Victories: 2015-2016 Legislative Session

The 2015-2016 legislative session gaveled in on January 5, 2015 and adjourned in April 2016. We saw more attacks on our air, land, and water this session than ever before. However, because of the hard work of thousands of conservation voters, we were able to fight back against the most anti-conservation legislation and even pass some pro-conservation legislation. Thank you for making these victories possible!

State Budget

Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program

The Stewardship Program protects vital lands and waters in Wisconsin, providing us with places to hunt, hike, fish, bike, and canoe.

Governor Walker tried to freeze the popular land protection program in the State Budget, but conservation voters like you weighed in almost 14,000 times with members of the Joint Finance Committee and the Governor to save it from extinction. Citizens held meetings with their legislators, wrote letters to local newspapers, and asked friends and family to join in. The thousands of stories you shared with legislators about the importance of this program brought it back to life, restoring over $33 million for land protection in Wisconsin.

Department of Natural Resources Board

Wisconsin has always been a leader in conservation, in large part because Aldo Leopold created the Natural Resources Board to be the citizens’ voice for our natural resources. The Board – made up of well-informed citizens from across the state – helps the DNR set scientifically sound natural resource management policies.

Just one day after hundreds of dedicated conservationists like you called for it at Conservation Lobby Day, the Joint Finance Committee fixed Governor Walker’s budget proposal to turn the Department of Natural Resources Board into an advisory board – a move that would have eliminated citizen input in our natural resource decisions.

County Conservationists

County Conservationists are the local boots on the ground working to reduce polluted runoff and providing critical testing and monitoring that keep our land and water clean. Governor Walker’s proposed budget would have cut the number of County Conservation staff, limited their ability to support local conservation efforts, and reduced the state’s ability to monitor soil and water pollution. Your letters – over 11,000 – helped restore $675,000 to this vital program.

Defeating Death By a Thousand Straws (SB 239)

This bill would have done more than leave us without solutions to our groundwater crisis – it would have made our problem worse by locking the door on future fixes and throwing away the key!

SB 239 would have granted “forever permits,” allowing major water users to continue guzzling large quantities of water in perpetuity. Once a property has a permit to pump, the Department of Natural Resources wouldn’t be able to revisit those permits, even when over pumping is impacting lakes, rivers, and drinking water wells.

Thanks to your strong opposition to Death by a Thousand Straws, sending nearly 13,000 messages to legislators, this bill did not become law and died at the end of session.

Defeating Water Privatization (AB 554)

Access to clean drinking water and effective sewer systems is a fundamental necessity. Wisconsin should be investing in these public systems to ensure they are in good repair and provide clean water to our citizens. AB 554 would have taken public accountability for managing critical water services away by allowing communities to sell their water utilities to private out-of-state companies. As a result, citizens would be left paying higher prices for water with declining levels of service.

We ramped up the public message around the Water Privatization bill by meeting with legislators, holding news conferences, and writing to our local papers. Senator Scott Fitzgerald received our message loud and clear and said AB 554 would not be passed in the 2015-16 session.

Prohibiting Pollution from Plastics (SB 15)

Plastic beads – those tiny beads in exfoliating soaps and other personal care products – are not only bad for the health of our lakes, they’re bad for our health, too. Microbeads absorb some of the most harmful pollutants already present in the Great Lakes, such as DDT and PCBs. When fish eat these plastic pellets, and we eat the fish, we’re exposed to higher levels of toxins.

When a bill was proposed to keep microbeads out of the Great Lakes by phasing out their production over the next few years, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters immediately encouraged support among decision makers and engaged and activated citizens across the state. Conservation voters sent more than 1,600 letters to legislators asking them to sign on in support of keeping plastics out of the Great Lakes. The bill passed the Senate and Assembly with strong bipartisan support and was signed into law as Act 43 on July 1, 2015.

Preserving Farmland and Protecting Shoreland (AB 165)

Shoreland zoning was created to protect water quality. A 2013 court case created confusion about whether other town ordinances – such as farmland zoning ordinances – could apply in areas where county shoreland zoning is in effect. With agricultural land under pressure from encroaching development, farmland zoning through the Farmland Preservation Program is an important tool for rural economic development. AB 165 clarifies that town zoning ordinances, such as farmland zoning, may continue to apply in shoreland areas, as long as the ordinance does not impose regulations that conflict with county shoreland zoning ordinances. AB 165 passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law as Act 41 on July 1, 2015.

Frac Sand Study Requested in Chippewa County (Local Issue)

Frac sand mining has been booming in Chippewa County, relatively unchecked for years even though little is known about the industry’s long term impacts on our natural resources, health, and economy. Members of the Chippewa County Board challenged this “mine now, ask questions later” approach by proposing a resolution to request that the DNR conduct a scientific study on frac sand mining’s health, economic, and environmental impacts. Conservation voters in Chippewa County took immediate action, sending 340 messages to County Board members in just four days. The resolution passed on a 7-6 vote.

Check out the victories from the 2013-2014 legislative session here.

Read about other historic victories here.