Politics

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.

Wyoming legislative leaders will be looking at budget cuts and using reserve funds after receiving a report that state revenues have declined substantially. 

The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group or CREG said that falling energy prices will lead to a decline of 617 million dollars in revenue from July first of this year through June of 2018. Senate Appropriations Chairman Tony Ross said they will need to look at targeted cuts and use some reserve funding to get through the next two years. He said lawmakers have planned for this day and that will help.

Longtime Wyoming chief election official Peggy Nighswonger has resigned, citing what she calls philosophical differences with Secretary of State Ed Murray.

Nighswonger, who has overseen elections in the state for almost twenty years as the state Elections Director, says she had been planning to stay on through the 2016 elections so she could mentor a replacement. But she says she was unable to do that while working under Murray.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says a dip in energy revenues will require the state to cut up to 200 million dollars from its existing budget. 

The governor has instituted a hiring freeze and will be looking to every agency to return unspent money. Mead would like to avoid layoffs.

“I do not think that this is an area I will be looking at. I think we can get roughly 18 million dollars by not filling vacant positions and with a hiring freeze.” 

Mead said citizens will accept some reduction in services, but added that the state will likely need to dip into savings.

Jimmy Emerson, Flickr Commons

It looks a bit like a game of musical chairs at Wyoming’s state agencies.

The office in charge of building schools is getting a new director. Del McOmie, the current interim director of the Department of Workforce Services, will begin leading the School Facilities Department next month.

John Cox, who currently runs the Wyoming Department of Transportation, will take over at Workforce Services. And current School Facilities Director Bill Panos will move to head WYDOT.

Panos has led the Department for two years, amid a school building boom. 

A State Senator said an agreement between the United States and China to share advances in Clean Coal technology is probably ten years too late. The deal was reached this week. Gillette Senator Michael Von Flatern said it’s better late than never.                

Bob Beck

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says it’s time for the state to dip into its rainy day funds to get through some lean economic times. 

Falling oil and gas prices and declining coal revenues are reducing state revenues. He says the state will need to use some of the nearly two billion dollars in savings to get through the next two year budget cycle. While the state can reduce spending, Mead says there are still a lot of needs such as funding for local governments.

Leigh Paterson

The Wyoming Democratic Party is praising the President’s clean power plan calling it an attempt to slow the effects of climate change. 

Party Vice Chairman Bruce Palmer says he’s hopeful that industry and state policy leaders will stop fighting solutions to climate change and focus on ways to address carbon emissions and develop renewable energy. 

Two pieces of legislation that could reform the controversial No Child Left Behind law are going to a conference committee. 

The Senate version of the bill allows states to determine how to use federally mandated tests for accountability purposes and lets states decide if they will allow parents to ask to opt out of standardized tests. The House version would just give parents that right. Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis hopes that stays in the bill.

Cynthia Lummis

Wyoming Congressman Cynthia Lummis will be the western states co-chair for Senator Rand Paul’s run for President. Lummis, a fiscal conservative, says that she’s been impressed with the Kentucky Senator’s efforts to stop federal spending. 

“The direction we are heading is not sustainable and Rand Paul is the one person that I’m sure will do what he says he’s going to do. We will quit kicking the can down the road and address some of these issues that are going to unleash the American economy.”

Governor Matt Mead is turning to the Wyoming Humanities Council to facilitate more productive discussion on a refugee resettlement program in the state.

Wyoming is the only state without a resettlement program, and the Governor says misinformation is slowing down progress on the issue.

Wyoming Humanities Council Executive Director Shannon Smith says her group will send experts around the state to lead public discussions about refugee resettlement. 

Governor Matt Mead is creating a task force that is intended to gather information on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana in Wyoming. 

The governor says he continues to oppose any legalization of the drug. But he says he wants to get ahead of a possible 2016 general election ballot initiative that could ask voters to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. 

Wyoming lawmakers are considering working with communities to allow them to determine their own health care needs.

The Joint Labor and Health committee is trying to find ways to improve health care in the state and reduce costs to hospitals. Hospitals say the care they are required to provide to poor and uninsured patients is costing them millions.

State of Wyoming Legislature

The legislature’s joint Labor and Health Committee praised state health officials for their quick response when two nursing homes threatened to close last month.

The state took over the facilities in Rock Springs and Saratoga after the company that owned them said it was suddenly closing them. Senator Bernadine Craft of Rock Springs said Monday that it was a terrifying time in her community. 

State Health Director Tom Forslund noted that the state was criticized by some for getting involved with a private business. He said that leads to policy questions for the future.

Governor Matt Mead and other state officials are spending the summer watching energy prices as they make plans for a new budget next year. 

The governor says his priorities range from local government to health care. Mead expects that projected revenue may be down for the next two years, but he doesn't want budget cuts.          

"To cut another six percent as we did before I think would be very difficult, I think just not hiring people to fill jobs would be difficult and even together it may not make up the difference."

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