legislature

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is asking the legislature for what he calls a modest budget increase of roughly 156 million dollars. 

His supplemental budget request features funding for a number of one time projects that includes improving the safety of Highway 59 near Gillette, millions in matching money for the University of Wyoming, and 25 million for local governments. 

Yellowstone Gate via Flickr Creative Commons

In a report on the status of Wyoming’s schools released last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill says that the Legislature has overstepped its authority when it comes to education issues in the state.

Hill says lawmakers have used their responsibility for funding K-12 education as an excuse to manage it.

“The legislature has the power of the purs

  e,” says Hill. “Yes, they’re responsible for funding, but not all of the decisions that are related.”

There’s disagreement over whether industry should pay for the state to take over regulation of uranium mining. The Legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee reviewed a draft bill Thursday that would start the transfer of regulatory power from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

Recently a legislative committee gave its support to a bill that would have Wyoming use firing squads for the death penalty as opposed to lethal injection. For a variety of reasons, States are finding it difficult acquire the drugs that have traditionally been used to put people to death. Some states have tried to replace the drugs and it has led to some botched executions. One issue that could come before the legislature this year is whether the state should get rid of the death penalty all together.

Wyoming’s Joint Judiciary Legislative Committee has voted to support a bill that would allow for execution by firing squad, but voted down an attempt to abolish the death penalty altogether. 

States nationwide are being forced to find alternatives to executions now that drugs for lethal injections are hard to come by. Abolishing the death penalty altogether generated considerable debate. Baggs Senator Larry Hicks says the death penalty provides justice for victims. 

But Laramie Representative Cathy Connolly says the issue is greater than that.

Ian Britton via Flickr

Correction: an earlier version of this story said that the Wyoming legislature passed a mandatory safe distance bill. It was introduced, but did not pass.  

A series of bicyclist fatalities on Wyoming roads this summer has one state group pushing for new safety laws.

In Tuesday's legislative primaries, four incumbents lost their seats including House Education Chairman Matt Teeters of Goshen County.  

Teeters made headlines in the last budget session when he added a footnote to the budget that blocked the State Board of Education from reviewing the Next Generation Science Standards. He was easily defeated by Cheri Steinmetz who grabbed 59 percent of the vote.  

Bob Beck

Wyoming Democrats have been in the legislative minority for a long time, but it’s been really tough lately. Only eight of the 60 Wyoming Representatives are Democrats and only four reside in the Senate.  While the party has hopes of grabbing a few more seats this year, there are not enough candidates to make serious gains. The problem started back in 1991. 

Former State Representative Matilda Hansen fondly remembers her days as a Democratic Lawmaker. When she entered the House in 1975 she had a lot of friends in the room.

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.”

There is still a long ways to go before the Wyoming legislature is able to react to the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling concerning State Superintendent Cindy Hill. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the law that removed powers from Hill was unconstitutional.  But before the legislature can react to that ruling it needs more information.  

House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown says that is likely to come from the District Court who may soon get the case.                  

Governor Matt Mead said that Wyoming is strong and getting stronger.  During his annual State of the State address before the legislature, Mead urged lawmakers to invest in Wyoming.

"This investment should include increased support for local government, funding to complete a unified network, increased funding for school and courtroom security, for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities and for upgrading state institutions and facilities.  Pay raises for teachers,UW, and other state employees."

Under the program, individuals who are awaiting trials or hearings for alcohol-related misdemeanors would be released from jail provided they agree to a once- or twice-a-day sobriety test.  Judges may also order the individuals participate in the program after adjudication.

Jackson Representative Keith Gingery says that South Dakota piloted the 24/7 Sobriety Program.  He says when a group of legislators went to Rapid City to see the program first hand, they saw a line of people waiting for their turn at an intoximeter.

Following the resignation of Bob Sternberg, Dick McGinity has taken over reins at the University of Wyoming as Interim President. 

McGinity was simply a faculty member at UW until Sternberg promoted him to be part of the administration and now he’s running the show.  Among his first duties is getting UW priorities through the legislature.  He tells Bob Beck that includes pay raises.

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee strongly supported a bill Tuesday that would lower interest rates on unpaid mineral taxes.

Currently, if a state audit finds that companies have incorrectly reported their production, counties can levy interest of up to 18 percent on back taxes.

The bill changes that, pegging interest to current rates, with a minimum of 12 percent and a maximum of 18 percent. Interest rates for companies that discover the discrepancy on their own would remain the same – at 18 percent.

A legislative committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have taxed natural gas flaring from oil wells.

When there isn’t pipeline or processing infrastructure available to move the natural gas, companies simply burn it. The draft bill would have required severance tax payments on gas flared more than 180 days after the well starts producing. Representative Michael Madden, one of two supporters of the bill, said the proposal wasn’t a tax increase, but rather the repeal of an exemption.

Many of Wyoming’s landfills are leaking or approaching capacity, so the Department of Environmental Quality is working with state agencies and municipalities to develop and fund a plan to close facilities that aren’t environmentally sustainable, and move new waste to landfills which are.

DEQ Spokesman Keith Guille says the existing landfills in the state are permitted, and were built to environmental standards at the time.

Last week we ran a story concerning proposed cuts in the Developmental Disability waiver program.  The belief is that there are some in the program getting more money than they need. 

Advocacy groups and those in the program worry that cuts could actually take money away from those who need services.  Senator Charles Scott is the Chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.  He joins Bob Beck to explain the legislature’s position on the issue.

Unless you are new to the state or have lived under a rock, you are aware that the state legislature passed a law that changed the powers of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and placed a Director in charge of Education.  Now lawmakers are investing a report that suggests possible wrong doing by Superintendent Cindy Hill…charges she denies.  It might lead people to worry about education in the state.  But lawmakers want you to know that they continue to try and make change for the better.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has the story…

Bob Beck

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved nearly five million dollars in budget cuts that were necessary after the legislature failed to approved an increase in game and fish license fees.  The department is funded 80 percent by license fees and was already dealing with a deficit when the fee hikes were voted down.  But lawmakers wanted the Game and Fish Department to be more efficient.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.

BOB BECK:    The cuts were approved at a recent Game and Fish Commission meeting in Saratoga and many were unhappy. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Legislative session has ended.  In his closing comments to lawmakers, Governor Matt Mead acknowledged that lawmakers had a difficult

“I asked in my state of the state for 6 percent budget cuts and you delivered that,” Mead said. “I asked in my state of the state to provide some flexibility in terms of where we go in the future in large projects.  You provided that.  I asked for in my budget to fund landfills, a Gillette-Madison water project, the School of Engineering.  You addressed all of those.”

The Senate Education committee killed a bill that would have allowed those with concealed weapons permits to carry guns in schools and on Wyoming College campuses.  The bill died after nobody made a motion to consider it.  A number of educators at all levels testified that the legislation was a bad idea and that such ideas should be left to local school districts to consider.  University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan testified that the allowing guns on campus could lead to problems.

The Wyoming Senate defeated a bill dealing with seismic exploration, reconsidered it, and then passed it. 

Supporters say that the goal of the legislation is to set tiered bonding for seismic exploration. 

Wyoming Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says the bonding will be based on the size of the acreage being accessed.   He says that the bill was amended to say that when seismic

A Wyoming House committee has voted to defeat a bill that would have made it felony for an abortion to be performed after an embryo or fetus has a heartbeat.  

Representative Sue Wallis of Recluse testified that she’s had an abortion and it is nobody’s business but hers.

"Thank God this travesty of state-sponsored intrusion into my difficult decision at that time was not in place," Wallis said. "And I pray that it’s not foisted on my daughters or granddaughters."

But Representative Mark Baker of Rock Springs says that’s what the legislature is supposed to do.

A House committee has approved a bill that would raise the cigarette tax by five-cents-per-cigarette and a dollar a pack.  Republican Representative Gerald Gay of Casper is the main sponsor.  He says money from the increase will help offset rising Medicaid costs.

“And tobacco is related to that because tobacco has such a profound impact on health care," Gay said. "So we figured out a way to sort of frontload  health care costs against one of the biggest health care users that there is.”

The Wyoming Legislature will take on just about every possible hot-button social issue this week, hearing bills on guns, abortion and same-sex marriage.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, a Republican from Gillette, says he's scheduled all the contentious social issue bills for hearings this week to save money on security.

Lubnau says the Legislature always increases its security when lawmakers consider gun and abortion issues because of the large crowds that typically turn out.

The legislative panel responsible for drafting a supplemental Wyoming state budget bill recommends that lawmakers reject Gov. Matt Mead's proposal to cut the flow of energy revenues going into permanent savings and school construction.

Mead wants Wyoming to build up its so-called rainy day fund in case the state needs ready cash to deal with projected flat energy revenues in the years to come.

The Wyoming legislature wraps up its second week today.  Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck is covering the session and joins us now to talk about lawmakers' attempts to restructure how the state's schools are governed.

Wyoming lawmakers are facing bills this session that would restrict access to abortion services.

Meanwhile, a group is capitalizing on the legal victory it won against the state last year that allows it to display an anti-abortion poster in a tunnel leading to the state Capitol.

The anti-abortion bills aren't set for a hearing until late in January. Abortion rights groups say they're gearing up for a fight and similar bills have been defeated in recent legislative sessions.

A bill that changes the qualifications for the position of Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Supervisor has unanimously passed the State Senate.

The bill changes the requirements for the Supervisor from a registered professional petroleum engineer or geologist, to an engineer or geologist with ten years of experience in his respective field of expertise.

Energy and Legislative advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Richard Garrett, says it may be valuable to consider applicants’ assets fully.

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