MADISON, Wis. - Republicans have started their push to pass mining legislation at a messy public hearing.
Dozens of people jammed the hearing Wednesday before the state Senate and Assembly mining committees in the state Capitol.
The Assembly panel's chairwoman, Republican Rep. Mary Williams, declared committee members would be allowed to ask only two questions of each person who spoke.
Democratic committee members flew into a rage when Williams used the rules to cut off questions for the bill's authors.
"Madame chairman, this is unheard of in the legislature where you do not allow legislators to ask a public question to the authors of the bill. This is unheard of," said Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, a Madison Democrat, shouted out that the hearing amounted to a kangaroo court.
Democrats said they want more hearings on the bill, but Republicans said that right now, Wednesday's hearing is the only one.
The bill would make sweeping changes to Wisconsin's mining regulations in hopes of persuading Gogebic Taconite to open an iron mine just south of Lake Superior. Conservationists said the project would devastate the pristine area.
Many at the hearing were from northern Wisconsin. Some talked about how a mine would help the area's suffering economy.18257430
"I watched these people move out of town, or they take half-pay jobs and they both try to work, and eventually their house gets foreclosed," said Wayne Nesi, who supports the mining bill.
But conservationists contend the bill loosens Wisconsin's mining so much that it will destroy the environment.
"We know that there are insurances, but when something goes wrong, as it always does, is there the ability to stop the mine when something happens?" said Carl Doersch, who is against the mining bill.
The Republican co-author of the bill said this issue has been debated and debated again. He noted that 471 people have testified, and there have been 52 hours of hearings and eight separate sessions. He said it's time to move forward with the bill.
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