored antique tractors.
There are five such clubs in his area, including the club he's been active in, Pioneer Tractors, which features tractors that are strictly antique – more than 40 years old.
"This could potentially make a huge difference in a bunch of people's lives," he told Wisconsin State Farmer He's hoping publicity will draw farmers' attention to the situation and break the legislative log jam for the bill.
"The law was written when there were metal lugs on tractor wheels and they didn't want farmers using those kinds of vehicles for transportation," he added. "As written the law says that you cannot use tractors on the road for other than agricultural purposes."
In his area, antique "tractor-cades" have helped attract attention and draw crowds to special events like church picnics, Drella said. "Up here it has been a real good fundraiser."
One church picnic was on the chopping block because it didn't bring in enough people, but when dozens of tractors drove down the road a few years ago, it seemed to revive interest. When people heard the antique tractor club was going to be there many attended the picnic just to see them.
"It just wouldn't be the same if you trailered them in and besides a lot of guys don't have the trucks and trailers to haul their tractors," Drella said.
In his area, the antique tractor clubs have also helped out at fireman's picnics by offering free tractor shows in conjunction with the event.
Drella said the state trooper came on his own time to warn the tractor club of the possible legal and civil ramifications of them simply driving down the road. Since they are technically in violation of state law, it is virtually impossible for them to get liability insurance to cover their events.
"It's scary. But that's just the way the legal system works."
John Wagnitz works as an aide to Sen. Dave Hanson (D-Green Bay) who introduced SB 195 to correct this legal problem for tractor clubs.
The bill's text is simple, saying that it would be legal in the state for tractors to be used "for special occasions such as display and parade purposes, including traveling to and from such events."
Legal and liability problems have never happened but they could be a concern for these folks, Wagnitz said.
The legislative session is getting to the point where things need to get wrapped up, he added, and this bill is stuck in committee.
It was approved unanimously in the Senate's Committee on Transportation, Public Safety, and Veterans and Military Affairs on a 5-0 vote in July but has since sat dormant in the Senate's organization committee. In needs to get through there before it can be voted on by the Senate as a whole.
The companion bill – AB 259 – was heard, but not acted upon in the Assembly Transportation Committee in June. The lead author in the lower house is Rep. Andre Jacque (R-DePere.)
There the measure needs to get through the transportation committee and through the rules committee before it can be voted on by the Assembly as a whole.