(Image by Shutterstock)
(Image by Shutterstock)

GOP leader forced to pull bill back to committee at the last minute

A day after the Senate failed to vote on a fast-moving, controversial bill allowing the state’s largest agricultural players to write their own siting rules, the body’s top member said it was pulled after being warned the votes “were not coming together.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters Thursday that a dual warning was given to him from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and the Senate author of the livestock siting bill, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green. 

“By mid-afternoon, the speaker stopped over here and said, ‘I don’t see it coming together,’” Fitzgerald said. 

Vos had been meeting with various big agricultural groups who supported the bill to see if there was something that could be worked out. That turned out not to be the case, Fitzgerald said. 

Marklein then told Fitzgerald he “was not comfortable” bringing the bill up for a vote. Fitzgerald said he asked for the bill to be sent back to committee. 

The disagreement was over “which local entities, governmental entities, would have control of siting and how much control they have,” Fitzgerald said.

“That was always going to be the rub … who is the ultimate arbiter on where this operation could be located, if you are talking about CAFO’s specifically,” Fitzgerald said. 

The fast-tracked bill had the backing of the state’s largest agriculture interests and business interests, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Dairy Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Pork Producers Association and the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association. 

Small farmers and conservation groups criticized the bill saying it gave too much power to big ag and would have made it harder to regulate CAFO’s, or confined animal feeding operations. 

The bill, authored by Marklein and Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, would transfer responsibility for overseeing large farms — designated as those with 500 or more animal units — from local town and county governments to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

Before this could happen, DATCP would have to write new livestock siting rules, a task that could take more than two years. A new nine-member Livestock Facility Technical Review Board would have to then approve those rules.

Five of the nine board members would be chosen by large agricultural entities, a concern to bill opponents that drew accusations big ag is regulating itself.

Putting big agriculture interests in charge of regulations to site large farms “is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” Mary Dougherty, a Bayfield resident who previously worked with a coalition of groups seeking to protect Wisconsin communities from factory farms, told Up North News.