Politics

State Of Wyoming

The Wyoming Senate voted 15-14 to continuing debating whether to get rid of the Office of Consumer Advocate by 2017. The office represents Wyoming consumers in utility rate cases. 

Miles Bryan

The Wyoming Senate is working on a bill that is intended to reform how people can be involuntarily detained in a mental health crisis. The system is known as Title 25. 

The legislation is attempting to give courts the ability to order people to undergo outpatient treatment and ensure there’s someone to monitor those released from a mental health hold.

Cheyenne Attorney Linda Burt said she has serious concerns with the legislation, mainly because it lacks adequate funding. She noted other states that have outpatient commitment also have lots of services.

The Wyoming House of Representatives added 15 million additional dollars to a bill that would fund local cities, towns and counties across the state. 

The amendment by Cody Republican Sam Krone increased the funding from 90 million to 105 million dollars.

Despite concerns that they could be making felons out of too many people, the State Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would make three ounces of marijuana-infused edibles felony. 

The legislature is clarifying the edible marijuana law after a judge ruled that there is no way of knowing whether there is enough marijuana in an edible to warrant a felony conviction. The bill says three ounces is the weight of the entire product.
 
Gillette Republican Michael Von Flatern says people could be convicted of a felony for a minimal amount of marijuana.

A Wyoming Senate committee has voted in favor of a bill that is attempting to clarify a controversial data trespass law. 

The law says people are guilty of trespassing if they gather water samples, take pictures, or collect any other type of data on private or so-called open lands without permission. Some argue that “open lands” could refer to public lands or national parks. The new legislation removes the phrase “open lands” from the law and instead says people can’t gather data on private property without permission. 

The Wyoming Senate voted 16 to 14 to use 24 million dollars of Abandoned Mine Land money to both move highway 59 in Campbell County and to make it safer. In addition Campbell County will have to guarantee ten million dollars of the 34 million dollar cost. 

Senator Michael Von Flatern said diverting highway 59  will allow a coal company to mine the land where the roads sits now.    

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A Wyoming Senate Committee has decided that possession of three ounces or more of marijuana-laced food or drink should equal a felony.  

Some judges in the state have ruled that current Wyoming law does not criminalize marijuana-laced products, the legislation would fix that. 

While the state doesn’t have the ability to test the level of the psychoactive chemical THC in edible marijuana, Byron Oedekoven of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police says most marijuana edibles they see are strictly labeled. 

The Joint Appropriations Committee has passed a budget that features a 1.5 percent across the board cut for most agencies and spends 310 million out of the state’s 2 billion dollar rainy day fund.

House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman said declining energy prices convinced the committee to try and cut the budget as much as it could to meet existing revenues. The across the board cut is an effort to give state agencies the ability to determine their own priorities.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming Senate has voted to give initial support to a bill that would prevent school administrators from requiring students to provide passwords to their Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as other digital media accounts. 

Senate File 14 is intended to protect student data privacy. Baggs Republican Larry Hicks expressed concern that the legislation could prevent schools from investigating threats of suicide or violence. 

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming legislature will once again debate whether to allow concealed guns in some gun free zones. The House of Representatives voted to consider a bill that would allow citizens to bring concealed guns to the legislative session, committee meetings, and any other government meetings. 

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead told the state legislature that it needs to be proactive during these tough budget times, but not to prioritize savings over people.

During his annual State of the State message Mead expressed disappointment over a number of budget cuts made by the Joint Appropriations Committee in recent weeks.    

Governor Mead asked legislators to support Medicaid expansion in his biennial budget. That request was rejected which led to additional budget cuts. During his state of the state address he expressed concern about that.

Wyoming legislators have voted to introduce a series of education bills addressing everything from new ways to measure student progress to student privacy when it comes to email and social media. But the House voted down a measure intended to make schools safer.

For the second year in a row, lawmakers were asked to consider a measure that would have developed a statewide school safety plan, including a federally funded tip line. Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers says a similar program has worked well in Colorado

Governor Matt Mead's 2016 State Of The State Address

Feb 8, 2016
Office of the Governor

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead delivered his State of the State address this morning before members of the Legislature in Cheyenne. 

 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Republican Liz Cheney has made it official, she is running to become Wyoming’s next U.S. Representative.

Cheney is running on a platform of overturning policies put in place by the Obama administration. Cheney said that includes what she calls the “war on coal”

Bob Beck

The Wyoming Legislature is set to consider a measure in its session starting next month that would allow voters to decide whether to change the state constitution to recognize an individual right to privacy.

Proponents say increasing collection of data by private industry and government makes the measure necessary.

The legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee has rejected a request by Governor Matt Mead to include Medicaid Expansion in the state budget. 

Casper Republican Representative Tim Stubson says expanding Medicaid in the budget would remove some cost containment provisions that lawmakers included in previous legislation. He noted a study that said expansion would pull 5-thousand people out of the state’s insurance market.

White House

President Obama called for an overhaul of the nation’s energy system in his final State of the Union address. 

Obama criticized climate change deniers in the speech, saying it’s time to stop debating and start innovating. He praised investments in wind and solar energy and called for moving away from “dirty” energy sources.

“And that’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

A Casper lawmaker is pushing the idea of the state ending its partnership with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and creating its own health and safety inspection program.  

The discussion comes as OSHA fines will increase 80 percent following the passage of federal legislation. Casper Senator Charles Scott says federal OSHA regulations hurt efforts to improve workplace safety in the state.

Cutting the state budget could be a difficult exercise, but one approach could involve new ways to do things. 

Senate President Phil Nicholas does not think lawmakers have gone on a spending spree in recent years, but he does believe they should revisit some decisions. For instance in the area of mental health the state spent a lot of money providing grants in an effort to improve service. Nicholas says they need to study to see if decisions like that one were effective.

Willow Belden

A new survey released last week by several journalism advocate groups is asking people to send in examples of how government agencies may have blocked their access to public officials or data. 

Michael Morisy is the founder of Muck Rock, a group working on the "Access Denied" Project. He says, in recent years, government agencies have started requiring that reporters submit their questions in writing or talk to a spokesperson, rather than directly to an official.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Local government funding will be among the most debated topics during the upcoming legislative session. Due to a revenue shortfall, Governor Mead has cut funding for local government from 175 million dollars two years ago down to 90 million for the next two years. 

A number of cities and county governments have instituted hiring freezes and are looking at major cuts in an effort to deal with the shortfall. Laramie Democratic Representative Cathy Connolly says that is a massive cut to local government funding and Republican Senator Drew Perkins said it comes at a bad time.

How to evaluate Wyoming’s teachers and superintendents continues to challenge legislators. 

Earlier this year lawmakers approved an updated accountability measure. They call it ‘phase one,’ and it deals with measuring performance of schools and students. Back in March, they decided to put “phase two”—the part dealing with teacher evaluation—on hold. 

Senator Hank Coe says the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability continues to struggle with that piece. He says they will continue to work on it. 

Bob Beck

Members of the legislature’s Joint Appropriations committee say they are very concerned about how to pay for the construction and maintenance of new schools. 

In the past, the state used the money coal companies paid for leases, but those funds are drying up. During a hearing on Mead’s proposed budget, House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman asked the governor if he had considered increasing taxes to make up that shortfall. Mead said he is not ready to support a tax increase because it would hurt the energy industry.

Bob Beck

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead unveiled his proposed budget for the next two years. The governor will address the budget shortfall by borrowing short term from the legislative reserve account and pay back that account with investment income.

Mead says his budget is about 200 million dollars less than it was two years ago. Much of the proposed cuts are to local government funding. Mead reduced spending for cities and counties to 90 million dollars down from 175 million dollars two years ago. The governor says that reduction will have a big impact.

Wyoming U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis says she will finish her term and not seek re-election. She made the announcement Thursday afternoon in Cheyenne. Lummis tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck that she’s been thinking about this for several months.

Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis announced Thursday she will not seek re-election and former Vice President Dick Cheney's elder daughter, Liz Cheney, said she was seriously considering running for the seat.  Casper State Representative Tim Stubson said he will run for the seat. 

Lummis is the only female member of the rebellious House Freedom Caucus and plans to finish her current term. She has easily won re-election since first winning Wyoming's lone spot in the U.S. House in 2008.

Wikimedia Commons

Wyoming is among eleven states who received an F for the lack of transparency and accountability in government. 

The Center for Public Integrity dinged Wyoming for having few laws when it comes to government ethics enforcement and for the lack of government and judicial accountability. 

The report called most Wyoming laws vague and complained that few documents are online. It was also was critical of Wyoming’s open record laws. Wyoming Press Association Executive Director Jim Angell actually thinks most of the laws are good.         

A Pound Of Marijuana Edibles Could Be A Felony

Nov 5, 2015

How many marijuana edibles will put you in a Wyoming prison? Lawmakers meeting in Cody Wednesday answered that question. 

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee is trying to address the popular use of edible marijuana and how much of it qualifies for a felony. They worked on a bill specifying the weight for the prosecution of edibles containing marijuana. This includes chocolate bars, cookies, and even gummy bears.

The President of the Wyoming Association of Chiefs of Police Shane Johnson told them edibles can be dangerous.

Aaron Schrank

As state lawmakers mull the latest revenue projections it appears that in a few years the state will have a lot less money for education, especially new school construction. 

It’s largely because revenue from coal lease bonus sales is down and that’s what pays for school construction. But a court ruling mandates that the state pay for school construction and maintenance so Wyoming will need to find another way to pay for it. 

Two Wyoming groups have started a petition urging lawmakers to pass a hate crimes bill in the state.

Hate crime laws impose tougher penalties on criminals who target their victims because of things like the victim's race or religion. Wyoming is one of just five states that does not have one.

The Wind River Native Advocacy Center and Wyoming Association of Churches are gathering signatures. They say their efforts are in response to the July shooting of two Northern Arapaho men by a white Riverton parks employee at a local detox center. One man was killed in that attack.

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