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Senate Stops Short On Mining Vote | Politics

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Senate Stops Short On Mining Vote

Senate Republicans have stopped short of voting on a contentious bill that would make changes to Wisconsin's mining regulations to help a Florida company open a huge iron mine in the north woods.

Republicans hold a 17-16 majority in the Senate and need everyone in their caucus to support the measure. But Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican from Richland Center, has vowed to vote against the measure.

Republican leaders put the bill on Tuesday's calendar anyway. Speculation ran rampant about whether Republicans could convince a Democrat to vote for the bill, but when the GOP opened the debate by trying to amend the bill the attempt failed 16-17, with Schultz and all 16 Democrats presenting a united front.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald then pulled the bill back to committee.

But Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, moved to try to take up a compromise worked on by him and Schultz, saying it's what his northern Wisconsin constituents want.

"They want the jobs but not an irresponsible mining law," Jauch said.

"It's my hope to bring a compromise back before the state Legislature," Schultz said.

Despite the opposition to the mining bill in the Legislature, private labor unions converged on the state Capitol in hopes of convincing the state Senate to approve the bill.

Dozens of construction workers and equipment operators holding signs that read "Let Us Work" and "Mine Jobs Now!" gathered around the Capitol rotunda Tuesday about an hour before senators were scheduled to come to the floor, saying the measure passed by the Joint Finance Committee and supported by the mining company would bring badly needed jobs.

"I want to continue to work. I want my son to continue to work. I want my brother laborers and sister laborers to continue to work who are losing their houses, foreclosures; there are a lot of reasons why I'm here," said George Mallum III, of South Milwaukee.

Lawmakers unanimously voted to send the issue back to committee. A spokesman for the senate majority leader said they will continue to try to find a bill both houses can agree on.

The bill is designed to clear the way for Gogebic Taconite's plans for an open-pit iron mine just south of Lake Superior.

The company has promised the project will create hundreds of jobs for economically depressed northwestern Wisconsin. But environmentalists fear the mine would pollute one of the most pristine areas in the state.

The president of Gogebic Taconite reaffirmed Tuesday that if the Schultz-Jauch bill passed, the company would pull its mining plan from the state.


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