Politics

After nearly two hours of debate, the Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would require companies doing seismic exploration for minerals to post bonds or negotiate a contract with the surface owners.

Supporters of the bill say that seismic operators sometimes trespass onto private property, and current bond requirements are too low to encourage good-faith negotiations between surface owners and companies wanting to explore.

  Governor Matt Mead has signed into law a bill that strips powers from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. In turn Superintendent Cindy Hill has filed suit, claiming that the new law is unconstitutional. 

Mead also announced that Community College Director Jim Rose will serve as the interim Director of Education. 

Mead said he did a lot of soul-searching before agreeing to sign the bill.

“I don’t think anybody would view this as a celebration, I think we would view it as a duty we must go forward on for the kids in Wyoming,” Mead says.

A Wyoming legislative committee has approved a bill that would allow civil unions between same sex couples in the state on a 7 to 2 vote.  The Committee voted down a bill that would have legalized gay marriage on a 5 to 4 vote. 

The Civil Unions bill passed despite some strong opposition.  Cheyenne Representative Lynn Hutchings urged the committee not to consider either bill a matter of civil rights.  She testified that as an African American she is offended by such comparisons. 

Katie’s Law, a bill that would have allowed the state to collect DNA of people arrested for certain felonies will not move forward in the Wyoming House.

A committee voted 5-3 to kill the bill, which is named after a 22-year-old New Mexico resident whose killer was identified based on DNA matching. Proponents of the bill argued that DNA is the modern equivalent of a fingerprint.

Newsday.com

Legislators have voted to advance two bills relating to guns in government meetings.

One that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into government meetings passed unanimously, after the committee agreed to strike a provision that would have required permission of the meeting’s presiding officer.

Former gun shop owner Maury Jones of Jackson Hole says concealed guns make government meetings safer.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department

A bill that would have increased hunting license fees by nearly 20-percent was defeated by a Wyoming House committee that wants further study of the proposal. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department says the money is needed to address a revenue shortfall and would have raised about eight million dollars a year by 2016.  But some challenged the need for the increase. 

Bob Wharff of the group Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife says he feared that the increase would drive away hunters, especially those from out-of-state.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

After two weeks of discussion, the Wyoming Legislature has voted to remove some duties from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  The legislation awaits the signature of Governor Matt Mead. 

The bill would hand over administration of the State Department of Education to a Governor appointed Director of Education. 

Opponents of the bill once again complained that they were going against voters who supported the election of Superintendent Cindy Hill by a two-to-one margin. 

Rock Springs Republican Stephen Watt again asked the House to slow down.

The State Senate has approved a bill that changes the way Medicaid services are administered in Wyoming. 

Senate Health and Labor Committee Chairman Charles Scott says it would make a number of changes, especially for those with brain injuries and developmental disabilities, where large numbers of people are on a waiting list to get services. 

Scott says they will address the program by making sure that everyone does not qualify for more insurance than they need.

The Wyoming House of Representatives defeated a pair of amendments during the second day of debate on a bill that would remove some duties from the State Superintendent and give them to a governor-appointed Director of Education.  

Jackson Republican Keith Gingery asked for $20,000 to be set aside to allow State Superintendent Cindy Hill to fight her loss of power in court.  During that discussion Gingery expressed disappointment about the tone of the debate on the issue.

A number of Wyoming health care organizations held a news conference in Cheyenne urging state lawmakers to pass a bill that would expand Medicaid services to more state residents.

Wyoming Hospital Association Director Dan Perdue says the bill will improve health care for more citizens.  He says it will also save the state money.

The State Senate has begun overhauling the Wyoming Medicaid program. 

The bill attempts to slow down rising costs of the program through a variety of reforms that would both cap payments and try to put less critical clients into lower cost programs. 

Senate Labor and Health Committee Chairman Charles Scott says savings could range between $30 million and $113 million, depending on which reforms the federal government allows the state to go forward with.

Creative Commons / www.wildretina.com

The Wyoming Senate defeated two education bills and passed one during final debate on all three measures. 

The Senate defeated one bill that would require parental permission for someone under the age of 18 to drop out of school.  The Senate also killed a bill that would have required students to take four years of math in order to graduate.  Both bills were sponsored by Democrat Chris Rothfuss of Laramie. 

The Senate did approve a bill that puts in place a new energy and natural resources curriculum for schools. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming is one of eight states that does not have the ability to pursue false claims in Medicaid cases.  A bill being debated in the state Senate would change that. 

Senator Ray Peterson says conservative estimates suggest that Wyoming is likely losing 15 million dollars a year to overbilling in Medicaid cases.  His bill would allow the state to investigate and prosecute Medicaid fraud.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has passed a bill that would open up Wyoming’s health insurance market to out-of-state companies. 

The goal of the legislation is to provide more insurance options to consumers.  But Evansville Republican Kendall Kroeker says the bill would do anything but.

“So all it does is protect the couple of insurance companies that are here and limits competition by not allowing anybody to offer anything different than is being offered,” Kroeker says.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has voted to increase the state gas tax by ten cents per gallon. 

Supporters say the money is needed to pay the costs of road maintenance, but opponents say citizens cannot afford the tax. 

Rock Springs Republican Stephen Watt urged the use of state reserve funds to pay for roads instead.

“At some point in time we need to say that today is rainy and we need to spend some of our rainy day money,” Watt says. “Let’s not add more of a burden on our constituents with this tax.”

The Wyoming House has given final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court Justices and District Court Judges. 

The current age is 70; the new legislation would raise the retirement age to 75.

Cheyenne Republican Dan Zwonitzer is sponsoring the bill and he says the state has lost some good judges this way.

In an effort to find ways to offer health insurance to citizens, the Wyoming House of Representatives is considering a bill that would allow insurance companies from outside of the state to offer policies to Wyoming residents. 

The House gave initial approval to the bill that will also allow in-state companies to match the price offered by the out of state insurance company.  Supporters see this as a way to provide consumers a more competitive marketplace for health insurance.  Some feared the measure could hurt Wyoming’s health insurance providers. 

In an effort to improve Wyoming Graduation rates, Senator Chris Rothfuss is pushing a bill that would require students to stay in school until graduation or age 18. 

If they need to drop out of school between the ages of 16 and 18, they will require written parental permission.  Currently Wyoming students can drop out of school after the age of 16. 

Rothfuss says they are trying to raise the education bar. 

Fellow Senator Bill Landen had opposed the bill, but he says he’s changed his mind.

After several days of discussion, the Senate Health and Labor Committee has approved a bill that is intended to reform Medicaid in Wyoming. 

Medicaid is an expensive program for the state to run and lawmakers have been looking at how to reduce costs, but not take away services.  One significant change would be how the state handles those with developmental disabilities and brain injuries. 

The state spends 120 million dollars a year on those services. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives has given initial approval to a bill raising Wyoming’s fuel tax by ten cents, from 14 cents a gallon to 24 cents. 

House Revenue Committee Chairman Mike Madden says the state has spent millions from Wyoming's General fund to pay for roads, and he says they need more revenue to pay for maintenance and construction.  

Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says the increase is justified.

“What this tax is is a user fee,” Lubnau says.  It’s a self-supported user fee that supports our highways.” 

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that takes power away from the state superintendent and creates an appointed director to run the Department of Education. 

The Senate voted 20-10 to approve the measure.  Senator Hank Coe blames the move on failures by the State Superintendent Cindy Hill to follow through on legislative mandates, a charge Hill denies.  Coe says Hill has lacked management skills.  He says that’s led to a 40-percent turnover.

A bill that would remove powers from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and transfer them to an appointed Director has received initial approval from the State Senate. 

The Senate approved the bill 19-10 after a lengthy debate including comments from some Senators who were concerned that the bill could actually hurt education instead of improve it. 

A bill that would raise the gas tax by ten cents has passed the House Revenue Committee. Revenue from the increased taxes would fund highway construction and maintenance throughout the state, a sector that’s currently underfunded.

Chairman of the House Revenue Committee, Michael Madden, says the measure is supported by many groups.

"About every engine that makes our economy run, we had strong support for this bill. And the overall gist of the thing was that Wyoming runs on roads and it’s too important of an asset to watch deteriorate. "

A bill that changes the qualifications for the position of Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Supervisor has unanimously passed the State Senate.

The bill changes the requirements for the Supervisor from a registered professional petroleum engineer or geologist, to an engineer or geologist with ten years of experience in his respective field of expertise.

Energy and Legislative advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Richard Garrett, says it may be valuable to consider applicants’ assets fully.

The Senate Education Committee quickly passed a bill that would create a governor-appointed director position for the education department, and reduce the powers of the current state superintendent. 

Committee Chairman Senator Hank Coe says tension between the Legislature, Superintendent, the Department of Education, and the State Board has been going on since 1985 and it was time to fix it.  

In the State of the State address today, Governor Mead reiterated his proposal to redirect more money from severance taxes into the ‘rainy day account.’ One percent of severance taxes currently goes into the permanent mineral trust fund, but Governor Mead wants it to go into a legislative savings account instead. 

House Minority Leader, Mary Throne, has spoken out against having a rainy day fund so large, noting that it currently contains $5 billion. She says they need to determine how much they actually need to save.

Governor Matt Mead said in his State of the State address Wednesday that lawmakers need to think further about Medicaid expansion in the state and to develop a plan specifically for Wyoming. Department of Health Director, Tom Forslund, said the state would save about $50 million over six years under a full expansion.

House Majority Floor leader Kermit Brown says there are still too many unknowns in the federal rules for the Affordable Care Act that could hurt Wyoming.

Medicaid expansion debate gets a warmup

Jan 8, 2013

Two Leaders of the Wyoming House of Representatives expressed different views of expanding Medicaid during the opening day of the legislative session. 

Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau said during his opening remarks to the House that he is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act and wants the state to wait before it considers expanding Medicaid for more citizens in Wyoming.  Lubnau doubts that the federal government can afford the program.

Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says it is time that the state raise the gas tax.  Lawmakers will consider legislation this session that will increase the gas tax by ten cents a gallon. 

During his opening remarks to the House of Representatives, Lubnau says the time has come to pay for Wyoming’s roads.

“Let me be very clear, no one wants to raise taxes.  No one wants to vote to raise taxes.  But it is time we have an adult conversations about the financial realities about maintaining our roads.  For our economy and human safety.”

Senator Ross urges cooperation

Jan 8, 2013

The Wyoming Senate President is urging cooperation after what he calls an ugly campaign season. 

Tony Ross of Cheyenne urged the Senate to work together and not let the public get cynical.  Ross says that’s important because this will be a difficult session with lots of important issues to address.

“Supplemental budget cuts, our response to the affordable care act, expansion of Medicaid, education accountability and a fuel tax just to name a few.  Many people are looking to the Senate to be THE body of reason and measure.”

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