By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The Wisconsin Senate worked through a full day of legislation Wednesday, with state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, once again crossing the aisle to turn back a GOP-led bill.
Republicans introduced Senate Bill 50, which would repeal rules regulating wind turbines written by the Public Service Commission, or PSC, under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration.
Under state law, wind turbines must be at least 1,250 feet from houses. Gov. Scott Walker has been pushing to expand that distance to up to 1,800 feet.
“There is a fair amount of concern from individual residents in these areas where you see an abundance of wind farms being put up,” Walker told the Journal Sentinel in January. “This is about giving them more control in that process — something they felt was lacking by the previous legislation and by the PSC’s regulations.”
The bill, facing certain defeat, was referred to the Senate Committee on Organization.
State Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, kicked off Wednesday’s session by reading a letter from a constituent whose family was forced to move from their home because of disturbances from a nearby wind turbines.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re willing to harm people in this state … take away the value of their homes …and then (have) the hypocrisy after voting down something that would create thousands of jobs,” Lasee said, referring to the Senate’s failure a day earlier to move through a bill that would have streamlined the state’s mine permit process, opening the door to an iron ore mine projected to create 600 to 700 jobs.
Schultz voted against the Republican-led Senate version of an Assembly mining bill, which was designed to speed up the permitting process but was criticized by Schultz, Democrats and environmentalists.
Another regulatory reform bill to a Department of Natural Resources permitting process passed on a 19-14 vote, with Democratic state Sens. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, and Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, voting with Republicans for Senate Bill 326.
“The current regulations are a sore spot for many pier owners who are upset their pier — which may have been in the water for decades — might be considered illegal; it’s time to end that,” state Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, the bill’s author, said in a statement.
“Further, people who’ve owned a pier for decades should not have to live under a cloud of uncertainty regarding the legality of their pier,” Kedzie said. “SB 326 finally restores common sense to the pier regulations and allows those individuals to simply keep what they’ve always had.”
The bill was touted by the Wisconsin Realtors Association as one of its main legislative lobbying efforts at the organization’s recent Annual Government Day, where Walker signed a wetlands reform bill into law.
Like the wetlands bill, this legislation allows DNR to create general permits for minor activities near waterways, while maintaining stricter individual permits for “sensitive areas and activities.”
Under the bill, property owners would no longer be required to register piers up to 200 square feet with DNR.