It now appears likely that a compromise bill to legalize larger farm equipment's use on state roadways will pass the Legislature.
The Senate had passed the Implements of Husbandry bill (Senate Bill 509) on a voice vote March 11.
On Friday (March 21) its companion measure, Assembly Bill 648, was passed by the Assembly on an 82-11 vote. But the version passed in the Assembly is slightly different from the one the Senate passed, so it will need to go back to the upper house for affirmation before it can be finalized.
That could happen on April 1, which is the final day the Senate will be in session. The Assembly has already adjourned for this session.
The bill was authored by State Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) and State Representative Keith Ripp (R-Lodi) in response to concern about farmers getting tickets for having implements that were overweight on the roads.
As more farmers started to get those tickets, many in the farming community and in law enforcement realized there is no exemption for farmers and their ever-larger tools for field work, harvesting and manure spreading.
Town and county officials were also involved in hashing out the specifics of the measure with the bill's authors because of the damage oversized farm implements can cause to roads.
The bill clarifies the definition of implements of husbandry (IOH) and creates a new definition for agricultural commercial motor vehicles. It establishes size parameters and lighting requirements for farm machinery operated on roadways.
It increases weight limits by 15 percent for IOH and increases axle weight limits from 20,000-23,000, and total gross vehicle weight from 80,000-92,000 pounds.
The version passed in the Assembly changes weight requirements and a permitting process for towns and counties. For tillage, planting and harvesting equipment, state law will allow these IOH to be over 23,000 pounds per axle weight.
Towns and counties have the authority to adopt a resolution or an ordinance to establish a local permitting process to issue no-fee permits for approved routes for tillage, planting and harvesting equipment.
Farm groups in support of SB 509 are the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association, Wisconsin Soybean Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Pork Association and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.
Paul Zimmerman, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation's executive director of governmental relations, said the bill is critically important before farmers take their implements on the road for spring planting.
"Farmers need to be able to legally drive their farm equipment to their fields to plant this year's crops. The Farm Bureau is pleased that the Legislature is working diligently to accomplish this," he said.
Passage of the bill remains his organization's top priority, he added.
Without the new measure, IOH are subject to current law, including statutory road weight limits.
If a farmer gets cited for exceeding those weight limits, the vehicle must be unloaded until it meets those limits. That happened to manure haulers in various municipalities.
Once they got a ticket, they had to figure out a way to unload part of the manure to get down to a weight that could be legally operated on the road.
The alternative in such an instance is for the farmer or manure hauler to get an overweight permit, however under current law there is no overweight permit system for such farm implements.
Current weight limits allow IOH to operate if they have a gross vehicle weight of up to 80,000 pounds (depending on number and spacing of axles) or up to 20,000 pounds per axle — those limits are determined by federal bridge formulas and basic trucking limits. Many IOH in use today exceed those weight limits.
Petrowski and Ripp based their bill on recommendations from a study group that included stakeholders representing transportation and farm organizations, equipment manufacturers, law enforcement, local officials and the University of Wisconsin-Madison-Extension.
It was further informed by a series of well-attended town hall meetings for farmers that were held around the state.
Under the measure there will be no permit requirement for over-width IOH although certain lighting and marking requirements will be imposed on implements that exceed 15 feet in width.
Implements measuring 15-22 feet wide or vehicles that extend across the centerline will be required to have lighting; implements over 22 feet wide are required to have lighting and an escort vehicle.
Width requirements would also be established for agricultural commercial motor vehicles. Owners will be given 18 months to retrofit vehicles with required lighting.
The legislation, if finalized, would increase the allowable gross vehicle weight for IOH by 15 percent, from 80,000 pounds to 92,000 pounds.
The per-axle weight limit would also be increased 15 percent from 20,000 pounds to 23,000 pounds per axle.
The bill's authors drew on the allowable fall harvest increase, but applied that to farm implements during the entire year.
Amendments in the Assembly exempt certain implements, including self-propelled combines, forage harvesters, fertilizer or pesticide application equipment and other tillage and planting IOH from per-wheel, axle, or group-of-axles weight limitations on town or county roads.
Local governments could override this exemption by resolution or ordinance.
Certain implements, including self-propelled combines, forage harvesters, fertilizer or pesticide application equipment and other tillage and planting IOH must be given a permit to operate overweight under the bill.
Under the measure, this category of IOH could not be denied a permit. The local town or county government must provide an authorized route for use of this equipment.
Lawmakers agreed that the fall harvest 15 percent overweight allowance will continue to apply to other vehicles used for harvest. In order to exceed these weight limitations for any IOH, farmers must receive local written authorization.
Lawmakers will require that a uniform local form be developed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
If the measure is finalized and signed into law, it will also impact length of farm implements. One IOH vehicle may be up to 60 feet long. A two-vehicle IOH "train" is limited to 100 feet. A three-vehicle IOH train may be 70-100 feet long with a maximum allowable speed limit of 25 miles per hour for trains that are 100 feet long.
A local permit would be required to exceed these length limitations.
Under the bill, there is no height limitation for IOH but the bill specifies that the operator of the IOH is generally responsible for ensuring that there is adequate height clearance between the implement and overhead structures or obstructions.
Additionally, under the bill, pickup trucks are permitted to tow or pull IOH like hay racks and wagons.
Towns and counties will have the ability to "opt out" of the bill's IOH permit system and choose to simply allow implements or a specific category of IOH on their roadways without any permit requirements.