Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Journal Sentinel Calls For Hearing On Great Lakes Compact Bill

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel adds its voice to the growing call for a hearing on whatever amendments legislators agree to add to the Great Lakes Compact implementing bill.

I have been hammering away on this blog and in a Sunday Journal Sentinel op-ed about the need for full disclosure of these amendments prior to their introduction - - especially if legislators have agreed in advance to approve them.

That is because adopting the Compact is a good thing, but could be undermined if the implementing bill contains key wording similar to what has been circulating around the Capitol.

Those phrases and other amendments could establish an indefinite period of time during which diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes basin could be allowed in Wisconsin using previous diversion permissions that were granted without the review and approval of the other Great Lakes states.

That would undermine the cooperative, conservation spirit and letter of the Compact - - using bad old precedents to establish bad new precedents - - akin to intentionally throwing good money after bad.

Additionally, some GOP legislators want fewer water conservation requirements in the bill, even though the legislation could be a fulcrum to obtain popular, once-in-a-lifetime water conservation planning and achievements.

Turns out that a poll released this week shows 77% of the Wisconsin public supports requiring statewide water conservation planning, so chalk up the Assembly GOP, which takes credit for stripping it out of the so-called water implementation "deal," as out of touch with public sentiment.

No wonder that GOP legislative leaders in the Assembly have been saying "no way" to a hearing.

On April 26th, the Journal Sentinel published a few updating paragraphs on its NewsWatch blog about the matter, including these:

"A legislative vote on the Great Lakes compact could still be two weeks off.

"Gov. Jim Doyle announced April 8 that he would call a special session for lawmakers to ratify the eight-state deal governing water diversions from the five big lakes, but legislators are still crafting the final language of a compact bill, and nobody can say now when a final vote will occur.

"The vote should happen within two weeks, said John Murray, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch.

"Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has asked for a public hearing, but Murray said that won't happen.

"As soon as we get the amendments drafted, the plan is to take it to a vote," he said.

The possibility of quick votes before the public is allowed into the process through a hearing, or widespread distribution of the contents of the deal arranged behind-the-scenes, has gotten stronger.

Some legislators in the last few days suggest putting the Compact's implementation bill into a package with a deal-ridden budget repair bill - - then putting the whole shebang up for a take-it-or-leave it vote.

That would obscure the water legislation bill and make a hearing something of a logistical impossibility.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council leadership have called for a hearing, as have citizens in Waukesha County,

That sets the correct, non-partisan tone for what should be routine in Wisconsin - - letting the public see the fruits of the legislative process, and comment on them, before a vote is taken.

As the newspaper rightly points out, a "watershed moment" like this demands full vetting and public disclosure.

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