wyoming legislature

A bill that was opposed by food safety officials has passed the Wyoming Senate. The Food Freedom Act allows Ag producers to sell such things as unregulated eggs and raw milk locally.  

Supporters say the Food Freedom Act will help Ag Producers make more money by allowing them to sell products locally. Senator Ogden Driskill says it legalizes a practice that has been going on for years. 

Casper Republican Charles Scott tried one last time to warn the Senate that selling raw milk is a bad idea because it could lead to disease outbreaks. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

A huge effort by business coalitions to pass a bill to provide workplace protections to gay and transgender people came to an end Tuesday.  The Wyoming House of Representatives defeated Senate File 115, a much talked about anti-discrimination measure, 33 to 24. 

Floor debate was between those who say that workplace protections for gay and transgender people would make Wyoming’s business climate more welcoming versus those who say it provided unnecessary special protections. 

A bill that would have banned the sale of powdered alcohol in the state has failed. 

 The Wyoming House of Representatives defeated the bill by one vote after several members said the legislature shouldn’t ban just one form of alcohol.  Riverton Republican David Miller says there appeared to be no reason to ban it. 

"It’s regulated, you have to be 21 to buy this stuff. I don’t know why we’re doing this, I can think of a lot of other things we probably shouldn’t be doing either, but we are not going out and making them illegal." 

Wisconsinwatch.org

The Wyoming Senate has rejected an amendment that would ban the sale of un-pasteurized milk during second reading debate over the Food Freedom Act. The legislation would allow farmers and ranchers to sell unregulated food products to consumers. Casper Senator Charles Scott attempted to remove milk from the bill. Scott says a number of diseases can come from unpasteurized milk sold on a widespread scale.

After several amendments the House Education Committee approved a bill that is intended to move forward with Wyoming’s education accountability system. 

After a series of amendments by Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers the committee pushed back the next phase of the accountability process. 

Sommers says he wanted to take another look at the accountability model and give the committee addressing accountability more time.  

A bill that would allow the sale of unregulated milk, eggs, and canned goods has received initial support by the Wyoming Senate. 

Senator Ogden Driskill says it will help agriculture producers generate income. Driskill says these goods exchange hands all the time anyway.

“What this bill does is makes a lot of what’s happening already legal and encourages farm to ranch markets in our cities and towns and throughout the country.”

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill allowing the state to partner with private business to convert Wyoming minerals to value-added products like ammonia and plastics.

Glenrock Senator Jim Anderson says with the downturn in energy prices business leaders in Converse County are excited about the possibilities.

“But we see this downturn as opportunity, not only as opportunity, but it necessitates that we go out and find other ways to market those products that we have in hand.”

Bob Beck

From time to time there are political issues that lead to questions about how much of impact religion has on the Wyoming legislature. The state is heavily dominated by Republicans and many outsiders figure that makes Wyoming’s politicians religiously conservative too. But while many lawmakers say their value systems were influenced by their religious beliefs. How they vote tends to depend on the issue. 

To be clear, religion does play a role on the floor of the legislature. For instance, every day the Wyoming Senate and House of Representatives begins with a prayer.

Over the past year, The Next Generation Science Standards have stirred debate in Wyoming—which continues today. Lawmakers have taken issue with what the standards say about climate change. Laramie Democrat Pete Gosar has something of a front row seat for this discussion. He’s recently been named chairman of the State Board of Education—after serving for four years on that body, which is responsible for reviewing and adopting education standards. Wyoming Public Radio's Aaron Schrank spoke with Pete Gosar to get his take on the standards—and the controversy around them.​ 

The Wyoming Senate has voted to give teachers a pay increase. The external cost adjustment will be the first that teachers have received since 2009. Senator Stan Cooper says a lack of cost of living adjustments has caused problems for rural school districts who are trying to hire new teachers. 

Glenrock Republican Jim Anderson adds that the energy boom in Converse County has driven up local rent and other costs. He says that has forced teachers to relocate.

    

Medicaid expansion has been defeated again. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives soundly voted down an amendment to the state supplemental budget that would have provided federally funded Medicaid services to nearly 18-thousand low income Wyomingites. 

Cheyenne Republican Sue Wilson said the people who would qualify are working, but cannot afford insurance.

After being told that the Wyoming Department of Transportation has plans to improve safety on Highways 59 near Gillette and 20/26 between Shoshoni and Casper, the Senate decided to put that into law. 

The Senate adopted a budget amendment that requires WYDOT to hold public hearings, study the issue, and come up with a plan on how to make and pay for safety improvements this summer. Gillette Senator Michael Von Flatern  says the public meetings must take place next month.

A proposed constitutional amendment would let the state treasurer invest money from the state’s non-permanent savings and trust funds into the stock market. 

The Wyoming House started work on the bill this week. House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman says the idea is to let the treasurer be more aggressive and get a better financial return. 

“And the rules are really changing, we used to think that interest bearing or bonds were always the safest. As we know now those aren’t always the safest as we once thought.”

The Wyoming Senate is working on legislation that would let the state take over permitting of uranium operations in the state.  

Senator Chris Rothfuss says the bill will save producers time and money. Currently Uranium operators have to fill out the same permits for the state and federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Rothfuss told the Senate that operators say that is burdensome.  

During work on the state supplemental budget the Wyoming House and Senate both defeated amendments to put more money into Highway 59.

The highway in northeast Wyoming has seen increased traffic due to the energy boom and deaths on the highway have nearly doubled since 2010.

The Governor had asked for 21 million dollars to add more passing lanes on the highway, but the Joint Appropriations Committee agreed to just 17 million for upgrades to BOTH highway 59 and U-S 20/26 between Casper and Shoshoni.  

It will take a conference committee to determine whether the State Board of Education may adopt the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. The standards say students should learn about climate change — and last year the House passed a budget amendment barring the State Board of Education from considering the standards.  

The Wyoming House of Representative has approved a cost of living increase for teacher salaries. The amendment was part of the debate on the state supplemental budget. Called the External Cost Adjustment or ECA, it provides extra funding for districts to use for teacher pay increases. 

Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers says teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2009, mainly due to budget concerns.

Wyoming Public Radio's news director Bob Beck checks in with Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard to discuss the session as the state legislature passes the halfway mark.

The Wyoming legislature will begin work on the state supplemental budget next week. 

Lawmakers asked several questions after hearing a two day presentation on the budget. Some are concerned about a lack of new funding for such things as teacher salaries, local government, and some nursing home services. There’s also a reduction in the governor’s request for highway 59 near Gillette. 

But an ongoing concern is over how much of the budget is funded using projected revenue. Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss says that funding model has people nervous.

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that allows the State Board of Education to consider the Next Generation Science Standards. But the Senate also added an amendment that has some concerned. 

Senator Eli Bebout changed the bill to say that the state board may consider NGSS in addition to others in order to -- quote -- "develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming." 

Bebout says his amendment requires nothing, but Senate President Phil Nicholas says it implies that the state board should come up with standards unique to Wyoming.

After an emotional debate the Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill that allows the state to execute prisoners by firing squad if drugs for lethal injections remain unavailable. 

The House passed the bill 31 to 29. Republican Senator Eric Barlow of Gillette thinks there are still ways to avoid a firing squad. For instance the House version of the bill already requires the prisoner to be unconscious prior to the execution.    

The Wyoming House of Representatives has given strong support to a bill that would allow the state to use a firing squad in a prisoner execution. Wyoming cannot currently obtain the drugs used to execute someone by lethal injection and a firing squad would be the backup method of execution.

Cheyenne Republican Bob Nicholas strongly opposes the approach and successfully amended the bill to say that if the state uses a firing squad, the condemned person will not be awake.

The State Senate continues debating a bill that would provide money to public hospitals in the state to help pay for uncompensated care.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tony Ross tried to reduce the 5-million dollars in the bill down to two-point-five million, but the Senate rejected that amendment.

Supporters say many hospitals are struggling with so-called “charity care”, but Ross worries that the bill may open the door to a long term commitment.

Without any debate, the Wyoming Senate gave initial support to a bill that would allow the State Board of Education to consider adopting the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. Last year the House of Representatives added a budget footnote that kept the Board from considering the standards, in part because of concerns about how they address climate change.

The Senate never debated the issue. Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says removing that footnote will allow the State Board of Education to do its job.          

After killing Medicaid expansion on Friday, the Wyoming Senate began work on legislation that would help hospitals in the state pay for emergency room services or so-called charity care they provide to people who cannot pay. 

The Senate voted to put five million dollars into a fund to help hospitals address some of these debts. Cowley Republican Ray Peterson called it a one year band aid that doesn’t adequately address a more serious problem.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 5 to 4 to recommend a bill that would allow executions by firing squad in the state. 

The Department of Corrections says acquiring the drugs to provide lethal injections has become more and more difficult. Lawmakers says they need to find another option in case someone ends up on death row. 

Thermopolis Representative Nathan Winters voted against the bill because he has concerns that such executions might be cruel and unusual.

Efforts to raise fines for workplace safety violations and deaths will fail in the Wyoming legislature. The Senate has decided not to hear a bill that would have increased penalties for workplace safety violations that result in deaths and the House defeated two workplace safety bills on Friday.

Representative Mary Throne of Cheyenne was the main sponsor.  

“I think it would send a message to those small number of companies who don’t have a commitment to safety, that we care. And if they don’t change their ways, they’re going to pay for it.”

The Wyoming Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would extend the state anti-discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Senate started work on language to expand exemptions for religious charities, religious non-profits and groups such as the Boy Scouts.  Senator Dave Kinskey says they are trying to strike a balance.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Senate has killed a bill that would have provided Medicaid Services to nearly 18 thousand people.  Only 11 of the 30 Senators voted for the bill.   Riverton Republican Eli Bebout said the time was not right, but Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss disagreed.  He said the need for expansion is great.

“For the last three years we’ve have the lives of 17,600 folks here in Wyoming in our hands to some degree with their access to affordable health care.  And we’ve worked hard over those years to come up with the best approach for Wyoming that we could put together. “

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislature is approaching the halfway point and if you have spent any time around the House of Representatives you’d hear a lot of conversation about personal rights and freedom. This ranges from protecting people’s religious beliefs to gun rights. It’s not unusual for Wyoming legislators to be anti-government, but this year the house has discussed several bills that could make that anti-government stance law.

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