Senate approves pier rule changes, but Doyle promises veto
Written by The Capital Times   
Thursday, 27 April 2006 18:37

The state Senate came very close today to rejecting Assembly action that weakened a carefully negotiated pier regulation plan. But the Senate changed course in midstream, so Gov. Jim Doyle indicated that he will veto the bill and tell the Department of Natural Resources to stick to the original agreement.

"As long as the governor has been in office, the DNR has not removed a single pier in Wisconsin. We do want to have a policy so that property owners can have some certainty about their piers. It is unfortunate the Legislature has backed away from the deal they agreed to," said Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow.

"The governor will direct the DNR to implement the agreement that was reached in good faith with business groups, environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats. People need to be able to put in their piers, and we will work out the details.

The statement from the Democratic governor's office followed a lengthy debate and switched votes in which the Republican-controlled Senate almost rejected the Assembly's amendments to the negotiated plan.

But stunned by the 16-16 vote for non-approval of the first of two Assembly amendments, Republican leaders called a short break for arm-twisting that apparently worked.

The senators who had jumped ship from the Republican majority on the vote were Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, and Mike Ellis, R-Neenah. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, was absent. The 14 Democrats in the 33-member body held firm.

After the recess, the vote changed to 17-15, with Ellis changing his vote, on both the Assembly amendments.

Debate, however, was long and hard, with Democrats trying numerous arguments and parliamentary moves in the hope of swaying some votes.

An agreement on the pier regulations had been negotiated through a long and arduous process by Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, who met with the DNR, the governor's office, real estate agents and lake associations.

That agreement had exempted from DNR regulation existing piers less than 200 square feet and those between 200 and 300 square feet as long as they were no wider than 10 feet.

But Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, introduced two amendments earlier this week that changed the agreement by exempting piers with decks less than 300 square feet. His other amendment removed the provision of using $130,000 from the state motorboat fuel tax to enforce the rule.

Gard said at the time that the amendments made it "more reasonable for the real people in the state who have had existing piers for a long time," according to the Associated Press.

The Assembly approved the amendments 58-34.

Democratic senators angrily accused Gard of scuttling the agreement.

"I am stunned and saddened that these amendments are before us," said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. "This is a matter of great importance to citizens around the state. The parties worked long and hard to create a compromise. There was a thoughtful, plausible plan people understood. The Assembly chose to break their word."

"One person, the speaker of the Assembly, blew apart the entire compromise," said Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie. "That is not the way public policy should be made in Wisconsin."

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, tried to table the measure to give Kedzie time to reach yet another compromise.

But Kedzie said the result might be worse if the issue were reopened.

"At this stage of the game, I don't know how it would end," Kedzie said. "At some point, we have to bring closure to this issue. We are getting 98 percent of what we wanted. I don't want to open this up for any sort of mischief."

Democrats also argued that the Senate should stand on its own without knuckling under to the Assembly. Gard "is not the speaker of this house," said Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who suggested unsuccessfully that a conference committee work out details.

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