wyoming legislature

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.

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.

Wyoming lawmakers want more flexibility in how schools are assessed under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

Members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability met in Saratoga Wednesday to discuss how to reform Wyoming’s system for evaluating schools. A rework of the state’s accountability system is required by legislation passed this year.

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."

Bob Beck

Despite a heavy push by hospitals and businesses the Wyoming legislature once again voted down Medicaid Expansion this year.  It means the state will not receive 120-million dollars in federal funds a year to address some 17 thousand people who do not have health care coverage and it will also not help address the millions of dollars of uncompensated care faced by hospitals who are forced to treat those without insurance.  The Legislature’s Joint Health and Labor committee will spend the next several months trying to find a Wyoming solution to these issues without federal dollars. 

Getting doctors to move to Wyoming has long been a big problem, but maybe just borrowing them could be an alternative. A new interstate compact law could make it easier for more out-of-state doctors to practice in Wyoming by fast tracking their licensing process. The state continues to wrestle with a severe shortage of physicians that’s left many rural communities without adequate health care. Representative Sue Wilson of Cheyenne sponsored the bill and was excited to see Wyoming be the first to pass the law.

Bob Beck

A few weeks ago the Wyoming legislative session came to a close and Governor Matt Mead admitted that he had a number of concerns. The biggest was the failure of the legislature to pass Medicaid Expansion. The governor tells us that he knew it would be a tough sell, but it was tougher than he thought.

Bob Beck

Five years ago the Wyoming legislature embarked on its latest attempt at reforming education in the state. Lawmakers said Wyoming was spending a lot  of money on education and students were underperforming. After rejecting drastic changes such as getting rid of teacher tenure, the legislature settled on coming up with a way to score school districts, schools, teacher leaders, and teachers themselves.

Melodie Edwards

When it comes to the spread of disease from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, it’s not that different from the arrival of Europeans in the Americas when small pox and other diseases killed millions of indigenous people. Without a built-in immunity, pneumonia can wipe out an entire bighorn sheep herd in no time. And that’s why, last week, the Wyoming legislature passed a pair of historic bills that will effectively keep the two species apart.

Firing Squad Bill Fails

Mar 12, 2015
Newsday.com

A bill that would make death by firing squad an option in Wyoming failed in the legislative session last week.

The bill was introduced and passed in the Senate. The House then amended it to give death row inmates the option of sedation before execution. Back in the Senate, there was disagreement about the language of the sedation clause. The Judiciary Committee then found a compromise. But the bill ultimately failed in the House. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Legislature has approved a bill that is intended to help hospitals in the state cover costs for patients who cannot afford to pay for health care. 

After lawmakers rejected the $100 million a year in federal funds that would have come from Medicaid Expansion, this was viewed as a last ditch attempt to help hospitals. But opponents say the bill just throws money at the problem.

Senate Labor and Health Committee Chairman Charles Scott says the two and a half million dollars in the bill will help some of the small hospitals in the state.

The Wyoming Legislative session ended today and in his closing remarks Governor Matt Mead urged lawmakers to find a solution to a number of health care problems in the state.   The legislature voted against taking more than 100 million dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid and provide health care services to 17,600  people. Mead said legislators need to find solutions.

Wyoming victims of sexual assault will now be able to get a protection order without the necessity of proving their case in court. Governor Matt Mead signed a bill into law that provides victims a protection order of six months that can be renewed up to a year. 

Green River Senator John Hastert says it allows a victim to get protection from their assailant if they choose not to pursue criminal charges. 

A bill headed to the Governor's desk allows the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority to issue up to one billion dollars in bonds to support construction of out-of-state coal ports.  Senator Michael Von Flatern says the bill allows the Authority to borrow money from investors for the bond, which can then be lent to projects elsewhere.

“A great morale booster by the way, so if the state’s showing that it’s willing to put up bonding ability, or allow an authority to have bonding ability it may make a project look more viable than if we weren’t gonna put any skin in the game.”

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Senate decided that a bill that would have provided a mechanism for guns to be in schools and gun free zones was not ready for prime time. The Senate voted 25 to 3 to kill that bill with no debate. It ends debate on the issue for the year. 

The bill originally mandated that guns be allowed in schools, colleges, and government meetings, but Senator Hank Coe successfully amended the bill to leave those decisions up to local governing bodies. Lander Republican Cale Case favored the House version of the bill.

The House and Senate will convene a conference committee to try and iron out a piece of legislation that supporters say is key to education reform. 

The bill sets up the next phase of a school accountability program that grades educators and provides help if they aren't meeting expectations. The House voted to remove state oversight from the bill. Pinedale Representative Albert Sommers says it goes too far.

On Monday, Governor Matt Mead signed a bill that reopens the debate over teaching climate change science in schools. The Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS, include the concept that climate change is real and largely caused by man. In Wyoming, and a handful of other states, that’s controversial. So last year, the state legislature banned discussion to adopt them.  

Pete Gosar, Chairman of the Wyoming Board of Education, says the board now plans to begin debating the standards at their March meeting.  

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