wyoming legislature

Campbell County School District

The 2016 Legislative budget session wraps up this week. One of the big things lawmakers have been discussing over the past month is funding for Wyoming’s K-12 schools. The House and Senate have agreed to a budget that will cut about $36 million dollars from education in the next two school years.

Caroline Ballard

  

Across the United States, women make up just under a quarter of state legislators. In Wyoming, the statistics are even worse – only 13 percent of legislators are women. That makes the “Equality State” 50th in the nation. Part of the problem is no one is asking them to run. 

Bernadine Craft is a state senator from Sweetwater County, and she is the only woman in the state senate. She says that the main reason she is there is because she was asked to run by Senator Rae Lynn Job, who once held the senate seat Craft has now.

The Wyoming House of Representatives made some changes to a bill that would reform how the state handles people involuntarily hospitalized due to mental illness. 

During second reading debate, the House adopted an amendment that gives more authority to so-called ‘Gatekeepers’. 

Every county will now have a gatekeeper that will watch over the patient and how their case is handled.

Gillette Republican Eric Barlow said his amendment clarifies the gatekeeper’s duties.

Wyoming State Legislature

How would you rate the work of the Wyoming Legislature this year?

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

Comment on this topic on the Wyoming Public Media Facebook page.

By contributing your comment, you consent to the possibility of having it read on the air. 

Bob Beck

Wyoming lawmakers are addressing a revenue shortfall that could reach 600 million dollars by 2018, by making some budget cuts and using some of the nearly $2 billion dollars they have in savings. But things could get worse very soon, especially since the state is losing a major source of income for school construction, which is coal. 

Riverton Senator Eli Bebout says after meeting with Wyoming’s Consumer Advocate and others, he’s dropping his effort to get rid of the office by next year. 

The Office of Consumer Advocate represents consumers when utilities want to raise rates. Bebout said it appears that the office was doing its job, but some laws need to be tweaked to allow it to do more. 

After more debate over whether they are going too far, the Wyoming Senate gave final approval to a bill that makes marijuana laced food and drink a felony if someone has over three ounces in their possession. 

Senators clarified what a constitutes a felony and rejected amendments to require prosecutors to prove that the amount of marijuana in the edible exceeds three ounces. Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss said  it’s not difficult to measure such things, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Leland Christensen said the Wyoming Crime lab does not currently have that ability.  

The Wyoming Senate has amended a bill that would have made possession of three ounces of edible marijuana a felony.

Fearing that was too severe, the Senate changed the bill to say that three convictions in three years would equal a felony. But the first offense would be a low misdemeanor with a fine up to $300 and eight days in jail, while the second offense would equal up to 30 days in jail and a thousand dollar fine.  

Casper Republican Bill Landen favored making it a low misdemeanor on a first offense.

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.

Wyoming Legislature

After a week of relative calm, the Wyoming legislative session is about to get a little more heated. Falling energy prices has led to a decline of over 500 million dollars in state revenue.

On Monday, the Wyoming legislature will look at crafting the next two year budget with a series of bills that address topics ranging from general government operations to building projects.  

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

  

Legislators have been talking about reforming health care in the state for at least 25 years. Access to health care providers is difficult, finding affordable health care is a challenge, and so after another Medicaid Expansion defeat the legislature’s Health and Labor committee spent the summer trying to find ways to improve health care in the state without spending much money. 

Gillette Representative Eric Barlow said the committee crafted 17 bills that will address a wide range of issues in health care. One bill involves nurses.

raskin227-flickr

Next week, legislators will debate whether or not to add mountain lions to the list of animals that can be legally trapped in the state. Newcastle Representative Hans Hunt is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says sportsmen and ranchers complain that mountain lions are hurting mule deer populations.

“The incidence of predator kills on deer populations in certain parts of the state has to be evidence enough that their population is certainly increasing and at a rate that’s cause for concern,” Hunt says.

Bob Beck

Thanks to a downturn in energy prices, Wyoming lawmakers are in a bind. As legislators prepare for the upcoming legislative session they will likely have to cut the budget, dip into reserves, and possibly divert money from flowing into reserve accounts in order to pay for the next two years.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming Department of Transportation says several two-lane rural highways will see their speed limits increased to 70 miles an hour. 

The three highway sections that have been approved for the higher speed limit are US 85 from I-25 near Cheyenne to Newcastle, Wyoming 120 from Cody to the Montana border, and Wyoming 130 from I-80 to Saratoga. 

The legislature allowed for some two-lane rural highways to have their speeds increased, if WYDOT determined that the increase would be safe for motorists.

Bob Beck

The  Wyoming legislature's management council agrees that more work is needed to reform Title 25 in the state. That deals with people involuntarily detained in a mental health crisis. 

A select committee of legislators recently drafted a bill that gives courts the ability to force people to undergo outpatient treatment, but Wyoming Department of Health Director Tom Forlslund said he and the committee are trying to come up with other reforms as well.

Rebecca Martinez

A legislative committee has approved a bill that would increase the dollar amounts provided to students through Hathaway scholarships by 10 percent.

The full legislature will consider the proposal in February’s budget session.

The Joint Education Committee had asked its staff to draft a bill that would have increased the scholarships by about 19 percent, but lawmakers amended it down on Tuesday.

Laramie Senator Chris Rothfuss was among those who wanted to keep the proposed increase higher.

First Hattiesburg Church via Flickr Creative Commons

In its last meeting before the upcoming budget session, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee forwarded a bill that could expand early childhood education in some school districts.

Districts apply for grant money through a program called BRIDGES—and are allowed to spend that money on afterschool and summer programming. The new legislation would also allow districts to spend that money on early learning, if they choose.

Wyoming Kids First executive director Becca Steinhoff says it’s a step in the right direction.

Wyoming Legislature

The legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee has wrapped up its first week of budget hearings. The committee heard from the governor early in the week and has started reviewing agency budgets. The governor wants to eventually divert money going into the state’s permanent mineral trust fund in an effort to keep the state budget where it is. While lawmakers have mixed thoughts on that idea, but they are more concerned that the governor has not given more thought to a major budget threat. 

Bob Beck

 

With the Consensus Revenue estimating group saying that revenues are dropping, Governor Matt Mead announced his budget this week. While his budget reduces spending that will impact some, it does not feature the deep cuts some feared. The governor is proposing to balance the budget by borrowing from reserves initially and paying it back with future income.  

Miles Bryan

  

A Wyoming legislative committee recommended approval of a major reform to the state’s system for dealing with people involuntarily detained in a mental health crisis Monday night.

The system is known as “Title 25.” The bill approved by the committee  would give courts the ability to order people to undergo outpatient treatment; right now they can usually only order forced hospitalization, or let the patient go.

Wyoming Legislature

State Representative Mike Madden and the joint revenue committee will be busy next week. They have a number of issues from local government funding to how to pay for school construction that they need to address. With the recent revenue projections, the committee will need to see if there are new ways to pay for such things. One idea could even be a property tax. Madden, who chairs the House Revenue Committee talks with Bob Beck. 

Wikimedia Commons

Earlier we heard Representative Mike Madden discuss two key funding challenges the Joint Revenue Committee will tackle next week, one other topic of discussion will be whether to raise the state tobacco tax. A dollar increase would raise 20 million dollars but the hope is that it will also curtail smoking.

Jason Mincer is the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. His organization is strongly in favor of increasing the tax.  

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.         

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

The Consensus Revenue Estimating group or CREG will release its much-anticipated revenue forecast on Tuesday. Wyoming’s revenues are expected to drop 500 to 600 million dollars, which means legislators will have a lot less money to spend compared to the last budget. 

This comes at a time when the governor has already asked state agencies to find ways to trim 200 million dollars from the existing budget. The culprit is falling energy prices, specifically from oil and gas. 

Flickr Creative Commons

Several organizations have taken Wyoming to court over a law passed last year that made it a criminal offense to cross private property to collect data on public lands. One group that recently joined the lawsuit is the National Press Photographers Association.  The group's attorney, Alicia Calzada, says the new law violates the right to petition by criminalizing the act of collecting data to distribute to the public or to the government. She says that’s something journalists do regularly.

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.                

Courtesy Wyoming NORML

Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in Wyoming can begin collecting signatures in an effort to put the issue on the ballot. 

The Secretary of State’s office gave the go ahead to the Wyoming National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws to collect the nearly 26 thousand signatures it needs to get the issue before voters in 2016. If voters approve it, the legislature will be asked to draft legislation to legalize medical marijuana.  Chris Christian of Wyoming NORML said they want the law to say that people can get cannabis from a doctor. 

Bob Beck

After years of planning the state of Wyoming is finally going ahead with a multi-year effort to renovate the state capitol building and to completely re-do the neighboring Herschler building. 

Construction Manager Dennis Egge stands outside the building as he watches a variety of people tap on the capitol exterior

“The design team has actually looked at every stone on this building, they have taken a forklift and looked at it. These guys are looking at it from a means and method, what’s the best way budget wise to make this work.”

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.

Pages