- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Republican-controlled Wisconsin board softened its ban Tuesday on employees working on global warming issues, modifying the language to bar them from lobbying for climate change policies.

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, made up of the state’s three constitutional officers, imposed the ban on its nine employees in April. Republican state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk proposed it after learning that Tia Nelson, the board’s executive secretary and daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, had served on a global warming task force on board time years ago.

The move generated an intense backlash from Democrats and conservationists, who portrayed it as a gag order on talking about global warming and a direct attack on Nelson.

Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette cast the only vote against the ban. He proposed during a meeting Tuesday to change the language to prohibit staff from advocating for global warming policy changes. He said it makes sense for staff to work on climate change since the board deals with timberland harvests and land issues.

“It is sensible for our staff to talk about climate change when appropriate,” La Follette said. “It’s just logical. We don’t want our staff to be advocating. We don’t want them on the stump.”

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, the board’s chairman, was the deciding vote in April. In a rare alliance with a Democrat, he voted for La Follette’s modification Tuesday. He said he wished he had changed the original ban in April to clarify it only prohibited advocacy.

“The goal wasn’t to say you can’t utter ‘global warming,’” Schimel said. “The goal was to avoid policy advocacy.”

Adamczyk questioned the line between working on global warming issues and advocacy. He asked what would happen if Nelson was asked to join another global warming task force. Schimel said serving on such a task force would be policy advocacy and would require board approval. La Follette agreed.

“This is really about Tia Nelson,” Adamczyk said before voting “no.”

Nelson declined to comment on the change.

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle tapped Nelson to serve on his global warming task force in 2007 while she was working at the board. In 2009, she took a trip to Washington, D.C., on board time to testify on global warming before a House energy subcommittee.

Adamczyk joined the board this January by virtue of winning the state treasurer’s office in November’s elections. He was incensed to learn of Nelson’s past activities, maintaining global warming has nothing to do with the board’s mission. He accused her of “time theft” and called for her to be fired in March.

Nelson has said none of the previous commissioners had any problem with her serving on the task force and she didn’t believe serving at a governor’s request would be an issue. She has said she hasn’t worked on global warming since the task force disbanded seven years ago and she’s never lobbied on climate change.

Despite the vote, the board still scheduled a closed session for June 30 to discuss Nelson’s job performance.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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