Politics

Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso received pushback from the chief of the U.S. Forest Service on his bill to expand timber harvesting on federal lands. 

Barrasso’s legislation would greatly expand the Forest Service’s timber program throughout western states. The senator says it would create jobs and provide a new funding stream for schools in rural areas. Environmentalists accuse Barrasso of trying to gut environmental laws. At a hearing on the bill Thomas Tidwell, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told Barrasso he’s wary of how the bill undoes regulations.  

The Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that removing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as the head of the Department of Education is unconstitutional.

The decision means that Hill will return to lead the agency and the future of new Director of Education Rich Crandall remains unclear.  A beaming Hill called the law that removed many of her powers as a misguided and unfortunate mistake. Despite some controversy surrounding her management of employees, Hill is excited to return.

Legislative Service Office

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee wrapped up its pre-session work on Friday and approved additional funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department…two percent pay hikes for state, community college, and University of Wyoming employees…and money for a number of construction projects.  Republican lawmakers call their budget conservative and forward thinking, especially since they say the revenue picture is uncertain in the future.  However, a Democratic lawmaker has concerns.  Cheyenne Representative Mary Throne is particularly upset that the J-A-C took money that was intende

Last week a legislative committee recommended passage of two bills that could provide health insurance to several thousand low income Wyoming residents.  The bills would use federal Medicaid expansion dollars to provide the health insurance.  But Committee member Lee Filer doubts either bill will get far this session…mainly because many Republicans are concerned that the federal government will not keep its promise to pay for the insurance.

Hill investigation continues

Jan 7, 2014

An accounting supervisor with the Wyoming Department of Education told a legislative committee that he had serious concerns about spending within the Department, but that State Superintendent of Education Cindy Hill and others ignored him. 

The committee is investigating charges of wrongdoing against Hill.  Trent Carroll had particular concerns about what he called inappropriate spending of federal money, and he said he shared that with his supervisor, who passed the concerns along to Hill and one of her senior staff members.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Liz Cheney’s announcement Monday that she would be ending her US Senate campaign to address a family health issue was met in Wyoming with both shock and sympathy. 

Former US Senator Alan Simpson said he called and offered his support.  Simpson was among the first to say that a Cheney-Enzi race could hurt the state Republican Party.   But Wyoming National committeewoman Marti Halverson says that wouldn’t have happened.

A former supervisor with the Wyoming Education Department is accusing Schools Superintendent Cindy Hill of misusing federal money and improperly implementing a reading program when she ran the department.  

A special Wyoming House Committee is holding hearings this week to determine if Hill committed any impeachable offenses.  Gail Eisenhauer testified that Hill and her leadership team were difficult to work for.

Liz Cheney ends her Senate campaign

Jan 6, 2014

U-S Senate candidate Liz Cheney has decided to end her campaign to what she is calling a serious health issue within her family. The news broke Sunday night and was confirmed by the Cheney campaign this morning.

Cheney said serious health issues had arisen within her family and she indicated that it involved one of her children.  In a statement she said “My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well being will always be my overriding priority.” She had canceled an interview with Wyoming Public Radio due to a family matter. 

Wyoming lawmakers are concerned with a provision in the bipartisan budget agreement that would cost the state money for mineral development.

Wyoming stands to lose around twenty million dollars annually from the budget deal that overwhelmingly passed the House. It includes a provision that makes permanent a law that charges states like Wyoming for costs associated with their mineral leases. The state hasn’t received that money since 2008, but Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis and other officials thought that was just temporary. 

Senator suggests tuition hike for UW

Dec 12, 2013

After hearing the budget request from the University of Wyoming, a State Senator says it is time that U-W look at raising tuition to a much higher level. 

Senate Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout says the cost of maintaining a high quality institution is substantial.  Bebout says U-W had to go through some difficult budget cuts and so it may be time that the University take steps to raise some of its own revenue.                  

Democrats push for Medicaid expansion

Dec 9, 2013

Two Democratic members of the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee criticized Governor Mead’s decision not to expand Medicaid Services. 

At today’s/Monday’s meeting, Senator John Hastert said Mead’s dislike of the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with expanding Medicaid and helping Wyoming’s poor get insurance. 

Representative Ken Esquibel noted that despite concerns with the A-C-A, other states are having great success with Medicaid expansion.  He urged Mead to keep an open mind and review those successes.

Ark Regional Services

An effort to remove people off the Developmental Disability waiver waiting list by using savings from other parts of the program may take longer than previously thought.

So Governor Matt Mead is proposing putting 20 million dollars in the program.  Currently there are about 600 people hoping to get funding to help care for a family member with a brain injury or other disability. 

Mead continues to oppose Medicaid Expansion

Nov 29, 2013

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is recommending that the legislature not expand Medicaid services to the some 16-thousand low income people in the state who cannot afford health insurance.  Mead says he will not support any form of Medicaid Expansion because of problems the federal government has had in implementing the Affordable Care Act. 

“Even if it was gonna work it still seems to me that the ACA is more bent on how to pay for medical costs

rather than the questions of how do we lower costs and how do we get more medical care to more people?”

Governor recommends pay raises

Nov 29, 2013

The Governor is recommending two-point-five percent pay raises for University of Wyoming and state employees, for each of the next two years.  

Governor Matt Mead is also proposing one-time two percent pay hikes for Community College and K-12 Education employees.  The governor made the recommendations in his proposed two year budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.  Mead says it’s been several years since state and U-W employees have received a raise.

No action taken on Medicaid proposals

Nov 6, 2013

The Legislature’s Joint Health and Labor Committee took no action on three bills that would address expanding Medicaid Services in the state. 

The committee will vote on the legislation in January, although a pilot project that would provide Medicaid expansion on the Wind River Reservation was assigned to another committee that deals with Native American issues.  

A group from Fremont County will rally before a legislative meeting Tuesday/Today to encourage the committee support expanding the state’s Medicaid program. 

The Joint Health and Labor committee will consider a revised expansion proposal from the Department of Health that would provide a limited expansion of Medicaid. 

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee strongly supported a bill Tuesday that would lower interest rates on unpaid mineral taxes.

Currently, if a state audit finds that companies have incorrectly reported their production, counties can levy interest of up to 18 percent on back taxes.

The bill changes that, pegging interest to current rates, with a minimum of 12 percent and a maximum of 18 percent. Interest rates for companies that discover the discrepancy on their own would remain the same – at 18 percent.

A legislative committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have taxed natural gas flaring from oil wells.

When there isn’t pipeline or processing infrastructure available to move the natural gas, companies simply burn it. The draft bill would have required severance tax payments on gas flared more than 180 days after the well starts producing. Representative Michael Madden, one of two supporters of the bill, said the proposal wasn’t a tax increase, but rather the repeal of an exemption.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis’ challenger in the Republican primary says Wyoming needs a representative who’s good at negotiating.

Republican Jason Senteney says stalemates like the one that shut down the federal government are the result of lawmakers’ stubbornness.

If elected, he says he would be more open to compromise: “more like an Alan Simpson type of Republican.”

The Wyoming legislature’s management council voted unanimously today/Tuesday to provide 100-thousand dollars to a special committee investigating State Superintendent Cindy Hill. 

Hill is accused of mismanaging federal funds, abusing state resources, and creating a hostile work environment.  Hill has denied the allegations. 

Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says they need extra help to complete what he says is a complicated investigation.  Normally the Legislative Service Office helps lawmakers with this work, but he says the L-S-O is limited by law in what they can do.

Irina Zhorov

A legislative committee would like to see faster progress on a program to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. That was the message for Oil and Gas Supervisor Grant Black at a meeting of the legislature’s Minerals Committee today.

Committee members criticized Black for not providing a concrete plan for plugging or repurposing the wells. There are currently 1,200 orphaned wells in the state, and that number is expected to double in the next year.

Oil and gas operators need more insurance, or bonding. That’s what the leaders of several state agencies told the legislature’s Minerals Committee at a meeting today. They said there’s a gap in how much money is available and how much is needed to deal with abandoned oil and gas wells. The question is: where will that money come from?

Oil and Gas Commission Supervisor, Grant Black, says the bonding structure can be changed to avoid similar problems in the future.  

The Wyoming Department of Health has been given the task of cutting some 24 million dollars from the Developmental Disability waiver program.  

The goal would be redistribute that money to try and get services to nearly 600 people who remain on the waiting list.  The waiver program provides money to deliver services to people with disabilities. 

Those who object to the cuts say that the legislature should put more money into the system.  Senator Charles Scott of Casper says that request was denied, but could come up again in the future.    

The legislature’s Joint Revenue committee will discuss the possibility of raising the state beer tax Friday/Today. 

Beer is currently taxed two cents a gallon, a tax that was established in 1935.  Supporters want to raise the tax to pay for underfunded substance abuse programs.  Wyoming has the lowest beer taxes in the nation.

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness says communities have trouble finding money to pay for substance abuse programs, and he says that he’s disappointed that the Legislature has frequently scuttled attempts to raise the tax.

Governor still mulling Medicaid expansion

Sep 4, 2013

Recently the Wyoming Department of Health submitted a revised plan on how the state could expand Medicaid Services to more people. 

It would require some of the new participants to pay into the system, much like they would do if they owned insurance.  They’d do this on a sliding fee scale depending on their income.  While he is still nervous about the federal government’s financial commitment to the effort, Governor Matt Mead says that the program could provide more health care to more people and also save the state money.

Ben Neary / Associated Press

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has chosen Pete Michael to be Wyoming’s new Attorney General. 

Michael is viewed as an expert in water law and has worked in the attorney general’s office for seven years.  He says there is a lot of legal activity taking place in Wyoming and he’s excited to lead that effort.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved a number of budget cuts that will help the agency deal with a seven million dollar shortfall.  A number of citizens expressed concern about the budget reductions fearing that they will negatively affect both wildlife and recreation. 

Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott says they dropped education programs, eliminated or froze 21 positions, and addressed two key areas.

Today the Congressional House Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing about coal mining in the Powder River Basin.

A new report shows that the Wyoming Department of Education data collection and processing arm is needs serious improvements.

Governor signs lottery bill

Mar 13, 2013

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has signed a lottery bill into law.            

The Governor’s approval means that Wyoming can either form its own state lottery or enter into a multi-state lottery on July first. 

A C-E-O and a nine member board will oversee the lottery.  Mead said last week that he was weighing the pros and cons of the lottery, but ultimately decided to sign the bill to keep Wyoming residents from driving to other states to purchase lottery tickets.  Mead says he wants to keep those dollars in Wyoming. 

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