2018 Legislative Session

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An effort to better coordinate early childhood education is underway in the Wyoming legislature. It’s part of policymakers’ efforts to streamline funding for education.

 

Digest For SF-98
Wyoming Legislative Service Office

Proposed legislation passed introduction in the State Senate last Friday that would cut the severance tax rate in half for petroleum and natural gas companies for a certain period of time. The reduction from 6 percent to 3 percent would take place during the project's third year until the end of its fourth. 

Marion Orr

An effort to pass legislation to help smaller communities get high-speed internet is getting pushback from those in the industry. Lobbyists presented a substitute bill presumably intended to keep communities from forming their own internet operations. 

Legislative Service Office

Despite some strong opposition, the Wyoming House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that would set up an investments task force with the goal of getting more money out of Wyoming’s investments. 

Wyoming State Legislature

A Senate legislative committee has approved two bills intended to help address the state’s opioid problem. One bill sets up a task force to determine what the problem is and what could be done about it and the other sets up tracking for controlled substance prescriptions in the state. 

Kemmerer Senator Fred Baldwin says they want to track prescriptions so they know who is getting what and how often. 

code.org

Wyoming is poised to be the first state in the country to require its schools to offer computer science education. Friday, the State Senate passed a bill to add computer science to the basket of goods as a common core knowledge area.

 

Logo is courtesy of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition

You may have heard a little about Blockchain, but if some people in Wyoming have their way, you will learn a lot about it. Because according to these experts, legislation that Wyoming lawmakers are considering this year could open the floodgates for Blockchain businesses. Some lawmakers are comparing it to the internet boom of the 1990’s and say it could completely change Wyoming’s economic future. 

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming House of Representatives wrapped up week one of the 2018 Budget Session on Friday shortly before 3:30 p.m., which has some policymakers disappointed.

 

The last day to introduce bills, the early adjournment meant there were over 15 bills that got the ax without even being discussed. House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly said the House never got to discuss a tobacco tax, a sales and use tax rate and changes to a real estate tax, among others.

 

Wyoming Department of Education

In his State of the State address, Governor Matt Mead urged the legislature to find ways to stabilize education funding, which relies heavily on revenues from the energy industry. But attempts to diversify the tax base — to protect school finance from booms and busts — have gone nowhere. Lawmakers who oppose generating new revenue sources say school finance is too opaque. They want more time to settle their uncertainty.

 

Bob Beck

A State Senate Committee voted to unanimously support a bill that will help the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality clean up abandoned contaminated sites in the state. The DEQ has been busy repairing a number of so-called orphan sites around the state where the companies are no longer available to pay for the cleanup.  

Luke Esch of the DEQ says the legislation provides money from an account funded by taxes and fees. 

"Really allows us to get away from general funds and find a sustainable source of funding for these projects."

Kamila Kudelska

There are over 500 open computing jobs in Wyoming, amounting to roughly $30 million in wages not flowing into the state. That’s according to Code.org, a non-profit that has partnered with the Wyoming Department of Education to expand access to computer science in schools.

 

Bob Beck

In his State of the State message, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said during the economic downturn some budget cuts went too deep, including those felt by the Department of Health and the Department of Family Services.

Laramie Representative Charles Pelkey, a Democrat, said he agrees.

Office of Governor Matt Mead

In his final state of the state message, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead stressed the need to restore some budget cuts, work to diversify the economy, and look for long-term ways to fund education. 

Mead says Wyoming did a good job cutting the budget to deal with a revenue shortfall, but now that the revenue picture has improved, he would like to see the legislature restore funding cuts for agencies such as the Departments of Health and Corrections. 

Governor Matt Mead's 2018 State Of The State Address

Feb 12, 2018
Office of Governor Matt Mead

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead delivered his final State of the State address before members of the Legislature in Cheyenne on February 12, 2018. 

The 2018 budget session gets underway today, and Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck will once again oversee coverage. He joined Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard to preview what might be in store.

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/999795

The final report from the Wyoming Legislature’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force has been released, after two years of studying the benefits and challenges of improving old and creating new pathways and natural trail surfaces.

Among its recommendations, the task force advised the Wyoming Legislature to invest $10 million annually in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, like enhanced walkable main streets and rural cycling routes across the state.

Ten months and $800,000 later, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration has completed its in-depth look at how Wyoming finances education. Members of APA Consulting, who were tasked with examining the equity and adequacy of the school funding model, told lawmakers the state’s current approach works but pointed out areas for improvement. Despite a recommendation to spend more, lawmakers are opting to spend less.

Bob Beck

This week, after months of discussion, a legislative committee defeated a number of tax increase measures. The Joint Revenue Committee was hoping to find money to pay for a revenue shortfall that some thought could reach a billion dollars. Then a funny thing happened over the summer, the revenue picture improved just enough that taxes could be avoided. 

Wyoming Legislature

Later this month the Wyoming Legislature will be asked to consider a bill that will hopefully stabilize Wyoming’s Air Service. Senate Vice President Michael Von Flatern of Gillette is the main sponsor and he joins Bob Beck to explain the concept.

Kamila Kudelska

As lawmakers are discussing whether to add computer science and computational thinking to the state educational curriculum, they are looking to Powell as an example. Powell is one of only five school districts teaching computer science. Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska takes a deeper dive into how their curriculum has developed and persisted throughout the years.

Wyoming Legislature

After hearing that the state’s revenue picture is improving thanks to rising oil prices, the legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee rejected five tax proposals. 

They were intended to help address a $500 million shortfall in education funding. The committee defeated a one percent leisure and hospitality tax on a tie vote and refused to consider four other proposals that included raising sales and property taxes. 

House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly says when the short-term funding crisis disappeared this fall, there was no longer an appetite for taxes.                     

Tennessee Watson

Despite 10 months of work, a legislative committee has rejected changes to the school funding model. After examination, APA Consulting produced a similar price tag for funding K-12 education as what the state was spending before the last round of cuts.

 

In its last meeting before the legislative session, the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration refused to adopt the new model suggested by APA.

 

Tennessee Watson

During the upcoming budget session, lawmakers want to take a closer look at transportation and special education funding, as a part of a larger effort to reform and possibly reduce spending in the K-12 finance model.

 

Most of what school districts spend on education is covered in a block grant they receive from the state. But transportation and special education are outside that model, and districts instead bill the state for a 100 percent reimbursement.

 

Several orphan sites listed on the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality online page
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Factories and dry cleaners used to dump contaminated waste wherever was convenient. Over the past thirty years, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has identified the locations many of these contaminated sites, also known as orphan sites, but the polluting companies are no longer around to pay to clean them up.

APA Consulting

Small changes in enrollment can mean big changes in funding for Wyoming’s smaller K-12 schools.

 

The difference in funding resulting from the loss of one student has the biggest impact on middle and high schools. Currently, a drop in enrollment from 50 down to 49 students, means a school can lose funding for an entire teacher and a reduction in resources. Instead of using fixed cut-offs, state-hired consultants are recommending using a mathematical curve to smooth out funding.

 

Sample of Wildlife Conservation Plate via Muley Fantatic Foundation
Muley Fanatic Foundation / Muley Fanatic Foundation

A state legislator wants to help prevent vehicle collisions with wildlife with the help of new wildlife conservation license plates. Representative Stan Blake of Sweetwater County is sponsoring a bill where individuals could purchase the $100 plates to generate new revenue for conservation efforts along big game migration corridors.

Pinedale, WY at sundown with a rig in the background
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

When you look past the light brown brick courthouse in downtown Pinedale, there are rolling hills dotted with sage brush and thin dark shapes in the distance. Those are oil and gas rigs. They are the largest contributor to revenue out here, but sometimes, when those companies that own those rigs remove resources from the ground, they don’t follow through on paying a key tax to the county. 

Miles Bryan

Four years ago a judge ruled that Wyoming’s drug laws only deal with plant forms of marijuana which means that people with large amounts of edible marijuana could not face felony charges. Law enforcement agencies have asked the legislature to address the matter, but it’s been a tough battle. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports neither side has been willing to budge. 

In Wyoming, pot is illegal. Not so in neighboring Colorado, where recreational marijuana is available in a variety of different forms.

Wyoming Department of Education

Top heavy school districts are a concern for lawmakers looking for improved efficiencies in school finance. According to the latest data from the Wyoming Department of Education, in 2015-2016, there were more administrators statewide than what’s recommended in the school funding model, but that’s not a reflection of all districts’ employment practices.

 

If you want to become a licensed dental hygienist or sell insurance in Wyoming, you have to be reviewed by a professional licensing board.

These boards oversee a number of industries in the state, and their rules for admitting people convicted of a crime vary depending on the profession. State lawmakers have introduced two bills that would instruct all licensing boards to look past convictions for some crimes.

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