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Fitzgerald expects March vote on mining

GOP: Mining bill will be first one offered

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he expects a March vote on a bill to overhaul state mining regulations.

Assembly Republican leaders have promised the first bill they'll introduce this session will deal with mining.

"I am very optimistic that it will be introduced, hopefully by the end of next week or sooner, and that we can have hearings by the end of the month," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican, told reporters Monday he expects the Senate will vote on the bill in early March.

"I think you'd be hard pressed to find a legislator that thinks our current set of statues is absolutely acceptable. They're outdated and onerous, and they need to be revisited, and I think that's what we're doing right now," Fitzgerald said.

He didn't offer any specifics about the bill's provisions. But he said it's going to be difficult to ever get northwestern Wisconsin's American Indian tribes on board. The tribes have said they do not want any type of mining legislation passed.

Republicans have been working to streamline mining requirements to help Gogebic Taconite open an iron mine near Lake Superior. They pushed a bill through the state Assembly last session but the measure died in the Senate.

The newly drafted mining bill will start with the Joint Finance Committee version crafted last year, which Republican leaders hope to get through both houses as early as March.

Democrats said that bill is a start but more changes are needed.

"Now, we don't expect it to even have to be perfectly in the middle; we'd hope (Republicans) will at least come somewhat to the middle, and if they do that I think there could be broad support," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

Republicans said they will use work done in the Senate late last year as part of "tweaking" they say can be done, but they said any bill has to be palatable to the mining industry.

"My hope is to take the very best ideas, not just those we have seen throughout the course of the last session, take the best ideas from Senate Democrats and the process they utilized and in the end has bipartisan support, but most importantly brings the mining jobs to Wisconsin in a way that will actually accomplishes that and not just pass a bill that never achieves it," Vos said.

"I hope if they're true to saying they're open to Sen. Cullen's approach, and if they can take a look at some of the more positive elements of what Sen. Schultz and Sen. Jauch put together, which is a true bipartisan effort, then we could maybe have some meaningful debate and move forward with a positive bill," Barca said.

Republicans said hearings should start by the end of the month but won't say for sure where those will take place, including about whether any of those will happen in northern Wisconsin.

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