2014 legislative session

After meeting with its actuaries, the Wyoming Retirement System learned it’s doing better than expected. That’s thanks to the legislature’s increases to the state’s contributions to the fund, and investment returns that came in above projections.  Executive Director Ruth Ryerson says the long term outlook for the retirement fund is excellent.

“Pretty much, every plan is projected in 30 years or less to be 100 percent funded.  And that’s the goal.  That means you have every dollar you need to meet every liability you have.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill will soon be returning to lead the Wyoming Department of Education.  Unless you’ve been under rock, you know that the Superintendent had her ability to oversee the department removed by the legislature and the governor last year.

University of Wyoming President Dick McGinity wrapped up his first legislative session last month and he calls it quite a learning experience.  He joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck to review the session.

The State Board of Education has decided to hold off on making any decisions about how to move forward with development of science standards. A footnote in the state budget bill that the governor signed earlier this month prohibits the Board from adopting, or even considering, a set of national standards that it had been reviewing for more than a year. Some legislators objected to the standards’ treatment of climate change and evolution.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session wrapped up this week and three issues dominated.  One was the state budget.  Another was the legislature’s decision to reject federal dollars to expand Medicaid, and the final issue was the Supreme Court Decision that said that it was unconstitutional for the legislature to demote State Superintendent Cindy Hill. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck asked lawmakers about some of those issues and has this report.

We just heard legislators discussing some of the issues of the past session, but we also chatted with some who attended the session.  Wyoming Public Radio intern Erin Jones got some reaction from a variety of onlookers.   

Bob Beck

Outgoing Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says he is wrapping up his legislative career.  The Gillette Republican is a fierce advocate for coal and the extractive industries. 

Speaker Lubnau also has had some strong views recently about the University of Wyoming and got national attention over his reaction to the infamous Carbon Sink sculpture that was placed near old main. He speaks with Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck

Grizzly bear management and Wyoming Game and Fish employee health insurance will be covered out of the state’s general fund in future budget cycles. The Legislature passed a bill that sidesteps their refusal to raise hunting and fishing licenses fees by allowing the agency to request state funding for those programs. Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott says it will free up about $7 million.

The Wyoming Senate gave final approval to a bill that sets aside $5 million for school districts to place cameras on school buses to catch motorists who illegally pass stopped buses.

Several senators opposed the bill saying  the focus should be on prevention.  One idea was to add more lights to the buses, so that motorists can't ignore them, but Sheridan Senator Bruce Burns says that won't do much. 

"This is happening 50,000 times a year in this state," Burns says. "I cannot believe that those people are not seeing those buses.  I think they are ignoring that law. "

The Wyoming House of Representatives began debating a bill that would increase the bonding required from oil and gas developers who need to drill on private surface land. 

The bond is used in lieu of a negotiated surface use agreement between landowners and energy companies. The agreement established payment for surface damage. Currently the bond is two thousand dollars and the bill would raise it to ten thousand dollars. 

House Begins Debate On Sobriety Bill

Feb 28, 2014
Bob Beck

The Wyoming House is considering a bill that would set up a program to test those who have been arrested for substance abuse misdemeanors at all hours of the day. 

House Judiciary Chairman Keith Gingery says 24/7 sobriety programs like this are currently working in some select Wyoming counties and in other states.  The bill funds a program where the substance abuser is tested regularly, sometimes twice a day, for drug or alcohol use.  Gingery says not only will the legislation help people, it could reduce crime. 

Although the final attempt to expand Medicaid in Wyoming was defeated by the State Senate on Friday, a House budget amendment would direct the executive branch to work with the federal government to try and resolve the issue.

The Governor would ask for a waiver so that lawmakers might have another chance to vote on a specified Medicaid expansion program next year.  Because there are federal funds involved, states must get approval from the feds in order to move forward with their own plans.  Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers likes the idea.

The Wyoming House and Senate approved their versions of the state budget on Friday and will now work on reaching a compromise to send to the Governor.  One of the entities that received a lot of attention was the University of Wyoming.  Senate Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout said that UW was treated well.

“We made some cuts, that’s what we do.  But we gave some endowment money, we are moving ahead on a tier 1 Engineering College, we did the double-A, looking at the Corbett pools, we did that endowed chair for petroleum engineering.”

The 24/7 Sobriety Program Bill has passed general file in the Wyoming Senate.

The bill would create the option for people who have been arrested for substance abuse misdemeanors to be tested regularly for drug or alcohol use instead of staying in jail.   If the offender fails to complete or pass a test, he or she would be arrested and appear in front of a judge. 

The program would mainly be funded by fees paid up-front by the offenders themselves. 

The State Senate has given initial approval to a change in the way Wyoming handles involuntary hospitalization of those needing mental health treatment.  The bill removes the requirement that a judge must review the involuntary commitment within 72 hours of it taking place.

The Wyoming Senate began debate on a bill that would increase bonding requirements for oil and gas operators on split estate properties.

The bill would increase the bond for operators drilling on land where they don't own the surface rights from two-thousand dollars to ten thousand.  Supporters say that operators are causing surface damage in excess of ten thousand dollars. 

Senators voted down an amendment to reduce limit the bond to six thousand dollars.  Kaycee Senator John Schiffer says the higher bond helps protect landowner rights.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has defeated an attempt to increase state, University, and Community College pay hikes from two percent to two and a half percent in each of the next two years. 

Supporters say government employees have not had a raise in four years and many are leaving.  But Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau finds that hard to believe.  Lubanu says he has lost a number of employees to government employers.

The Wyoming House and Senate withdrew an amendment that stirred up segments of the University of Wyoming community Wednesday. The Amendment would have been added to the budget bill. 

It required UW deans to meet with a special legislative committee to discuss areas of mutual concern and ways to enhance the educational missions of their departments.

A bill that would allow local school boards to decide if teachers can have guns in schools has been approved by the Senate Education Committee.

Sponsor Paul Barnard of Evanston says the idea is to make schools safer.  He says teachers would undergo extensive and recurring training.  Barnard says smaller districts especially may benefit from the bill.     

A number of speakers asked the Legislature's Joint Labor and Health Committee to pass a bill that would expand Medicaid services in the state. However the committee adjourned and did not return to vote on the bill. 

The measure would use federal money to provide insurance well over 17-thousand uninsured people in Wyoming. Supporters ranged from Laramie County who's concerned about raising taxes to make up for 12 million dollars in uncompensated care to those who can't afford health insurance. 

The State Senate approved additional funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, but not without discussion.

The bill provides $14 million for the department to pay for health insurance and grizzly management.   It’s intended to address financial issues within the Department, after a hunting license fee increase was defeated last year. 

Senator Phil Nicholas says the fee hike was defeated because the Game and Fish has incurred the wrath of those who pay the fees.

creative commons

Wyoming lawmakers are voting on the state budget this week and are considering proposals to strengthen the energy industry in the state.

15 million dollars is proposed for a facility to study the capture, sequestration, and management of carbon emissions from a coal fired power plant.  Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says it’s important to the future of Wyoming Coal.

“Perhaps bring Wyoming into a new era and it would certainly in regard to our reliance on coal and other things that are carbon based be a blessing if in fact we could do this.”

Cindy Hill Superintendent

The Wyoming Senate Rules Committee has passed a bill that would let a group of legislators work on amending the bill that took away the bulk of powers from the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Supreme Court declared the so-called Hill bill unconstitutional, and now the legislature must fix it.

Cheri Steinmetz with the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming testified against the bill, saying it's time the legislature stopped wasting money on the issue. But Senator Chris Rothfuss says the bill is necessary to resolve the management of the state's public school system.

The Senate Minerals Committee approved a bill Monday that would increase the amount of money oil and gas operators have to put up before accessing split estate properties.

A split estate is when a private landowner owns the surface land and not the mineral rights. The bill raises the minimum bonding amount from $2,000 to $10,000. The bond covers any damages to the property from development, when a surface use agreement can’t be negotiated.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has approved a bill that would require school buses in the state to carry video cameras on the outside.

The cameras would help catch motorists who illegally drive by stopped buses, also known as fly-by's.  Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau opposed the bill, saying that using cameras to spy on people would make him uncomfortable.  Other opponents complained that it should be a local control issue and not something that the state should mandate.

After defeating a series of Medicaid expansion bills earlier this week, the Wyoming Senate voted to introduce a compromise measure.

Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss is the sponsor.  The bill would enable the state to expand Medicaid for one year, during which time it could ask the federal government for the ability to devise its own expansion plan for the next three years.

The Wyoming Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would require each teacher and school administrator to undergo eight hours of suicide training every four years.  Wyoming has one of the nation’s highest rates of suicide, and Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe says they want school officials to look for possible signs in an effort to prevent suicide.

“It is a serious problem," Coe said. "If we can go out with something like this and recognize a couple of…I mean just one…prevent one and its worthwhile.

Bob Beck

For over a decade the state has struggled with making sure all citizens had access to health care.  Much of this had to do with the fact that many Wyoming citizens can’t afford health insurance.  The federal affordable care act was supposed to help.

There’s a fight brewing in Wyoming over the rights of landowners who don’t own the minerals below their properties. In 2005, the legislature passed a Split Estate law, but now, one lawmaker is saying it may be time to revisit the issue, in light of changes in drilling technology and intensity.

Senator Jim Anderson introduced a bill this week that would increase bonding on split-estate properties. Wyoming Public Radio energy reporter Stephanie Joyce joins us to discuss the bill, and its implications.

WILLOW BELDEN: So, what does this bill do?

A bill that would set up a committee to look into the possibility of the state transferring, acquiring, and managing federal lands has been given initial approval in the Wyoming Senate.

That's despite questions about the goal of the committee and whether the effort is worthwhile.   Senator John Schiffer wanted more clarification on what the committee is supposed to actually accomplish.

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