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Republicans won’t seek to restrict mining access (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A provision designed to limit public access to the proposed site of an iron ore mine near Lake Superior will not be included in the state budget, Assembly Republican leaders said Wednesday.

Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder said the provision, which Democrats were told Tuesday night would be added to the budget, has been removed.

The last-minute change in plans came as the Assembly was scheduled to vote on the $70 billion state budget Wednesday. Access to the mine site was one of two-dozen issues Republicans spent Tuesday discussing in private negotiations. Another change up for a vote Wednesday was delay loosening of requirements for high-capacity wells.

The Assembly originally was scheduled to spend 12-½ hours debating the budget over Tuesday and Wednesday. But they spent only 15 minutes on it Tuesday while Republicans continued working out last-minute deals. Majority Leader Scott Suder said a vote on passage would occur at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday “no matter what.”

The Senate planned to take up the budget on Thursday. It must pass both houses in identical form before being sent to Gov. Scott Walker, who has extensive power to veto individual items.

On Tuesday, Vos said the budget would be amended to allow the state Department of Natural Resources to pass emergency rules that would restrict public access to the site. Concerns were raised after authorities last week said protesters slashed tires, damaged equipment, destroyed a geologist’s camera and stole her cellphone.

“It was too rushed,” Vos said Wednesday in explaining why it wasn’t being pursued. “We did not have time to vet out the entire process.”

Republican Rep. Mark Honadel, who pressed for restricting access to the site, said he was “not pleased” with the decision because of safety concerns and didn’t know why it was changed.

“I thought we had a solid agreement yesterday going in but the day crumbled apart,” Honadel said. “I personally believe there’s a sense of urgency about this whole thing. I certainly don’t want it to escalate.”

Honadel said the Assembly should act quickly to pass a separate bill on the issue. Once it passes the budget, the Assembly is not scheduled to be back in session until September.

Some of the 30 last-minute changes Republicans released in draft form on Tuesday would:

  • Repeal a $2,500 cap on a property tax credit program for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. Changes to reduce benefits for higher-earners in the program would also be removed.
  • Delay for at least a year implementation of looser requirements for high-capacity wells. As originally proposed, no one could challenge high-capacity well applications and permits by arguing that the state Department of Natural Resources didn’t consider the cumulative impact of the well and surrounding wells on the environment.
  • Exempt volunteer police and firefighters from requirements that they live within 15 miles of the municipality where they serve. The budget does away with all residency requirements for public workers anywhere in the state, except for public safety workers. They can be restricted to living within 15 miles of the local government where they work.

Democrats were prepared to offer more than 200 amendments but none were expected to secure enough votes to be added to the budget. Vos said Tuesday that the Republican amendment would be the only one added by either the Senate or Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped that would be the case as well.

Moderate Republican senators have been pushing for even more changes to the budget and it wasn’t clear if those released in the Assembly would be enough to satisfy their concerns. Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the Senate, so no more than one Republican can vote against it given unanimous Democratic opposition.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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