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Home / Government / Wisconsin governor vetoes DNR secretary bill (6:02 p.m. 11/13/09)

Wisconsin governor vetoes DNR secretary bill (6:02 p.m. 11/13/09)


Assoicated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill Friday that would strip governors of their power to appoint the Department of Natural Resources secretary and give it to a citizen board instead.

The bill’s supporters immediately called on state lawmakers to override the veto. A successful override takes a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate, a high bar to reach. The Legislature hasn’t overridden a veto since 1981.

The DNR is a vast state agency that controls hunting, fishing and pollution regulations. In a state that prides itself on its outdoors heritage, almost every major agency decision is fraught with controversy.

The Natural Resources Board, a citizen panel the governor appoints to set DNR policy, picked the agency’s secretary until 1995, when then-Gov. Tommy Thompson made the position a cabinet post. Environmentalists and outdoors lovers have been clamoring to return to the board appointment system ever since. They complain a cabinet secretary injects politics into natural resources decisions that should be based on science.

Under the bill, the Natural Resources Board would appoint the secretary with confirmation from the state Senate.

An override attempt could create a divisive battle in the Legislature, pitting Democrats who control both houses against their party’s figurehead in Doyle. But the bill has strong support.

An override attempt would begin in the Assembly, where the bill originated. Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, wouldn’t commit to anything on Friday.

“We plan to discuss the veto as a caucus and decide the next step as a group,” Sheridan spokeswoman Rebekah Sweeney said. She didn’t have a timetable.

Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Schofield, didn’t immediately return a message Friday evening. But Decker has said he doesn’t think there’s enough votes to override.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the measure overwhelmingly in September, 61-32, despite Republican complaints it does nothing to blunt politics in the agency since the governor appoints the board.

State senators amended the measure to give themselves confirmation power and passed the bill 21-11 last week. The Assembly approved the change 49-44 the same day and sent the bill to Doyle.

The governor had long supported moving to board appointments, but earlier this year decided the secretary should be a cabinet position.

In his veto message, Doyle said a cabinet secretary gives the position more clout. He listed more than a dozen changes the DNR has achieved since he took office, including more funding to fight invasive species, renewable energy standards and an agreement between the Great Lake states to guard the lakes’ water.

A cabinet secretary also makes the DNR more accountable to the public since the governor is directly responsible for the agency’s decisions, Doyle wrote.

“While sound science, data and citizen input will always be the guiding forces of decision making at the DNR, voters choose a Governor because they agree with the vision he or she has for the entire state — including protecting natural resources,” the governor said.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a former DNR secretary, said outdoor lovers were disappointed Doyle “flip-flopped” on the issue. He called for a veto override, too.

Conservationists can’t vent their frustrations with Doyle, since he isn’t running again, but lawmakers will have to face them in next November’s elections, Meyer warned.

“This,” Meyer said, “will be a very substantial issue on the mind of sportsmen and women unless there’s an override of this veto.”

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