By State Representative, Leon D. Young
It wasn’t that long ago that the Assembly met to hash out its new rules of legislative engagement for the upcoming 2013-14 biennium. In retrospect, there was considerable talk (and posturing at that time), about the need for greater camaraderie, cooperation and civility in doing the People’s Business.
This all sounded very encouraging to Assembly Democrats, who are in the minority; as new Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tried to set the tone and tenor for future floor debates.
Now that the dust has settled and the Assembly is actually deliberating public policy, the grim reality of politics has once again come to light. Last week’s discussion of the mining bill (Senate Bill 1) provides ample evidence of the GOP’s heavy-handedness in exercising its majority.
Most will admit that neither political party, Democrat or Republican, has a monopoly on good ideas.
That being the case, Assembly Democrats offered 17 amendments into the discourse for debate as well as two substitute amendments. However, at the end of this lengthy floor discussion that lasted a little over 9.5 hours, the Republican majority repeatedly refused to adopt any of the amendments that had been offered by their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
Moreover, any of these amendments, if adopted, would have dramatically improved the scope of this mining legislation.
There was another peculiar facet of this debate: a debate limit. Under the new Assembly rules agreement (between the Majority Leader and Minority Leader), Senate Bill 1 would be accorded a maximum time for consideration of 9 hours and 30 minutes. Hence, the floor debate was unnecessarily restricted by constant references to the remaining time.
More importantly, this mining legislation completely ignores the environmental concerns of the people directly affected up north. The head of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indian tribe is now on record as having said that he’ll use “every avenue of resistance” in his efforts to stop the proposed iron mine from being built upstream from his reservation in northern Wisconsin.
In hindsight, this mining legislation, which has already been signed into law by the governor, is a pipe dream at best.
There is little doubt that this legislation faces a long, difficult challenge in the courts for encroaching upon the sovereign rights of Native Americans. Moreover, this bill doesn’t provide any assurances that Wisconsin residents will secure the benefit of employment, much less the overall uncertainty of a boon/bust industry such as mining.
And, if that weren’t enough, we have severely weakened the environmental protections of our state just to pander to the wishes of a private mining company.
All things considered, the legislative debate and outcome of the mining bill was a classic case in muzzling Democracy.