MADISON, Wisc. (WFRV) After more than nine hours of debate, a controversial mining bill was approved Thursday in the Republican-controlled state Assembly in Madison. Already passed in the Senate, the bill now clears the way for a new iron mine in northwestern Wisconsin.
After a full day of debate, on the controversial issue, with lawmakers clearly divided along party lines,
"What are we doing?" said Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie).
"It doesn't pertain to Republican jobs or Democrat jobs - it pertains to Wisconsin jobs," said Rep. Mark Honadel (R -South Milwaukee)
It took just seconds to count the votes that now allow mining to return to Wisconsin.
"Has everyone recorded your vote? If so, the clerk will close the roll. There are 58 ayes, 39 nays - Senate Bill 1 one is concurred in."
After passing in the Senate last week by one vote, its approval in the Republican-controlled Assembly was a foregone conclusion. The bill will allow Gogebic Taconite to open an iron mine near Lake Superior.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) said, "Today's passage of the mining reform sets the stage for the creation of thousands of good paying job." After the vote, Representative John Klenke (R-Green Bay) told Local 5, he agrees.
"A private company bringing with it a billion dollars in potential investment in Wisconsin in the near future," Klenke said, "That is an incredible opportunity that will create jobs."
But Democrats argued jobs at what cost, saying the environmental risks are too great, especially after news this week that a key investor in the project is accused in Illinois of failing to address groundwater contamination.
"When we have a red flag like this from a company that's doing mining in Illinois, violating environmental standards and yet we're going to give them a blank check?" Hebl said.
As for those jobs, Democrats say they will only come, if the bill makes it through expected legal challenges from environmental groups and the Native America community.
"This proposal came directly from the company," said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). "It's not that Democrats didn't want to see a bill get done. But the bill, as drafted, only sends up red flags that will lead to it being challenged in court."
The bill now clears the way for a mine to open in the state, in as soon as four years. Republicans claim the legislation will create 2,800 jobs in the state.