A change in legislature may affect cooperative members statewide.
The Senate Bill 281, Assembly Bill 353, allows for cooperatives, also known as co-ops, to make changes to their bylaws that were once seen as illegal.
According to the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the changes would have about 20 percent of co-op board members be replaced by investors or other outsiders. Members will no longer have the ability to review co-op records that are more than three years old, and the co-op would also have the choice to give 20 percent in return to current and future investors.
However, implementation of the bill is solely in the hands of the cooperative, and the Stevens Point co-op has chosen not to follow the bill.
Cate Spaulding, the communication and newsletter management member of the Stevens Point co-op, said “After discussing the proposed bill with our board and staff in September, we sent a representative of our board to attend the September 27th hearing on the bill, and then discussed the impact of the bill with our membership during our annual Fall General Membership Meeting in October. From this, we collectively decided the bill is not representative of our principles as a co-op.”
The cooperative believes it is important to keep communication open between members and protect the cooperative from outside, unknowledgeable, sources.
Non-member interests can cause conflict, whereas members already have knowledge and experience with the co-op, giving them a better viewpoint when making decisions.
The group also wanted to maintain the equality of the cooperation, something the bill just didn’t provide.
To further protect themselves from the proposed bill, the cooperative talked of revising current bylaws, making a great amount of what the bill is proposing prohibited. This was discussed with the members of the co-op at a General Membership Meeting.
Spaulding later said, “Our decision to not follow the bill was made to remain in keeping with the seven Cooperative Principles, as well as our own Statement of Purpose, by-laws, and ideals as an independent co-op. We believe it is crucial to the spirit of cooperatives that our Board is elected from our membership, that financial records are open to the membership, and all members receive the same voting rights.”
In the article written by Nick Levendofsky, ‘A Closer Look at the Proposed Changes to Wisconsin’s Cooperative Laws’, Levendofsky says “Proponents of the bill reason that we should allow our co-ops to change with the times; that other states have changed their cooperative laws to allow patronage-based voting in limited situations; that federally-chartered farm credit banks have had outside directors for some time; and that the changes in the bill are opt-in, rather than automatic, meaning each cooperative will decide for itself whether to adopt the changes or not.”
However, the Stevens Point cooperative, and many others, do not see it this way.
While other Wisconsin co-ops may choose to adopt the bill, Stevens Point is choosing to keep members on the board and keep their records open.