MADISON - The State Senate cleared the way Tuesday for mining copper and gold here, passing a bill that has pitted business groups against environmentalists.
The Senate also voted to call for a balanced federal budget amendment and to tighten rules on election recounts following a massive effort to recount last year's presidential vote that produced little change in the outcome.
The Senate passed the mining measure, 19-14, sending it to GOP Gov. Scott Walker's desk. Walker has said he would sign it.
Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) joined all Democrats in opposing the bill; all other Republicans backed it.
Assembly Bill 499 would replace a law that essentially bars companies from extracting any material besides iron and sand because of pollution concerns.
Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the bill's lead Senate sponsor, said it wouldn't change the state's environmental rules for mining and wouldn't stop local governments from prohibiting mining in their area.
"We are retaining Wisconsin's high environmental standards," Tiffany said.
Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) said the bill isn't needed because mining companies can already come to the state if they can prove definitively that they won't pollute it.
"We’re giving away the best parts of ourselves," Bewley said of the bill. "We’re a great state. We have clean water and we need someone to stand up and protect it."
The Assembly passed the measure last week, 53-38, with four Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose it.
If signed into law, the bill could usher in a new era of mineral mining in Wisconsin, which is home to deposits of copper, zinc, gold and silver.
The current near-ban on non-iron mining was signed into law in 1998 and was driven by concerns about mining minerals in sulfide deposits, which have a history of releasing acidic material and polluting waterways.
The state’s mining moratorium requires a mining company to show that another sulfide mine in the U.S. or Canada operated for at least 10 years and then was closed for 10 years without pollution.
Wisconsin is the only state with such a restriction, which has kept mining companies out of the state since Rio Tinto Kennecott closed the Flambeau mine in Ladysmith in 1997 after four years of mining copper, gold and silver.
Supporters of the bill say new technology allows for safer, cleaner mining that would bring needed jobs to rural areas. Environmentalists say opening the door to metallic mining would threaten state waterways.
Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) said he was concerned about mining but had voted for the bill because he was able to amend it to help ensure that mining companies paid taxes and that local communities got a six-month delay in implementation to allow them to pass ordinances on mining in their areas.
Budget convention. The Senate voted, 19-14, to make Wisconsin the 28th state to call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget. Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and all Democrats opposed the measure and all other Republicans supported it.
Backers of Assembly Joint Resolution 21, which does not require Walker's signature, say amending the U.S. Constitution is the only way to force Congress to put the country’s finances in order. Opponents argue a convention could result in amendments on other issues that could result in dramatic changes to long-held rights to free speech, guns or abortion.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows a convention for proposing amendments to be held if two-thirds of the states — 34 — call for one. To take effect, any amendments passed at a convention would have to be approved by three-quarters of the states, or 38.
Senators also voted 19-14 Tuesday to pass Assembly Bill 165, which calls for sending to the convention seven Wisconsin delegates — three appointed by the speaker of the Assembly, three appointed by the president of the state Senate and one appointed by the governor. That bill goes to Walker for his signature.
Election recounts. GOP senators voted 20-13, with all Democrats dissenting, to make it harder for candidates to request recounts. The measure goes to Walker.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein received just 1% of the vote in Wisconsin last year but forced a recount here by paying $3.5 million. The effort made almost no change to President Donald Trump's winning margin.
Under Assembly Bill 153, candidates could request recounts only if they lost by 1 percentage point or less in an election with at least 4,000 votes total. For elections with fewer votes, the candidate would need to lose by no more than 40 votes for a recall.
Young hunters. The Senate approved and sent to Walker a measure to allow children younger than 10 to hunt if they are accompanied by an adult mentor.
Assembly Bill 455 would also allow both the mentor and child to carry a gun or bow. Now, children must be at least 10 to hunt with a mentor and the adult and child can carry only one weapon between them.