Politics

Wyoming Legislature

A Wyoming Senate committee voted down a bill today that would have prevented Wyoming school districts from using education funds to sue the state over budget cuts. The Senate Education Committee voted three to two against Senate File 135.

Sheridan Senator Bruce Burns sponsored the bill and said it would not keep districts from suing the state, but would keep state funds from financing such litigation.

Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss voted against the bill. He said sometimes courts need to resolve differences between entities.

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The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would change the placement of liability from ski area operators to skiers and recreationalists.

All ten of the state’s ski operators are in support of the bill, as well as the Wyoming Business Alliance. In a press release, the Alliance said the bill would be especially beneficial to smaller operators who might suffer from lawsuits.

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Wyoming’s House Judiciary Committee moved a bill forward to remove gun free zones on college and university campuses across the state, voting six to three in favor of the measure.

Supporters of the bill said it would help gun owners better protect themselves and others, specifically in the case of an active shooter.

University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols has come out against the bill, as well as Laramie County Community College’s President Joe Schaffer. He said he would prefer a more comprehensive solution to campus safety.

Wyoming Women March

Jan 23, 2017
Maggie Mullen

Cities and towns all over the world and communities across Wyoming hosted women’s marches on Saturday in response to President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

In Cheyenne, 1,200 people from the city and surrounding areas marched on Capitol Avenue. There was enough of an interest in the Laramie community that the non-profit, Forward Wyoming, rented a chartered bus to transport marchers to Cheyenne.

At the capitol, a huge crowd gathered with large banners and glittery uterus signs. Katie Christensen brought her four-month-old daughter.

Wyoming lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bar utilities from using solar or wind power to generate electricity, but since the open of the legislative session the measure hasn’t made it to committee.

The proposed measure draws a line around “eligible resources”: coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, and hydropower, and asks electricity providers to use those industries to meet 95 percent of demand by 2018. By 2019, they’ll be expected to phase out wind and solar, purchase energy credits, or pay a fee.

Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails

The tight economic times have prompted many Wyoming agencies to look at where they can raise more money and Wyoming State Parks is no different.

The legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee is proposing to give the parks program more flexibility to set daily pass and campground fees as they see fit, rather than keeping a cap on fees as it is currently.

Jackson Representative Mike Gierau sits on the committee and says Wyoming State Park Fees are cheaper than other states. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that clarifies the scope of Wyoming’s relationship with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in hopes of speeding up the process of approving in situ uranium mining projects.

House Floor Leader David Miller said Wyoming has a long history of uranium mining and much of the current technology used to extract it was developed in the state.

Wyoming has seen a higher rig count and more coal production in the last few months, but that doesn’t change much for its financial picture, according to the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group or CREG report. It shows that the general fund was up by $900,000 but that isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaping $156 million hole in the two year $3 billion budget.

CREG Co-Chairman Don Richards said while there are signs of a rebounding economy, the numbers still aren’t great.

governor.gov.wyo

In his State of the State message, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead focused on the state’s continued revenue shortfall, particularly the shortfall in K-12 education.

The School Foundation Program will face a $1.5 billion deficit over the next six years, not including school maintenance or facilities. Last year, Mead asked to form an education taskforce with input from legislators, teachers, students, and the public to find solutions for funding, and in his State of the State he renewed that request.

Craig Blumenshine / Wyoming PBS

Wyoming legislators were generally in agreement with Governor Matt Mead’s priorities following his annual State of the State message.  

Mead said  lawmakers need to resolve an education funding shortfall and figure out how to best use the state’s rainy day fund. Sheridan Senator Dave Kinskey said he agrees with that, but while the governor doesn’t want to see more budget cuts, Kinskey said he wants to try and reduce spending before they have to consider using savings or raising taxes.

Department of Education

During his State of the State address Wednesday, Governor Matt Mead asked the Wyoming legislature to broaden the public discussion for the education budget.

Public school funding is estimated to fall around $400 million dollars short. Governor Mead said the legislature needs to act quickly to try to solve the shortfall, while also slowing down so that the public can better participate in decision making.

The Wyoming legislative session is underway, and one of the main challenges facing lawmakers is a revenue shortfall due to a downturn in the energy industry.

House Majority Floor Leader David Miller defended the state’s reliance on the energy industry for revenues in a speech to the House of Representatives.

“Diversifying the economy will not diversify the tax base. In fact, every non-mineral job is a further drain on our limited revenues. Minerals can support Wyoming in perpetuity, however that requires access to the minerals,” Miller said.

Wyoming Democrats

Wyoming Democratic Chair Ana Cuprill has announced she will run for Secretary of the Democratic National Committee.

Cuprill has led the Wyoming Democrats since 2015. She said, being from a western state, she would be able to advance conversations about the Democratic Party’s poor showing in rural parts of the country, which voted overwhelmingly Republican in November’s election.

Wyoming State Legislature

The Wyoming legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee has drafted a bill that aims to enact criminal justice reform.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman David Miller said the bill would reduce Wyoming’s prison population through a variety of sentencing reforms.

“[Through] not as strict sentencing, letting the prosecutors have a little more leeway, the judges have a little more leeway, and when people are up for parole, giving them possibly more credit for time served, good time served, or if there is a minor infraction not resetting all that back to zero,” said Miller.

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One of President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest campaign promises was to enact stricter immigration policies. That has caused concern for the Jackson community, a town with a large immigrant population. Immigration laws are outside of the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, but Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon said the town could pass a resolution or ordinance to limit its cooperation with federal authorities.

Stuart and Jen Robertson - Flickr: State Penitentiery, Rawlins Wyoming

Members of a task force that reviewed a wide range of structural problems at the Wyoming maximum security prison in Rawlins stressed that they believe using up to $125 million to fix the facility will work.

Bob Beck

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead unveiled a mostly flat supplemental budget that features no new budget cuts.

The governor is proposing limited spending, using only a small portion of the legislature’s rainy day fund for things like Title 25 that addresses those with mental health issues, and a contingency fund for corrections. He put forth bonding as a way to fix problems with the prison in Rawlins.  

Matt Micheli

Wyoming U.S. House Representative Cynthia Lummis is rumored to be on the short list for Secretary of the Interior in the Trump administration and the Wyoming Republican Party is doing what it can to make that happen.

State party chairman Matt Micheli said at this point it’s just a matter of trying to put in a good word in Washington.

“You know the transition team is assembled and there are people on the transition team that I know well," he said. "We can raise our hand and say ‘hey.'”

National Park Service

Five Wyomingites became U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony at the federal courthouse in Kemmerer on Monday. 

Naturalization ceremonies aren’t as common in Wyoming as other states but have been more frequent this year because of the National Park Centennial. Several states co-hosted ceremonies this year at Yellowstone National Park where new citizens took the oath of allegiance.

Brooklynn Gray

Hundreds of University of Wyoming students, faculty, and community members protested the outcome of last week’s election with a Solidarity Walk Out Monday.

Reports of discrimination and harassment of minorities have increased across the U.S. in recent days. The solidarity walk, which started at the Wyoming Union before heading downtown and back, was meant to show support for LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized groups.

After some losses in Tuesday’s election, the Wyoming State Legislature’s Democratic count is down from 13 to 12. However, there were a couple of victories over Republican incumbents, like Debbie Bovee’s defeat of Gerald Gay in Casper.

Wyoming State Legislature

There will be fewer women serving in Wyoming's legislature after Tuesday's election. A large number of women ran for seats in the state house and senate, 37 total. But only 10 won their races.

Currently, Wyoming has the lowest representation of women in its legislature in the country, with just 12 women currently in office.

Cathy Connolly, the House District 13 representative, said she is at a loss for why the state ended up losing female representatives.

Bouchard

Republican Anthony Bouchard beat Independent Kym Zwonitzer in the race for Senate District 6 by about 300 votes. The seat represents rural Laramie and Goshen Counties.

Zwonitzer entered the race after her husband David lost in the Republican primary. Bouchard leads a gun rights organization and calls himself a fiscal conservative.  He says the state must reduce its spending.   

“I think the biggest problem that we have had since the time that I have been watching the legislature very closely, is that it’s just been a spending spree,” said Bouchard. 

Wyoming State Legislature

Republican challenger Jared Olsen beat Democratic incumbent Mary Throne in House District 11 of Laramie County. It was a close race, with Olsen winning by only 63 votes.

Representative Throne’s loss came despite raising more than $34,000, a remarkably high amount for a local race in Wyoming. It’s also remarkable considering she’s served five terms, most recently as the House Minority Floor Leader.

Jared Olsen has never held elected office, but that didn’t keep him from challenging a five-term incumbent. Olsen said Wyoming’s biggest issue is fixing its economy.

Brett Neilson

Wyoming Public Radio's Caroline Ballard interviews News Director Bob Beck about what the outcomes of several key races mean for Wyoming.

Marian Orr

Marian Orr has been elected to be Cheyenne’s next Mayor.  Orr won Cheyenne’s hotly contested mayoral race with 56 percent of the vote.

Throughout her campaign, she said she was focused on repairing infrastructure in the city, especially roads, and improving the city’s police force. Now she said it will be a matter of moving funds around.

Ryan Greene

Democrat Ryan Greene has conceded the race for Wyoming's lone U.S. house to Liz Cheney. With 80 percent of precincts reporting, Cheney has taken 62 percent of the vote while Greene took 30. Greene said he wishes Cheney the best of luck going forward but offered her some advice.

“Well, you know, vote for Wyoming, not for the party,” Greene said. “Our issues are not reflective of one party. Always, always keep the Wyoming people in mind, regardless of the party. Do what’s best for the state.”

Liz Cheney

The daughter of a former Vice President is Wyoming’s new Congressman. Liz Cheney easily defeated Ryan Greene to win the same seat that was once held by her father Dick. 

Cheney had been accused of being a carpet bagger after moving to the state to run for federal office. But her strong views about abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and against a number of Obama administration policies gained her support. Cheney says it was a message many wanted to hear.

Caroline Ballard

As voters cast their ballots this Election Day in the first race to feature a major-party female candidate for President, some Laramie residents gathered to honor the first female voter. In 1870, Wyoming became the first state to give women the right to vote. Laramie resident Louisa Swain was the first woman to exercise that right. 

Around 50 voters gathered at the statue of Swain in Laramie Tuesday to pay their respects and to voice support for female candidates, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

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Three of Wyoming’s Supreme Court justices and seventeen District and Circuit Court Judges in the state are up for retention on Tuesday’s ballot.

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