After a lengthy debate the State Senate approved a bill setting up a super committee to address a Supreme Court ruling about the duties of State Schools Superintendent Cindy Hill. The legislature passed a law last year that removed Hill’s authority to manage the State Department of Education among other things. The court ruled that law unconstitutional. Some lawmakers want to see if either the Supreme Court or a District Court will help them fix their law. But Senator Phil Nicholas says that lawmakers should be prepared to move forward without any additional guidance.
The Wyoming Senate has voted 26 to 4 to approve a bill that will help recruit a company to Cody and establish a loan program to recruit other large businesses.
Roughly $25 million in state loans will be used to help the Lannett Company expand a lab in Cody, but in an effort to avoid violating a constitutional provision against benefiting a single entity, the Senate broadened the bill with a series of amendments.
This concerned Lander Republican Cale Case, who opposed the bill.
A bill that would allow the federal government to trade mineral rights and federal land for two parcels of state land inside Grand Teton National Park has passed the Wyoming Senate.
The swap is needed after the federal government backed out of a previous deal to pay the state for the two parcels. Laramie Senator Phil Nicholas added an amendment that the land would have to be mineral property with proven reserves, so that the swap is worthwhile for the state.
A bill that would change the way the state handles those who may need to be hospitalized due to mental illness was defeated by the Wyoming Senate.
Right now, a Judge needs to rule on involuntary commitment within 72 hours of a person being detained. The bill allowed a medical professional to require someone to be hospitalized and receive treatment immediately. A court hearing would later determine if someone should be held longer.
Senator Larry Hicks told the Senate that approach violates due process.
The Wyoming House of Representatives began working on a bill that would fund a $269 million renovation of the State Capitol building and the adjacent Herschler Building.
It would repair and modernize both buildings and enhance office space. Some lawmakers questioned the need for the upgrade, but Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says it is long overdue. Lubnau noted that the building features a number of hazards and limitations.
The Wyoming Senate is continuing to work on a bill that will set up a so-called super committee to attempt to fix the law that took powers away from Superintendent Cindy Hill. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that in particular Hill should run the Department of Education and not an appointed Director.
During debate on the bill Senator Curt Meier of LaGrange suggested that the Senate provide specific suggestions to the committee.
The Wyoming Senate killed a bill that would have required DNA testing for those charged with a crime. Information from the DNA tests would then be stored in a database. Senator Drew Perkins of Casper told the Senate that such action violates people's rights.
"Through technology we continue to find more, and more, and more, and more information about us that's stored. We already have in our statutes that if you are convicted of a crime of felony, we store and maintain that DNA. This takes it another step further."
The State Senate easily defeated a proposed budget amendment that would expand Medicaid Services in the state by a vote of 21 to 9. Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss says it’s a chance to bring health care to over 17 thousand people in the state. Senate Health and Labor Chairman Charles Scott continued his opposition to Medicaid expansion by saying that it will encourage people to over utilize health care. Rothfuss says his proposal actually would address that.
The Wyoming House and Senate finished up budget work today. Leaders in both bodies say they probably spent more than they should, but they are generally satisfied. Senate Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout says they addressed some important needs including funding for public employee raises and the University of Wyoming. Bebout remains concerned about the future, but he says this budget is more encouraging than past ones.
In an effort to reduce spending in the budget, the State Senate has cut in half the money available to school districts to increase public school teacher salaries. Teachers will get a pay hike in the first year of the biennium, but not the second.
Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout said that Wyoming teachers are the highest paid in the region. But Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss countered by saying Wyoming is losing purchasing power.
The Wyoming House will consider a bill that would create a committee of educators and parents to determine if the state should continue to use Common Core State standards in K-12 education. The bill would also develop new student assessment options. Several teachers, the school board members, and a business leader spoke on behalf of the common core. Bill Shilling of the Wyoming Business Alliance says that the bill doesn’t help.
“I don’t see in this legislation any advancement in the end product for our students,” says Shilling.
As part of the UW request to the Wyoming legislature, WPM requested $2.5 million in the 2014 legislative session for critical infrastructure upgrades and replacements. WPM operates sites throughout the state. Many of them are operating on equipment far past its useful time. The most critical sites serve Laramie/Cheyenne and Rock Springs.
“Wyoming Public Radio” is a state treasure. Every Wyomingite should be able to access on ratio the public programming it provides, as well as critical emergency broadcasts,” says Christina Kuzmych, WPM General Manager.
The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee wrapped up its pre-session work on Friday and approved additional funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department…two percent pay hikes for state, community college, and University of Wyoming employees…and money for a number of construction projects. Republican lawmakers call their budget conservative and forward thinking, especially since they say the revenue picture is uncertain in the future. However, a Democratic lawmaker has concerns. Cheyenne Representative Mary Throne is particularly upset that the J-A-C took money that was intende
Over the years the legislature has not been overly supportive of efforts to fund early childhood education in Wyoming, mostly because of concerns that the state could interfere with private business. But members of the Joint Education Committee hope that a new proposal can overcome those concerns. The committee has drafted a bill that will coordinate all the early childhood efforts that currently exist and provide money to improve services. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
Representative Sue Wallis has drafted a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Wyoming. She’s even considering revising it to include recreational marijuana, as well. Wallis toured facilities in Colorado where recreational marijuana is packaged and labeled and says she was impressed with how smoothly everything is going.
Members of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee voted Friday to advance two Medicaid expansion bills to the full Legislature for consideration in the budget session that starts next month.
On Thursday, several witnesses told committee members that said they can't afford health insurance on the open market.
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.
After a lengthy discussion, the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee voted to support a two-percent external cost adjustment for public schools.
The external cost adjustment would address inflation issues within the school funding model, and is used by most districts to pay for salary increases. Lawmakers have been reluctant to support an ECA over the last several years due to budget concerns, and the appropriations committee was told that spending for education in Wyoming remains among the top 10 in the country.
The Wyoming Board of Education has written to the Legislature’s select committee on educational accountability, asking to set up a group of stakeholders to develop or choose a new educational assessment for the state.
Assessments will be used to determine such things as student progress in some key subject areas. State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli says in Oregon, stakeholders included state board members, teachers, administrators, higher education officials, and parents. He says they’d like to do the same thing here.
The legislature’s Joint Revenue committee will discuss the possibility of raising the state beer tax Friday/Today.
Beer is currently taxed two cents a gallon, a tax that was established in 1935. Supporters want to raise the tax to pay for underfunded substance abuse programs. Wyoming has the lowest beer taxes in the nation.
Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness says communities have trouble finding money to pay for substance abuse programs, and he says that he’s disappointed that the Legislature has frequently scuttled attempts to raise the tax.
Animal-vehicle collisions have long been a problem in western states, leaving big game carcasses discarded along – or in the middle of – roadways. This week, it became legal in Montana to salvage and eat deer, elk, antelope and moose that have been hit and killed by cars.
Similar legislation died in the Wyoming Legislature this year. Currently, anyone who picks up road-killed game without a game warden permit runs the risk of being charged with poaching.
Bill co-sponsor Representative Dan Zwonitzer says this means more work for state agencies, which manage the road kill.
The Wyoming legislative session wrapped up Wednesday. Lawmakers leave with mixed emotions about the session. Most agree that the one thing that they will remember about the session is the vote to strip State Superintendent Cindy Hill of many of her duties. Senator Cale Case says that set the tone for the first part of the session.
“It’s been a very different session I think. That whole Senate File 104 that Cindy Hill…Department of Education bill…that was a different way to start. And I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that I think,” says Case.
After receiving threats and attacks concerning Senators’ patriotism and support of gun rights, Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas decided that the Senate would not debate a pair of gun rights bills. One bill would allow local law enforcement to arrest federal officials enforcing federal gun laws in the state and the other gave the state power to keep local officials from developing their own gun regulations. Nicholas says the bills were poorly drafted and gave one example: