State Representative Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) kicked off a series of listening sessions to discuss several legislative topics March 24 at the town hall in Lyndon.
Since beginning his fifth term in January, Brooks has been busy, working on several wide-ranging bills in Madison. Brooks represents all of Juneau County, as well as Richland Center and Reedsburg. The assemblyman also discussed items in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget.
“We had the budget address, which is starting to get some traction,” Brooks said. “The governor gave his opinion on it and now the joint finance committee will have some agencies come in and testify (this week). After that, we’re going to have six state-wide hearings on the proposed budget.”
Brooks said the two closest public hearings will be at Berlin High School and UW-Platteville next week. In the next few weeks, Brooks and fellow legislators will be working on getting bills prepared to vote on during upcoming floor sessions.
Walker has been touring Wisconsin touting his budget. The governor made a stop in Reedsburg early last week.
“He is good on his feet, no question about that,” Brooks said. “He talked about his agenda and proposals and the good things he’s doing for education funding.”
During his visit to Reedsburg, Walker was asked what he thought about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Several large farms in Brooks’ district depend on migrant workers for every day chores.
“(Walker) said that he and three other governors talked to the head of Homeland Security and their intent is not to have a sweep come in (to remove immigrants),” Brooks said. “If you’ve committed a felony, you’re going to go through the process and you might go to prison and leave the country. But if you’re just out there raising a family, sending your kids to school and sending money back to your family in Mexico, you should not be affected.”
A contentious topic facing state lawmakers is the purpose of high-capacity wells. Brooks said there was a joint meeting between the Senate and Assembly committees on agriculture to address high-cap wells.
“We started at 9 a.m. and went until 6 at night and everybody who wanted to speak on the topic did so,” Brooks said. “This is a basic bill; it’s not a new bill on high-capacity wells. It’s to repair or replace existing wells and to allow the transfer to a high-cap well.”
The bill has been somewhat controversial, especially in the central sands area north east of Juneau County and in the northeastern parts of the county. Some residents wonder if these high-pumping wells, often used by large farm operations, are diminishing the area’s natural water supply.
“There are natural cycles where lakes do dry up,” Brooks said. “So we want to put science to it. Was there a drought year, in addition to the pumping or was it just the pumping that lowered the water tables? If you have a private well that goes dry it’s a major issue to you. Those are the main components to the bill.”
Brooks is also working on the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, a proposal he unveiled with the support of fellow legislators last year. A large piece of the bill looks at expanding broadband internet service and Brooks said areas in rural northern Wisconsin are already seeing broadband expansion.
Transportation and infrastructure continue to be a hot issue in Wisconsin. Walker is standing firm on not raising taxes for road repairs, and Brooks does not agree with the governor’s stance. Brooks said he would like to explore several options to fund road work, including raising the state’s fuel tax by a small percentage.
“I expect the governor to sign my bills, so I don’t want to irritate him too much, but we can respectfully disagree,” Brooks said. “He has essentially said no new fees and tax increases, recently. But we feel with the new budget there is an opportunity to cut some taxes so we can raise revenue for the transportation issue.”
Brooks has additional listening sessions coming up in Wonewoc and Elroy (March 30), along with Camp Douglas and New Lisbon (March 31).