The recently-passed state budget included some good news and some bad news for Gathering Waters and Wisconsin land trusts. The Stewardship Program compromise, which provides $33 million annually, was passed into law, but the capacity grant that supports Gathering Waters' direct services to land trusts was eliminated by a veto.
Nov 07, 2011
Assembly Passes AB 311
As expected, the full Assembly passed an amended version of AB 311 (also known as the Sporting Heritage Bill) on Tuesday, November 1st. The Senate companion bill to this legislation, SB 226, has now been referred to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, and we are expecting that this committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation either later this year or early in 2012.
We will continue to provide updates as we learn more about the timing and likely procedural steps in the Senate. We remain hopeful that our ongoing concerns about this legislation will be heard by long-time champions of the Stewardship Program in the Senate and that additional positive changes will be made to the bill.
While the final language approved by the Assembly represents a significant improvement from earlier versions of the bill, we continue to have lingering concerns. The original legislation required Stewardship projects with any prohibitions of nature-based outdoor activities (i.e., hunting, trapping, fishing, hiking and cross country skiing) to be approved unanimously by the Natural Resources Board (NRB) . The amended bill instead requires four out of seven NRB members to vote in favor of prohibitions on future projects. The amendments also preserved the existing narrow circumstances for limiting public access on Stewardship properties (i.e., to protect public safety or to protect unique plant or animal communities). In other words, the amended version of the bill is much closer to existing law than the original legislation. While requiring exactly four NRB votes in favor of a project seems reasonable, there may be unintended consequences. For instance, if any members of the NRB are absent from a meeting where a decision is made on a Stewardship project, then functionally a super-majority vote will be needed. Or, alternatively, if the NRB sets a policy that it will only approve Stewardship projects at meetings with all Board members present then projects could potentially be delayed for weeks, if not months. A cleaner approach that would reduce the risk of losing important Stewardship projects would be to stick with current law, which requires a simple majority vote of those NRB members in attendance at monthly meetings.
We also continue to believe that the requirement of an economic impact analysis on individual Stewardship projects would be unrealistic and unnecessary. This provision was not amended by the committee today. The economic impact of Stewardship should be carefully examined at the state and regional levels.