Madison Williams

Reporter

In a new report from the Verified Voting Foundation, Wyoming earned a “good” status for the security of its voting process. The state scored well because it uses paper ballots, which provide hard-copy proof, and tally votes electronically. It also ranked high on accounting for ballots cast, and for its reception of ballots from voters overseas. But Wyoming scored poorly in the area of post-election audits, because the state doesn’t check the electronic count of ballots against hard copy samples.

If Governor Matt Mead’s eight percent budget cuts go through, Wyoming’s state parks would have to make significant cuts in services and staffing. Milward Simpson is the Director of the Department of Parks, Historic Sites and Trails, and he says every state park would be affected.

"We’ll be doing less hiring if these budget cuts come to pass. We’re also going to eliminate a currently vacant position at Hotsprings State Park, and we’re going to be reducing all of our supply and operations and maintenance budgets across the board, around the state," Simpson says.

The Game and Fish Department could see a 10-million-dollar budget shortfall by 2014, largely because it has been selling fewer hunting and fishing licenses. Licenses account for 46-percent of the agency’s income.  

Game and Fish will hold a meeting Thursday/tomorrow night in Cheyenne to discuss its fiscal future. Spokesperson Mark Konishi says the public will have a chance to weigh in on possible alternative funding sources for the future.

Lightning started several small fires over the weekend. Crews and helicopters responded to three blazes in Sheridan County and two in Campbell County. State Forester Bill Crapser says though many fires started, none of them is very large.

"They were mainly range fires, out in northern Sheridan county and northern Campell county, and nothing really got real big over the weekend. So um, had a lot of activity but no new really large fires," Crapser says.

Even as economic recovery around the country stagnates, Wyoming’s small businesses seem to  be receiving loans at stable levels.  Stephen Parker with the Small Business Administration says the number of loans his organization helps guarantee suggests that lenders have faith in Wyoming’s economy. "We’re doing well, and in the last 33 months, we’ve done about 391 loans in Wyoming here for 125 million, which means that there has been some new capital added,” Parker says. Parker adds those numbers are up about 20-percent from the depths of the financial crisis.

After eight years in Cody, the WHATfest musical festival will kick off its ninth year in Riverside, near Saratoga, this weekend.

At the event, 37 bands from around the region will entertain festival goers. There will also be exhibits and belly dancing performances. Festival founder Marco Ruble says the music will appeal to all tastes and ages.

“Its cross-genre, a little bit of everything, this year it seems that we do have a little bit of emphasis on Americana,” Ruble says.

Casper will ban smoking in enclosed public places starting September first. Opponents wanted to put the decision to voters, but their petition to include the measure on the ballot failed to collect enough signatures. The ordinance will ban smoking in all indoor public and workplaces and around public doors. Mandi Wymore with the organization Smoke Free Natrona says the people of Casper support the ban.

A climber died after falling on the Middle Teton this weekend.

Californian Justin Beldin had moved to the Victor area in June and worked in Jackson Hole. He was descending the peak with two friends on Sunday when he slippedon a ridge and fell1,000 feet.

Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs says fly-by recognizance indicated that Beldin had died from the fall, but bad weather prevented rescuers from extracting the body until Monday afternoon.

Governor Matt Mead says he has major reservations about the optional expansion of Medicaid that’s been granted to states by the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act enabled states to receive federal funding so they can increase Medicaid coverage. If Wyoming opts in, roughly 30,000 uninsured people in Wyoming could qualify for Medicaid. And the federal government would foot most of the bill.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission says it is revising the application process for confidential well status. For a well to be confidential, it must be exploratory, and outside the bounds of known oil fields. But many wells that have received the 6-month designation may not actually qualify as exploratory. Operators seek the designation in order to protect profitable sites and production techniques. Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Robert King says, the change will give citizens access to information about how oil and gas are extracted.

Wyoming will be sending two athletes to the Olympic games this summer, making it the state with the highest number of Olympians per capita. But the state's small population might be what makes that possible, Wyoming's athletes are both experiences competitors.

Rower Brett Newlin of Riverton will return to the Olympics as part of the US Rowing team. He says he’s motivated by the competition of the games.

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Thanks to light snowpack and a dry spring, Wyoming is in the midst of a severe drought. Such dry conditions mean that much of the grass that covers Wyoming’s open spaces isn’t growing. Wyoming Public Radio’s Madison Williams reports that’s bad news for the state’s cattle ranchers, who depend on the grass to feed their livestock.

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This summer, the Snowy Range Dance Festival is drawing dancers from across the Rocky Mountains and as far away as Florida for a period of intensive dance training. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival has long been an important resource for dancers in the region.

State officials will meet with industry representatives and the public next month in Pinedale for an annual oil and gas planning meeting. Industry representatives and several state agencies will discuss issues related to air and water quality and economic development.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswomen Shelley Gregory says oil and gas operators will forecast their employment for the next year so the community can prepare for an influx of workers.

The Sawmill Fire near Glendo has stopped growing, and officials say it should be contained by Friday evening. The fire started last Saturday on National Guard training land, and grew to 15-thousand acres. Incident Commander Ron Graham says damp weather helped with the quick containment.

"So far we’ve had a couple good breaks with the weather, we’ve taken advantage of them, we were able to work with heavy equipment to get control lines in , and now we’re burning off those control lines to secure the perimeter," Graham says.

A new Wyoming Economic Analysis Division report shows the state’s investment fund is taking in higher than expected returns. The fund earned 14% --or 27 million dollars-- more than predicted. And total investment revenues were almost 40% higher than last year. State Treasurer Joe Meyer says the state’s diverse investments have allowed it to weather the tumultuous global economy.

        “We’re a very diversified portfolio. We have investments in almost all the major types of investments,” Meyers says.

Two new Wyoming laws went into effect this month, which require local governments and public bodies to be more transparent. The Open Meetings Act requires that all state boards and commissions make their meetings open to the public and announce them eight hours in advance.

The Yellowstone Jazz Festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary next week in Cody. In 1988, a group of jazz enthusiasts in Cody created the festival.  Since then, it has grown in size and stature. This year, returning artists include the Yellowstone Big Band and Sunny Wilkinson.

Irina Zhorov / Wyoming Public Media

Thanks to crew efforts and a break in temperatures, officials say growth has slowed on the Arapaho, Oil Creek, Fontenelle, and Squirrel Creek fires.  State Forester Bill Crapser says they’ve turned a corner.

 “Everybody I’ve talked to on all the fires are real optimistic on the progress being made, so we’re really not expecting to see major growth on any of the fires,” Crapser said.

A new drunk driving law will target repeat driving under the influence offenders in Wyoming. The new law extends the maximum jail sentence to seven years for anyone convicted of drunk driving four or more times.

The previous sentence was only two years.

Representative Sam Krone of Cody sponsored the bill. He says, the longer sentence will allow repeat offenders to undergo comprehensive treatment.

“It provides for courts to order longer, more intensive treatment that often times couldn’t be ordered previously because of that two-year limitation,” Krone says.

Two new laws went into effect in Wyoming on Sunday, which are meant make government more transparent. The Public Records Act requires agencies to confirm or deny a public records request within seven days. And the Open Meetings Act calls for public bodies to make meetings open to the public, and to announce them eight hours in advance. Jim Angell is executive director of the Wyoming Press Association. He says the open meetings law will also close technological loopholes.

Matt Stroshane / Associated Press

Grand Teton National Park officials are reminding people that fireworks are not allowed in the park at any time. Fireworks are also banned in the Bridger Teton National Forest and Teton County.

Park Spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs says this Fourth of July, the extremely dry conditions would make fireworks particularly dangerous.

"Because of the extreme dry vegetation, it’s very easy to start an unwanted wildfire, and have it get out of hand.”

Skaggs says that anyone caught setting off fireworks or leaving campfires unattended will be ticketed and charged.

Senator Mike Enzi held a press conference today, deriding the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Enzi—who was instrumental in developing the healthcare bill –opposes the legislation on the grounds that it will raise taxes, increase the budget deficit, and be hard on small businesses.

Enzi says the only bright side of the Supreme Court ruling is that it rejects a requirement that would have states provide Medicaid to a much larger sector of the population.

With Governor Matt Mead calling on state agencies to prepare for eight percent budget cuts, Casper Community College might have to leave vacancies unfilled and cut program operating budgets. The school isn’t planning for layoffs, but could leave vacancies unfilled and cut operating budgets. School president Walt Nolte says that will affect class sizes and course offerings.  

 “Probably the most significant impact for students is that there would be fewer classes, and in the classes that we do offer, there would be higher student numbers,” Nolte says.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, Wyoming supporters of the Affordable Care Act anticipate increased quality, transparency, and accessibility of health care in the state.

Marguerite Herman is with Consumer Advocates: Project Healthcare, a Wyoming-based healthcare information resource. She says the Affordable Care Act will help provide coverage for the state’s nearly 90,000 uninsured.

 

A propane leak at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort prompted evacuations of parts of the base. The leak occurred the morning of Tuesday, June 26th, when a contractor hit a small propane distribution line. Brain Tanabe with Lower Valley Energy says crews are on site to contain the risk of an explosion.

“The propane concern is that the gas is heavier and it accumulates and so we just want to make sure it doesn’t accumulate in any combustible area,” Tanabe says.

The Department of Interior has authorized a 60 day extension of the comment period for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations, following concerns from the oil and gas industry. The rules would call for companies that use fracking to disclose the chemicals they use, and address waste water and drilling issues.

A young Grizzly Bear and a mother antelope were killed Thursday in Grand Teton National Park on Highway 89, the park’s main road.

The grizzly was killed when one car swerved to avoid another car and rolled, hitting and killing the bear that was by the side of the road. The driver was treated for minor injuries at Saint John’s Hospital in Jackson. Another car hit an antelope near Gros Ventre Junction, and failed to report the collision. Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs says, drivers need to be extra aware when driving in the park.

During this election season candidates for public office are discussing a number of topics.  We asked Wyoming Public Radio’s Madison Williams to ask people in Laramie what issues they’d like to hear candidates discuss.