Steineke: Mining Bill Needs To Get Done Now

MacIver News Service | Nov. 2, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. – Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says the time is now to get a mining bill passed.

That’s why the Assembly is taking the lead on the Mining for America Act.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) would lift a moratorium on nonferrous mining in northern Wisconsin.

The Senate was supposed to take the lead, but as MacIver News Service first reported this week, four reluctant Republican senators have put the bill’s fate in doubt.

“Once it became clear they were having some issues in their caucus, we found that it was necessary, especially on a big issue like this … that we needed to take it up first and hopefully provide the impetus behind the bill it needs to clear the Senate yet this fall,” Steineke told MacIver News Service Tuesday on the Vicki McKenna Show.

The Kaukauna Republican said if the Assembly had waited for the Senate to act, it would likely have meant the lower house couldn’t take action until January, something Assembly leadership found “unacceptable.”

Tiffany told MacIver News on Friday that he had 16 votes, not the 17 he’ll need to pass the bill. The legislation aims to end a 20-year ban on copper, gold, silver, and zinc mining.

Capitol sources confirmed Wednesday that the holdouts continue to hold out. They include: Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), a no vote; Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) who is looking for amendments to address his concerns with the bill; Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), reluctant, as is Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon).

“I know I have 16 votes. I have to assume at this point that if they’re not yes, they are a no,” Tiffany said, adding that he wants his colleagues to let him know what they find objectionable about the legislation.

“We have time, but we have a very short amount of time to get to the majority in the state Senate,” Tiffany said, applauding the Assembly for “recognizing the great opportunity” the bill offers to bring much-needed economic development to northern Wisconsin.

Steineke praised the bill’s authors for putting together broad support, including buy-in from organizations that have opposed reopening sulfide mining.

“I’m not sure exactly what the hesitation is with some of the senators in the Senate, but hopefully, given a little more time and with the Assembly taking action first, that will give them the necessary push for them to get over the finish line,” he said.

Environmentalists and tribal officials are against the legislation, as are their allies on the left side of the aisle.

“Passing this bill would amount to nothing more than a corporate handout at the cultural, financial, environmental expense of Wisconsin residents and counties,” Gary Besaw, chairman of the Menominee Nation, said at a recent hearing.

Supporters say reopening mining would be a huge boon to northern Wisconsin, a region of the state often left out of economic opportunities.

“It’s unfortunate they couldn’t find a way to support it, especially because people in the northern part of Wisconsin, they’re struggling still. The economy hasn’t caught up to them up there,” Steineke said. “We need to do as a state whatever we can to create the kind of opportunities they deserve to make their lives better as well.”

Other Bills

The Assembly also plans to take up a bill that would clearly prohibit state tax dollars going to abortion providers in Wisconsin.

Another proposal would end the 120-hour education requirement for certified nursing assistants. Steineke said most states have a 75-hour training mandate. With a severe CNA shortage in the Badger State, the lawmaker said it’s time to lift “this bigger hurdle in place for no real reason.”

“Federal requirements are suitable for CNAs. We’re just going to federalize it so we can get more certified nursing assistants in place,” Steineke said.

Mended Fences?

After some harsh exchanges between the Republican-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate, Steineke insists all is fine in the family.

“We’re all kind of like brothers and sisters on the same kind of things. We’re going to have our disagreements, we’re going to have our fights, and we’re going to say some things at the end of the day that we’re going to regret,” he said. “But we all come together around a common goal, and that’s to make Wisconsin a better place to live, work and raise a family. This calendar on Thursday is living proof of that.”

Listen to MacIver News Service’s full interview with Steineke on News/Talk 1130 WISN here: