By Mrinal Gokhale

On January 29, a water privatization bill passed, which calls for private water companies to control Wisconsin’s water.

After much anticipation, the bill did not make it to Senate on February 9, as confirmed by Corporate Accountability International.

“For months, the private water industry has counted on secrecy and closed door lobbying to move this bill through the Wisconsin legislature,” said Lauren DeRusha, senior national campaign organizer of Corporate Accountability International.

DeRusha feels the extreme public outcry encouraged legislators not to bring the bill to the Senate floor.

“People across the country demand water systems should be prioritized as a public good—with strong, local, democratic controls—to serve people, not the corporate mentality of maximizing the bottom line.”

This bill, AB 554, was introduced on December 1, passed into assembly on January 12 and introduced by State Representatives: Tyler August, Josh Zepnick, Joe Sanfelippo, David Murphy, Joel Kleefisch, Daniel Knodl and Ken Skowronski.

Kara Kaufman of Corporate Accountability International said water privatization only benefits private water corporations, especially out of state. She feels AB 554 weakens democracy and functionality of water systems in Wisconsin.

“AB 554 removes the requirement for a public vote before Wisconsin municipal water or sewer systems are sold or leased to a private corporation. It also changes how water utilities are taxed,” she explained.

Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper has led grassroots efforts advocate against AB 554.

“Currently, the state has a safeguard law requiring a public referendum before a utility can be sold or leased to a private entity,” Nenn explained.

“This ensures taxpayers get a good ‘price’ but AB 554 removes these protections.”

Senator Chris Larson has been working to oppose the bill, and also feels the public outcry has stalled AB 554, so far. He compares the idea of Wisconsin water privatization to the story of “David vs. Goliath.”

“The giant water company, Aqua, has nearly pushed a bill through the Wisconsin Legislature to open our public water systems to purchase by massive, out-of-state corporate profit seekers,” he said.

He feels the recent Flint water contamination crisis has inspired these grassroots efforts against AB 554.

“The tragedy and lesson of Flint prove we must fight to keep our water control local. People across Wisconsin have become energized to let their legislators know they oppose this special interest bill.”

Although the bill didn’t go to Senate this month, Senator Larson said there’s a slight chance it will make it to one of the remaining sessions by mid-March.

“The Senate may only have two or three session days left before floor period is over,” he said. “If the public continues advocating against the bill, enough Republican senators may change their minds, which can prevent the bill from being brought up for passage.”