wyoming legislature

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. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

Business leaders, health care providers, and members of the Wind River Reservation all urged a legislative committee to approve some form of Medicaid Expansion during a hearing today (Monday).  

The Senate Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee is considering a bill that would provide health care services to some 18-thousand people who currently cannot afford health insurance. If Wyoming’s plan is approved by the federal government, 100-percent of it would initially be paid for with federal money. 

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session is underway and it features 3 new Senators in Cheyenne and 14 newly elected Representatives. It’s a big stage for the newly minted lawmakers and 31-year-old Tyler Lindholm is excited. He is a tall, thin, and confident 1st year Representative from Sundance. Lindholm served in the Navyhas, chaired the Crook County Republican Party and is ready to jump into the legislature with both feet. But legislative protocols and the abundance of legislation can be a challenge for newcomers.

State of Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming House of Representatives gave initial approval to two bills that would remove limits on campaign spending. One removes an aggregate limit on individual spending. That bill is required following the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The other removes financial limits that Wyoming currently imposes on Political Action Committees. 

As they await an updated report on Wyoming’s revenue forecast, Republican legislative leaders are becoming more concerned about a downturn in energy prices. During a news conference following the governor’s state of the state message, Senate President Phil Nicholas says it’s time for the state to prepare for a long term reduction in mineral money. Oil and other commodity prices have fallen and Nicholas doubts those prices will rebound anytime soon.

The Wyoming legislative session kicked off yesterday and this morning Governor Matt Mead will give the annual state of the state address. Wyoming Public Radio News Director Bob Beck is attending his 31st legislative session and joined Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard for a preview of the action.

The President of the Wyoming Senate said that falling energy prices are a concern, but he says the state must still be able to grow. 

During his opening speech to the Wyoming Senate, Phil Nicholas urged Senators to look ten years out and determine where Wyoming should be.  He said that the state will likely see little revenue growth in the near future, but he says that shouldn’t stop Wyoming’s development plans.               

Wyoming Legislature

Wyoming Republican Legislative Leaders say they plan to begin an extensive review of all state revenues and spending. During his opening day speech to the Wyoming House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Kermit Brown says he and Senate President Phil Nicholas will embark on a rigorous look into Wyoming’s budget picture called Vision 2020.

legisweb.state.wy.us

Wyoming’s leading Democrats expect a lot of discussion concerning falling oil prices in the upcoming legislative session.  Those price drops negatively impact Wyoming’s revenue picture.

House Minority Leader Mary Throne says that while prices are down, the state does have a robust savings account.  She says over the past several years lawmakers have overreacted to revenue swings.

Bob Beck

For the next two months the State’s 90 legislators will gather in Cheyenne to consider a wide range of bills. Some ideas will be dead on arrival while others should generate considerable debate. One bill that will begin in the Senate would provide Medicaid health insurance to those who cannot afford health insurance and who do not qualify for subsidies under the affordable care act.

Senator Chris Rothfuss who is the Minority Leader in the Wyoming Senate and House Minority Leader Mary Throne say that legislative savings and Medicaid expansion will be among the top discussion items during the upcoming legislative session.

A bill drafted for the upcoming Wyoming legislative session would attempt to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of Marijuana. Representative Jim Byrd of Cheyenne is sponsoring the bill which would make possession of less than an ounce of Marijuana a civil fine instead of a felony.

House Bill 29 would only fine citizens up to $100 for one ounce of the drug.  A third possession offense could carry jail time and probation, but that punishment would not be mandatory and would be left up to the judge.

What do you think the Wyoming Legislature's top priority should be?

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In Wyoming the energy industry accounts for nearly 70 to 80 percent of the state’s wealth. Wyoming builds its budget around energy prices and sales taxes that are connected to energy. When commodity prices fall, it’s difficult to fund government services.

After the oil downturn of the 1980’s funding the government was a challenge and Wyoming’s incoming Speaker of the House Kermit Brown remembers that it got especially bad in the late 90’s. 

A legislative committee has rejected the Wyoming Department of Health's proposed Medicaid Expansion plan in favor of a bill crafted by the committee.  The Share plan was also endorsed by the governor.

The bill  approved by the committee would provide participants with a Medicaid-funded health savings account that they could use to purchase private insurance.  Senator Charles Scott said that he believes that will encourage participants to be careful with their health care spending.

Gillette Representative Eric Barlow said that remains to be seen.

Associated Press

For the first time, Wyoming employers could face stiff fines if their workers die on the job.   

The state does not currently distinguish workplace fatalities from other kinds of safety violation, but under a bill endorsed by the Joint Health, Labor, and Social Services Committee large employers could be fined up to $250-thousand dollars and those who employ fewer than 250 employees could face fines up to 50-thousand dollars.

Senator Charles Scott says Wyoming’s workplace safety record is among the worst in the country and it’s time to send a message.

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The federal government has provided millions of dollars to states to offer Medicaid Health Insurance to what’s known as the working poor. Last week, after months of discussion, the Wyoming Department of Health unveiled its plan for expanding Medicaid in the state. 

Low income people who do not currently qualify for Medicaid and do not make enough money to be able to get insurance via the Affordable Care Act would be eligible. Governor Matt Mead and several health care organizations support the plan, but it still has the difficult task of getting through the legislature.

Newsday.com

The Senate Judiciary Committee will introduce a new bill to the Wyoming Legislature this January that would offer death by firing squad as an execution alternative.

Five legal execution methods exist in the United States: lethal injection, electric chair, hanging, gas chamber, and firing squad. Currently, no one is on Wyoming’s Death Row. But if an inmate were to be executed, the state would use lethal injection with the gas chamber as a backup.

After months of negotiations with the federal government, the Wyoming Department of Health unveiled a plan today/Wednesday for using federal dollars to expand Medicaid in the state. The proposed state plan is called Share and it includes provision for work training, Co-pays and Health Assessments.  Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss is a supporter of expanding Medicaid. He says he's okay with the requirement that some people pay a small amount into the plan.

Irina Zhorov

Wyoming Democrats had high hopes of gaining some legislative seats on election day, but in the end, they gained only one in the House.

Democratic newcomers Charles Pelkey in Laramie, JoAnn Dayton in Rock Springs, and Andy Schwartz in Jackson picked up Republican seats, but that was trumped by losses of previously held Democratic seats in Fremont and Laramie County. 

Wyo Women's Legislative Caucus

For years women’s groups in the state have expressed concern about the lack of women in the Wyoming legislature. But it has rarely been this bad. Currently the state ranks 46th with women making up 14 percent. 

In 2006 the Wyoming women’s legislative caucus was formed to not only support the 14 women serving in the state legislature, but to also recruit female candidates to run for office. It hasn’t gone well. Melissa Turley is the Caucus Coordinator.

Miles Bryan

Same sex marriage is now legal in Wyoming, which means same sex couples now have access to all the legal rights that come with marriage. Even so, some disparities remain. For one, Wyoming lacks any legal protection for LGBT people in employment. That means gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Cowboy State may be able to be legally married, but they may also be legally fired.

Wyoming’s Joint Judiciary Legislative Committee has voted to support a bill that would allow for execution by firing squad, but voted down an attempt to abolish the death penalty altogether. 

States nationwide are being forced to find alternatives to executions now that drugs for lethal injections are hard to come by. Abolishing the death penalty altogether generated considerable debate. Baggs Senator Larry Hicks says the death penalty provides justice for victims. 

But Laramie Representative Cathy Connolly says the issue is greater than that.

A Wyoming legislative committee has voted to support a bill that would require law enforcement to get warrants to use drones to gather evidence in criminal cases. The Wyoming Liberty Group and Wyoming ACLU are both strong supporters of the bill. ACLU Director Linda Burt said restrictions are appropriate.

“These can be very intrusive means of searches with drones, they can be very small, and they can go into your homes without your knowledge, so we think it’s very important that there should be a warrant for any searches with drones.”

The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee will consider a bill next week in Laramie that could end up abolishing the state’s death penalty law. 

Currently states are having difficulty acquiring the chemicals to perform lethal injections, so the Judiciary Committee has been looking at other alternatives…including firing squads. But House Committee Chairman Keith Gingery says another alternative is to abolish the death penalty.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says he continues working with federal officials to craft a Medicaid expansion plan for Wyoming.                  

Mead says that he’s concerned that the federal government will not be able to afford the program, but he says it could help people in the state and so he is moving forward with a good faith effort.

Over the years it's been a challenge to drum up political engagement on the Wind River Reservation. But things may be different this year with eight tribal members running for office in multiple parties. It's an unusually high number. Democratic Representative Patrick Goggles says it’s his theory that what has inspired so much political gusto is the shifting dynamic in the Republican Party. He says the politicizing of the right wing is happening everywhere, including Wind River.

umt.edu

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Interim Committee is holding a meeting in Thermopolis tomorrow/Tuesday to discuss two bills that would strengthen state poaching laws. The first bill would make it illegal to knowingly sell, barter, trade, or buy such animals. The second would specify fines based on the economic value of the poached animal.

Bruce Burns is the Committee’s Senate Chair. He said the legislature didn’t come up with the new guidelines on their own, but received input from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Do you agree with the Wyoming Legislature's strategy of saving the budget surplus, or is there something you'd like to see them spend it on?

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