Wisconsin’s railroad bill AB-876 passes Assembly

Gary Besaw delivered the annual State of the Tribes speech at the Wisconsin Legislature.

Assembly Bill (AB)-876 passed by a vote of 59-34 in last week’s Assembly session and now goes to the Senate.

If the bill passes both houses and is signed by the governor, sportsmen will once again be able to legally cross railroad tracks on foot to reach hunting, fishing and trapping spots.

The next step is for the bill to go to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee chaired by Sen. Van Wanggaard. The companion bill number in the Senate is SB-734. Wanggard’s staff has indicated that the committee is going to meet on Tuesday, March 1, but as of Feb. 24, SB-734 had not been added to that March 1 agenda.

The bill would have to clear that committee and then advance to – and pass – on the Senate floor before going to Gov. Scott Walker for signing.

An Assembly co-author,  Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, hopes the bill will pass the Senate. If it does, he expects it to be signed by Walker even though the governor vetoed the same language from the state budget bill this past summer.

“The bottom line is that it is now our Wisconsin constitutional right to hunt, fish, and trap in Wisconsin,” he said.  “The rule that was put in place back in 2006 can prevent people from exercising those state constitutional rights.”

That law change was pushed through quietly in 2005 and 2006 by railroads. The change meant that people could only cross railroad tracks at designated crossings that had either stop signs, or stop arms and warning lights. That law prevented everyone, including sportsmen, from crossing tracks on foot anywhere they wished.

The new law became most noticed in the La Crosse area where hunters, fishemen and trappers routinely cross tracks to reach the Mississippi River or its backwaters. Awareness became even more heightened beginning in 2014 when Burlington Northern-Sante Fe railroad agents began approaching sportsmen to warn them of the law change. Citations were not issued at that time.

“I believe most of the people who hunt and fish follow the rules,” he said. “So even if the law wasn’t enforced, they might not hunt a certain area, because they had to cross railroad tracks in an unapproved area to do so. They wouldn’t take the risk of breaking the rules.  This rule needed to be changed regardless if or not the railroads or local law enforcement agents decided to enforce it.“

One of the reasons Kleefisch was so passionate about the bill is because he heard a lot of concern from citizens and conservation groups about it.  Further, he doesn’t want a suspect law on the books that might narrow down the opportunity for people to enjoy Wisconsin’s greatest traditions.

Railroad lobbyists have been claiming that crossing the tracks is a safety concern, but Kleefisch and other legislators aren’t buying it.

“The accidents involved in people getting hit by trains have not involved people looking to access their hunting and fishing spots,” he said.  “Tragically, they have largely involved suicide and or alcohol.”

People who agree that this new bill should be passed in the Senate need to contact their legislature and let them know. Keep in mind, too, that just because a person doesn’t have a problem in terms of crossing tracks to get to their spot, it doesn’t mean pressure shouldn’t be applied.

This “no crossing” law applies to railroad tracks statewide, not just in the La Crosse area.

Conservation group leaders are asking sportsmen to contact Sen. Van Wanggaard by phone or email to ask that he place the railroad bill on his March 1 agenda. Wisconsin Outdoor News readers may contact him at (608) 266-1832, or by email at Sen.Wanggaard@legis.wisconsin.gov.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Hunting News, WisBlogs, Wisconsin – Dan Durbin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *