Madison – The Assembly passed the “DNR secretary bill,” Assembly
Bill 138, by a vote of 61-32 on Sept. 22, and now the bill heads to
The bill would return the appointment authority of the DNR
secretary to the Natural Resources Board.
The Senate must now approve a version of the same bill, and then
it would go to Gov. Jim Doyle, who has said he doesn’t want the
system changed, although he hasn’t said that he’d veto it if both
houses pass the bill. To be veto-proof, the bill needs a two-thirds
vote – 66 votes in the Assembly and 22 in the Senate.
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Executive Director George Meyer
said four of the bill’s co-sponsors were absent from the Assembly
vote, and he believes another supporter or two are possible for a
“There was a very strong bipartisan majority for passing the
bill,” Meyer said. “We ended up just on the edge of what we will
need in the future to override a potential governor’s veto. We
believe we are at 65 votes and will need to pick up only one for a
veto-proof override. This is an incredible achievement since we are
up against a major lobbying effort by the governor’s office, the
DNR secretary’s office, and big-business interests.”
But, as Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, said prior to the vote,
“There is no such thing as a veto-proof bill.”
Gunderson learned that on a bill he sponsored and that passed
handily in previous sessions, but the governor leaned on
legislators, and some former “strong supporters” of the bill
changed their position and opposed it.
The voting on AB 138 was delayed by 10 amendments proposed by
Republicans that were mostly defeated on party-line votes. The
Assembly has 52 Democrats, 46 Republicans, and one independent.
The amendments, offered by Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, Rep.
Dan LeMaheiu, R-Cascade, and Gunderson, were defeated routinely by
margins of 52-43 and 54-41.
The amendment that has the best chance of passing, and that
Assembly Natural Resources chair Spencer Black, D-Madison, said he
supported and would be heard at the next Assembly Natural Resources
Committee hearing, was authored by LeMaheiu and would require that
at least three members of the Natural Resources Board have to have
had a hunting, fishing, or trapping license in recent years, and
one member had to be from the agricultural community.
The Democrats said that issue was not germain to the bill, but
LeMaheiu and Gunderson argued that it was, in fact, germain to the
Eventually, Assembly Speaker Michael Sheridan ruled that it was
not germain and the speaker’s ruling was sustained on a vote of
However, Black said, “I support this (LeMaheiu’s) bill and the
next Natural Resources Committee meeting it will be on the agenda
and I will support it.”
If that does happen, it may get enough support to convince more
Republicans to support AB 138 if it came for a vote to override a
During the speeches on the appointment of the secretary, Huebsch
said people have to have a tie to the appointment process, which
happens when people elect the governor and the governor appoints
Rep. Don Friske, R-Merrill, pleaded that constituents needed to
have a voice.
“The DNR has a difficult job and great people, and this is not
an indictment of the agency or the Natural Resources Board, but it
is about whether or not our constituents have a voice in the
process,” he said, urging the bill to be defeated.
Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, reminded legislators
that they hear the party line of whomever is in power, and the
change in the DNR secretary was made by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson,
who also tried to eliminate the independent state superintendent of
“The real voice is us, the Legislature,” Schneider said. “I’ve
served under lots of governors and they all care about themselves.
Their minions and the majority party does what they want, and the
power of checks and balances has been negated.”
Black reminded his colleagues that the Conservation Congress
supports the bill and 270 groups supported the bill at a hearing.
In addition, the Legislature didn’t hand over the appointment of
the president of the University of Wisconsin system to the
governor, but invests that in a board.
“Natural resources is about complicated decisions, and we want a
balance,” Black said. “If we don’t like what the board does, we can
pass laws, plus we set the DNR budget, and anyone can bring
complaints to the Natural Resources Board at its citizen input
sessions. We need a long-range, steady course.”
He reminded legislators that four past-DNR secretaries – Scott
Hassett, Darrell Bazzell, Tony Earl, and George Meyer – had all
come out in support of a board-appointed secretary system.
Black said he wasn’t comfortable going against the governor, but
he led the charge on the issue beginning in 1995 because he said he
believes it’s the right thing to do.