The snow is starting to melt; the days of the current legislative session are winding down; and farmers are thinking of getting into their fields.
But there are a couple of other things most likely on their minds, things like getting manure storage facilities emptied and those portable scales that about half a dozen counties have ordered.
Up until last week there were two Implements of Husbandry (IoH) bills, AB 648 (lead author Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi) and SB 509 (lead author Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon), that had been introduced in the legislature.
These two bills are identical and known as companion bills, with one introduced at the same time in each house of the legislature.
A joint hearing on both bills before the transportation committees of both houses was held on Jan. 28.
Since that hearing the Senate Committee on Transportation, Public Safety and Veterans Military Affairs, chaired by Petrowski, has met, voted its unanimous approval and sent SB 509 to the Senate for floor discussion, which is likely to take place on Mar. 11.
Last week an alternative bill, AB 842, was introduced by Representatives Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel), Lee Nerison (R-Westby), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). The name of Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) was added later in the week.
In a news release, Ballweg stated, “Something must be done, but the currently proposed legislation (SB 509 and AB 648) has room for improvement. I’m not alone in this opinion. Not all segments of the ag community have endorsed the proposed legislation.”
Objections to SB 509 and AB 648 have centered mainly on lighting requirements and on the permit requirement. Farmers would have to obtain an annual no-fee permit from towns in which they operate.
When operations are conducted in more than one town, a permit would be needed for each piece of equipment.
Ballweg said AB 842 would “require municipal units to notify the public, through a Department of Transportation (DOT) website and by legal notice, what sections of roads or structures (bridges or culverts) will need prior authorization for use by overweight equipment (23,000 lbs. per axle or 92,000 lbs. gross vehicle weight, whichever is greater).”
“Farmers would then appeal to the local unit of government for permission or alternatives on an individual basis as the bill currently specifies. This will cut down on paperwork for farmers and municipal governments. I believe those alternatives get to the crux of the weight concern.”
In addition, AB 842 would require lighting for anything exceeding 15 feet and lighting requirements would be in effect from dusk until dawn.
Both AB 648 and SB 509 provide an exemption for potato harvesters.
“I suggest allowing all seasonal equipment the same exemption,” Ballweg stated.
This would include harvesting equipment such as combines, forage harvesters, specialty vegetable harvesters and planting equipment (planters, seeders and drills).
Assembly Bill 842 places a moratorium on enforcement of current weight limits for up to 18 months.
Ballweg said “the current legislation (AB 648 and SB 509) is not ready and needs consensus from the ag community. To go from minimal to no weight enforcement on our roads to a complicated permitting system is too burdensome a change.”
That change, Ballweg indicated, “should come after further thought, discussion and ample time for implementation.”
She believes an 18-month moratorium on enforcement will allow farmers “to conduct business as usual and all stakeholders to sit down to find a sustainable solution.”
Laurie Fischer, executive director of the Dairy Business Association (DBA), applauded Rep. Ballweg and the other authors of AB 842 “for their leadership on introducing AB 842, which will allow Wisconsin’s farmers and agribusinesses to use their implements of husbandry (IoH) during upcoming planting and harvesting seasons without fear of being ticketed by law enforcement.”
Fischer also commended Sen. Petrowski and Rep. Ripp “for their efforts to date on SB 509 and AB 648. The authors have acknowledged those bills are not perfect, but have promised to fix the problems next session.”
“That is too big of a risk trying to revise a bill after it has been passed,” Fischer emphasized. “Our members cannot afford to take this type of risk and need a fix immediately.”
“Assembly Bill 842,” Fischer continued, “provides a fair and reasonable short-term solution to the IoH issue while giving lawmakers, farmers, agribusiness and local units of government more time to get this right. AB 842 addresses the heaviest equipment, which we all agree requires immediate attention.”
“It also provides time to allow farmers to make operational and business decisions regarding the use of certain equipment before they are either in an enforcement situation, or faced with the prospect of owning heavyweight equipment that cannot be used,” she added.
DBA is asking dairy farmers and agribusinesses across the state to contact their legislators and ask them to support AB 842. For more information, visit www.widba.com.
The Wisconsin County Highway Association (WCHA) and Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), in a letter to legislators last week, announced their opposition to the alternative bill, AB 842, introduced by Rep. Ballweg, as an alternative to SB 509 and AB 648.
The letter was signed by WCHA Executive Director Daniel Fedderly and Daniel Bahr, WCA government affairs associate.
“WCHA and WCA support SB 509 and AB 648 because they represent a compromise developed during the past 18 months by all of the stakeholders involved in this issue,” they wrote.
These two bills “address the needs of the agricultural community and protect the taxpayer’s investment in local roads and bridges.”
“If AB 842 were to become law, a significant increase in Road and Bridge postings is the only alternative that local jurisdictions will have in protecting the taxpayer’s investments.”
“The WCHA and WCA respectfully request the Legislature pass SB 509 and AB 648 as a compromise based on engineering analysis and existing science,” they said.
WFBF and Other Ag Groups
A wide coalition of agricultural groups is urging members of the Wisconsin State Senate to support a bill that will allow farmers to legally operate machinery on roadways this year.
Senate Bill 509, authored by State Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) and State Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) is the result of discussions between the bill authors with the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, and a number of agricultural organizations.
Those groups in support of Senate Bill 509, and its companion, Assembly Bill 648, are the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Pork Association and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.
“This bill is our top priority before the legislative session ends and spring planting begins,” said Paul Zimmerman, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s executive director of governmental relations. “We believe it is imperative that farmers have the ability to operate their equipment on our roadways legally and safely without fear of law enforcement action. This bill gives farm families that assurance.”
SB 509 passed the Senate Committee on Transportation, Public Safety and Veterans and Military Affairs with a bipartisan 5-0 vote on Mar. 6.
It is scheduled for a vote by the full Senate on Mar. 11.
“This legislation does many good things,” Zimmerman said. “It clarifies the definition of what qualifies as an implement of husbandry (IOH). It creates a new definition for agricultural commercial motor vehicles. It creates a no-fee permitting system that allows farmers to legally use the roadways if they exceed limits without threat of hefty fines. Even better, towns and counties can opt out of the permitting system if they choose.”
“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the bill authors to develop this compromise legislation and to work with us throughout this process,” said Jordan Lamb, who represents the cattlemen, soybean, pork, cranberry, potato and vegetable groups.
A study group of stakeholders began studying the IoH issue early in 2012, after farmers and agribusinesses in some counties were being stopped and fined for overweight loads.
In the fall of 2013, members of that task force, representing DOT, DATCP, UW-Extension, Wisconsin Towns Association and other stakeholders, held meetings across the state to explain the IoH report the group had developed.
More than 1,200 people showed up at those meetings where, at many locations, there was standing room only.
The drafting process of SB 509 and AB 648 took several months, perhaps, longer than anticipated. Introduced in January, the bills were assigned to the transportation committee in each house.
On Jan. 28, a day-long joint hearing took place in the capitol and was carried on WisconsinEye.
It was clear, from listening to the entire hearing, that these measures were a compromise among many stakeholders including the manufacturers of farm equipment, ag organizations, commodity groups and others.
Stadelman was the last to address the committees and he made it pretty clear that, in the view of the Wisconsin Towns Association, the language in SB 509 and AB 648 was the result of a compromise, a compromise that had been difficult to attain.
Here are some of his comments from that hearing.
“Our board of directors has voted to support the legislation as written. Everyone has been mad at me at some time along the way from January 2012.
“The legislation is based on the best science available and it is a compromise. These bills will encourage cooperation between users and local governments and promotes safety. We want to protect our local control and still retain seasonal and spring special postings,” Stadelman said.
There is one thing on which everyone seems to agree: Waiting is not an option.