wyoming legislature

Four state residents are calling for an ethics investigation of State Senator Eli Bebout saying that his support of the Abandoned Mine Lands bill improperly benefited a company that he partially owns. 

The company called Nucor received AML funding as a result of the legislation, but the bill did not pay Bebout directly and for that reason the Senate rules committee allowed him to vote on the legislation. Senate Minority leader Chris Rothfuss is a member of the rules committee and said Bebout’s vote was proper.

Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming’s Title 25 program is $13 million dollars over budget and a group of legislators and others were told this week that reforms and policy changes are needed to slow down that spending. 

Title 25 covers court ordered hospitalizations for mental health and substance abuse patients. The state hospital doesn’t have enough beds to house those who need services, so the state has to pay private providers for that care. Natrona, Fremont, and Sweetwater County are driving the costs.  

Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Radio

Due to declining revenues the Wyoming Department of Health has been told to cut $90 million from its budget, that’s a nine percent reduction, the largest cut faced by any state agency. It will impact the two year budget that begins July first.

Director Tom Forslund said the loss of state funds also means the Department will lose an additional $43 million in federal matching money. Had the legislature voted to expand Medicaid it would have softened the blow, especially since the Department could shift some money from its budget to pay upfront costs. 

Bob Beck

Due to declining state revenues, Governor Matt Mead announced that he is cutting the state budget by $248 million.

The Wyoming Department of Health is being asked to cut its budget by $90 million for the next two years, which Mead said will lead to a loss of 677 private sector jobs. The University of Wyoming will cut $35 million, community colleges $20 million and the Department of Corrections $17 million. Mead told the Joint Appropriations Committee Tuesday that he had no choice.

Bob Beck

Getting people to run for the legislature can be a challenge, but this year Wyoming has had no problem attracting candidates. In 2014 Democrats made a strong push to get more people to run and they came up with 32 candidates. This year the number is 64. Even Republicans have more candidates running than two years ago. Jason Swadley of Ballotpedia studies elections.

“In all of the areas where we look at competitiveness, this year Wyoming is actually much more competitive than the U.S. average.”

Wyoming State Legislature

It’s up to a legislative task force to decide how Wyoming should deal with structural issues at the state penitentiary building in Rawlins. They can either make repairs or construct an entirely new building.

The 13-member task force includes five senators. Senator Stephen Pappas, an architect from Cheyenne, is among five other senators on the task force.  

WYOMING PUBLIC MEDIA

Welcome to a special edition of Open Spaces from Wyoming Public Radio News. We bring you a conversation about Women in the Wyoming Legislature…and why there are so few of them. This panel was recorded live earlier this year at the Leap Into Leadership conference, in conjunction with Leadership Wyoming Class of 2016. We’ll hear about some of the barriers that women face when they want to run for office.

We’ll discuss why it’s important to have women in the legislature, and how we can better encourage women to run for office. 

Wyoming State Legislature

What Wyoming issue would you like to hear legislative candidates address this year?  

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Budget Cuts Before Taxes

May 23, 2016
Bob Beck

  

Wyoming’s revenue picture is dire. Thanks to declining energy and sales tax revenue Governor Mead has already started cutting nearly 300 million dollars from the two-year budget that was approved by the legislature in March.

Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio

To save money, the Wyoming legislature may meet only 37 out of 40 possible days next year and will make other reductions in travel, staffing, and purchases.  

Due to a downturn in expected revenues, the legislature’s management council voted to reduce the legislature’s upcoming two-year budget by 12 percent. The governor is working with all state agencies and the University of Wyoming to reduce their budgets by an average of eight percent. 

Speaker of the House Kermit Brown said the upcoming session may be difficult and lawmakers may need all 40 days. 

Wikipedia Creative Commons

The legislature’s joint revenue committee wrapped up two days of discussions on possible tax increases to deal with Wyoming’s declining revenue picture. 

The committee looked at everything from increasing property taxes to pay for an education shortfall to letting communities add a sales tax on food. But at the end of the two days, the committee only agreed to draft two bills, both dealing with increasing the wind tax.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A Wyoming legislative committee is looking into ways to help cities, towns, and counties raise more money, but a localized food tax failed to gain support Thursday.

State Senator Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower said the state will likely not be able to keep providing money for local government at the rate it has in the past. Lawmakers approved 105 million dollars for local entities for the next two years, a decrease of 78 million from the previous two years. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

A Wyoming legislative committee is moving forward with proposals to increase the tax on wind energy. Wyoming is currently the only state that taxes wind energy production. The Revenue Committee decided at its meeting on Wednesday to draft two possible bills. One would raise the production tax on wind beyond the current one dollar per megawatt hour. The other would force wind companies to hand over some part of the federal wind energy production tax credit to the state.

Leigh Paterson

As Wyoming faces a growing budget shortfall, the state is looking at ways to generate additional revenue, including possibly raising the state's wind tax. The Joint Revenue Committee will consider a proposed tax hike at its meeting this week.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session has come to an end and few seem to be leaving Cheyenne feeling satisfied.

One of the few people leaving with a positive feeling is Casper Representative Tim Stubson. Stubson was heavily involved in crafting the state budget and voted against such things as Medicaid expansion and voted for a number of budget cuts.  But he says when you look at the state’s finances those cuts were needed.

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?

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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.

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