wyoming legislature

The State Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would remove binding arbitration in collective bargaining cases between cities and firefighters. That is when an arbitrator rules on a dispute and both sides must accept the decision.  

Republican Dave Kinskey, the former Mayor of Sheridan, says his community has too often been forced to live with the ruling of an arbitrator who lives out of state.  

He says non-binding arbitration would lead to quicker negotiations and return accountability to local government. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow guns in schools, college campuses, and government meetings.    

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Senate gave initial approval to a Medicaid Expansion bill, but added an amendment that could keep the state plan from being adopted by the federal government. 

Riverton Republican Eli Bebout added a requirement that participants work up to 32 hours a week unless they’re disabled. The government has previously refused to consider such requirements, and Gillette Republican Michael Von Flatern called it a poison pill that hurts the bill. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that is intended to force people from doing things that are against their religious beliefs. 

The House made an amendment to make it clear that the bill does not apply to government employees. For instance, if they oppose something like same sex marriage, a government employee must still issue a license. 

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The State Senate has started debate on legislation that expands Medicaid to more people in the state. The bill is based on the SHARE plan that was developed by the State Department of Health. It provides health care services to participants who pay into the program like typical health insurance. 

The Senate rejected a plan by Casper Republican Charles Scott to require Health Savings Accounts. Bill Sponsor Michael Von Flatern of Gillette says he supports an amendment that requires the expansion be paid for mostly with federal money.

Bob Beck

For the last few years Wyoming has considered taking advantage of part of the Federal Affordable Care Act which pays states to expand Medicaid services to the so called working poor. While states have some up-front costs, the federal government pays for 100  initially and 90 percent after that. In Wyoming it would pay for close to 18,000 additional low income people to get health care coverage. Despite the federal money, lawmakers have consistently refused to adopt expansion. Why? The answer is varied.

A bill that would allow those with concealed carry permits to have guns at schools, colleges, athletic events, and government meetings has received initial support from the Wyoming House of Representatives.

The House has approved a similar bill in the past and Thursday the bill passed with no debate. Evansville Republican says that’s because it’s been debated before. 

Bob Beck

The Wyoming House of Representatives began debate Thursday on a bill that could allow people in Wyoming to deny services to individuals when they have a religious conflict with their behavior or actions. 

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is modeled after legislation approved in other states, but opponents say it allows discrimination.

Wyoming Legislature

 The State Senate has given initial support to a bill that aims to fix Wyoming’s Tribal Liaison program. 

The two liaisons work with the tribes and state government, but there’s been disputes over funding and other matters.  The legislation provides 200 thousand dollars for the liaisons and makes them an appointee of the governor.

Republican Cale Case of Lander says the bill empowers them to be a more important part of state and tribal government. 

Concealed guns would be allowed in schools, on college campuses, and in government meetings under a bill that will be considered by the Wyoming House of Representatives. 

The bill would repeal gun free zones and was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on an 8-1 vote. Gun supporters say the legislation could keep schools safe, but education organizations and State Superintendent Jillian Balow oppose the measure. Chris Boswell of the University of Wyoming says the bill is problematic.

The Senate Labor and Health Committee has approved a Medicaid Expansion bill on a 4 to 1 vote.

The bill models the Wyoming Department of Health’s Share plan, but also includes a Health and Wellness account that participants would use for medical co-pays. Despite the vote, the bill continues to have lukewarm support. 

Casper Republican Bill Landen voted for the bill in committee, but he may not support it on the Senate floor.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

A legislative committee considering legislation to expand Medicaid will now consider a second expansion proposal. 

This proposal is one favored by Governor Matt Mead and crafted by the Wyoming Department of Health with help from federal health officials. The so-called Share plan legislation is sponsored by Gillette Republican Michael Von Flatern and three other Republicans.

"To show those in the legislature as well as the rest of the public that the Republicans, there is actually quite a few of us that consider this the way to go, and we need to expand Medicaid.”

Bob Beck

A controversial piece of legislation intended to let people practice their religious beliefs in daily life received approval from the House Judiciary committee. House Bill 83 is called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Republican Nathan Winters of Thermopolis wants to keep the government from forcing people to do things that are contrary to their religious beliefs. 

Linda Burt of the American Civil Liberties Union fears it could go too far.

The Wyoming House Education Committee has voted down a proposed Constitutional Amendment that could have led to an appointed State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The 7-2 vote to kill the bill likely ends a two year effort to remove the Superintendent as an elected state official.

Noting heavy public opposition to the bill, Encampment Republican Jerry Paxton said it’s time to stop the discussion.

The State Senate is continuing work on a Constitutional Amendment that allows the State Treasurer to invest various state funds in common stocks. The state currently invests permanent funds in common stocks, but the state constitution does not allow such investment of other state funds.

Senator Chris Rothfuss says the return on those state funds is very low. He says this change would do a lot for the state savings.

The State Senate has reversed itself and passed a bill that includes a requirement that Wyoming public high school students must take four years of math. Last week the Senate voted to keep the math requirement at three years.

Cody Republican Hank Coe successfully amended the bill to allow a student to take a math related elective in their senior year. Many had argued that students who aren’t going to college don’t need an extra year of math, but Casper Republican Charlie Scott says a math elective would be valuable for that group of students.

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that removes a controversial budget footnote keeping the State Board of Education from considering the Next Generation Science Standards. Gillette Republican Scott Clem called the Next Generation Standards junk science, mainly because they require the study of climate change.

“We want something that is unique for Wyoming, we don’t want cookie cutter standards. We are committed to the success of our children when it comes to their education and if we do anything less than that then we are contributing to their failure.”

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A bill that would have allowed the use of medical marijuana was killed in a Wyoming House Committee on a 5 to 4 vote.  The bill was sponsored by Casper Republican Gerald Gay. 

He said cannabis use would have been regulated by medical providers and the goal was to help address a number of pain issues.  A Doctor testified that it has a number of pain benefits. Gillette Republican Bill Pownall says Wyoming is not ready for this yet.

The Wyoming House of Representatives took the first step towards removing a controversial budget footnote that kept the State Board of Education from considering the Next Generation Science Standards.  Speaker of the House Kermit Brown says that legislating via a budget footnote is improper.  Thermopolis Republican Nathan Winters challenged that statement.  Winters says that many publications rated the Next Generation standards as average at best.  He says the State Board of Education was moving too quickly towards adopting those science standards.

The Wyoming Senate has rejected an attempt to require four years of math in public high schools.  The debate came during a discussion on a bill addressing education accountability and assessment.  Currently the state requires three years of math and Senator Hank Coe says increasing it to four years will help improve education.       

“You know this is a global economy…big time.  And the United States is not getting it done and honestly we aren’t getting it done in Wyoming either.  Rigor is what we need.”

The second week of Wyoming's state legislature is wrapping up today. Wyoming Public Radio News Director Bob Beck speaks with Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard about what we've seen so far this session.

Ohio Governor John Kasich was at the Wyoming’s Capitol Building Thursday as part of a national tour promoting a federal balanced budget amendment.

Kasich spoke to a full house of Wyoming legislators, but he directed his remarks to two 11-year-old boys in the audience as a way to make a point about leaving federal debt for the next generation.

“What would you think if we all went to lunch and we spent 40 dollars and gave you the bill. Would that be very good?,” Kasich asked the boys. “Yeah, we gave you the shaft right? Well that is what we are doing [with the deficit].

The Director of the Wyoming Department of Health says if the state approves Medicaid expansion it could be awhile before it gets implemented.  

Tom Forslund told the Joint Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee last night that he predicts that it wouldn’t take effect in Wyoming until January 1st of 2016. Co-Chairman Elaine Harvey said she was told that if Wyoming adopted a simple plan that it could be approved by the Spring. Forslund said a simple plan would help.

Wyoming Senators had a lot of debate over how stiff penalties should be for those who trespass on private land while collecting data for research purposes. 

Wyoming agriculture interests are supporting the bill to thwart environmental researchers, who, they claim, often collect environmental data to support their legal efforts. The penalties for conviction would include heavy penalties and time in jail. 

A bill that would have decriminalized marijuana in Wyoming was soundly defeated by the Wyoming House of Representatives Wednesday. 

Representative Jim Byrd of Cheyenne had proposed legislation to punish those in possession of small amounts of marijuana with fines, instead of criminal convictions. But a majority of Representatives feared that the change would encouraging marijuana use. Lovell Republican Elaine Harvey had strong concerns.

State support is critical to getting value-added mineral processing facilities to set up shop in Wyoming, backers told a legislative committee Monday. A bill currently under consideration by the Legislature would set up a mechanism for the state to invest in value-added projects. The governor’s office, which sponsored the bill, says it’s particularly targeted towards projects that would convert natural gas to liquids, like diesel, although it could apply to any of the state’s minerals.

Stephanie Joyce

Legislators had lots of questions for oil company representatives at a special seminar convened Monday to discuss the recent oil price slide. Oil prices are down more than 60 percent since June. The State of Wyoming gets roughly 20 percent of its revenue from oil, so prices have been a hot topic in the halls of the Legislature.

Devon Energy representative Aaron Ketter said his company’s best-case scenario has oil prices rising in as little as 6 months. The worst-case scenario is for 24 months. But he cautioned, rising doesn’t mean returning to previous levels. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives has passed a bill that would provide protection orders for victims of sexual assault. Wyoming currently has no such provision.

The protection order would keep the person accused of the sexual assault from having any contact with the victim. Supporters of the bill wanted the protection order to last for a year, but Worland Representative Michael Greear successfully amended the bill which reduced the protection order to three months. He argued that it unfairly impacted someone who’s not yet been found guilty. 

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