2016 Legislative Session

Credit: AARON SCHRANK/WPR

The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee met on Tuesday to discuss ways Wyoming can save money on K-12 education amid revenue decline.

Last year, lawmakers went through the school finance recalibration process, which happens every five years. They decided to continue funding education at the same levels they had been, instead of adopting a less costly model that would provide what consultants say are the basics needed to improve educational outcomes in Wyoming.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

The legislature’s joint revenue committee wrapped up two days of discussions on possible tax increases to deal with Wyoming’s declining revenue picture. 

The committee looked at everything from increasing property taxes to pay for an education shortfall to letting communities add a sales tax on food. But at the end of the two days, the committee only agreed to draft two bills, both dealing with increasing the wind tax.

Miles Bryan

  

Last year a couple of Wyoming judges ruled that state law does not have specific penalties for marijuana-laced edibles. Wyoming law enforcement officials say that ever since Colorado legalized marijuana they are seeing more of it than ever before and so lawmakers tried and failed to address the issue during the recent legislative session. The main problem was that lawmakers got hung up on how much edible marijuana constitutes a felony and the bill died.

Tom Kelly via Flickr Creative Commons

UPDATE: Carbon County School District One Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to close Sinclair Elementary.

The Carbon County District One school board will decide Thursday whether or not to close Sinclair Elementary School. 

Superintendent Fletcher Turcato recommended closing the school, which would save the district about $100,000 a year, due to legislative cuts to school funding.

Turcato says it’s not an easy recommendation to make, but it’s necessary after lawmakers cut funding by 1.2 percent over the next two years.

UW

The University of Wyoming received funding for some major initiatives in the recently approved state budget, but administrators say cuts to UW’s block grant will put a strain on existing programs.

Lawmakers cut that funding by about $5.8 million for 2017 and 2018, and did not approve funding for UW employee pay raises.

Aaron Schrank

Six of the state’s seven family literacy centers expect to close their doors, after lawmakers voted to eliminate the statewide program’s $3.3-million budget.

Jim Rose is executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, which oversees the statewide family literacy program.

Rose says the centers pair early childhood learning with adult education, essentially helping multiple generations build literacy skills together.

Bob Beck

A bill that would lead to the sale of two state-owned 640 acre parcels of land inside Grand Teton National Park has failed after a conference committee could not agree to the details in the bill.

The state has been trying to get rid of the land for many years, and the bill would have required the state to sell both parcels at once. Sen. Eli Bebout wanted the federal government to get the deal done this year or pay 500-thousand dollars to extend the deadline, but the House and Senate could not reach agreement on the sale guidelines.  

Wyoming Legislature

After a lot of discussion the Wyoming legislature has finally agreed to a new local government funding bill.

The measure funds local government to the tune of 105 million dollars, and changes the distribution formula so that mineral rich counties will get less money that those without energy revenue. 

Bob Beck

The Wyoming legislative session has come to an end and few seem to be leaving Cheyenne feeling satisfied.

One of the few people leaving with a positive feeling is Casper Representative Tim Stubson. Stubson was heavily involved in crafting the state budget and voted against such things as Medicaid expansion and voted for a number of budget cuts.  But he says when you look at the state’s finances those cuts were needed.

Campbell County School District

The 2016 Legislative budget session wraps up this week. One of the big things lawmakers have been discussing over the past month is funding for Wyoming’s K-12 schools. The House and Senate have agreed to a budget that will cut about $36 million dollars from education in the next two school years.

Caroline Ballard

  

Across the United States, women make up just under a quarter of state legislators. In Wyoming, the statistics are even worse – only 13 percent of legislators are women. That makes the “Equality State” 50th in the nation. Part of the problem is no one is asking them to run. 

Bernadine Craft is a state senator from Sweetwater County, and she is the only woman in the state senate. She says that the main reason she is there is because she was asked to run by Senator Rae Lynn Job, who once held the senate seat Craft has now.

The Wyoming legislative session comes to a close today. Wyoming Public Radio News Director Bob Beck joins Morning Edition host Caroline Ballard to look back at this year's budget session.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow the state to sell two parcels of state-owned land located inside Grand Teton National Park to the federal government. 

Lawmakers would like 92 million dollars for the two 640 acre parcels.  During final debate the House added an amendment that would also allow the state to lease the land to the federal government if a sale falls through. 

Despite the fact that previous attempts to sell or trade the land haven’t worked out, Jackson Representative Ruth Ann Petroff said she is optimistic.

A bill intended to keep school officials from requiring students to turn over their Facebook, Twitter, or phone passwords has passed the House of Representatives. The controversial bill has received mixed reviews from school officials and lawmakers who say it could put schools in danger. 

Bob Beck / Natrona County High School

A bill that would set up a student safety call center which people could use anonymously to give information about threats to school and student safety has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives.

Supporters say call centers in other states have been very successful, but some lawmakers are not convinced. Torrington Republican Cheri Steinmetz said there are plenty of hotlines and tip lines already in existence. 

But Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers said he believes this effort is necessary.

WEA

On Wednesday, March 9, from 5:00pm to 5:45pm, Aaron Schrank will be hosting a live Twitter chat with Wyoming Education Association President Kathy Vetter. He'll be posing questions about the 2016’s legislative session’s impact on education in the state—including school funding cuts and education-related bills that passed and failed this year.

WEA has been monitoring the session closely. How will the Legislature’s 2016 decisions impact Wyoming’s K-12 education in the years ahead?

Despite some concerns from members of the Appropriations Committee the Wyoming Senate passed a bill that provides 105 million dollars to local government over the next two years.  

Several Senators tried to reduce the funding from 105 million back to the 90 million dollar amount suggest by the Appropriations Committee. Senate Appropriations Chairman Tony Ross noted that the funding is coming out of the legislative reserve account. He said lawmakers need to save as much of that money as possible.

Despite concerns of over spending, the Wyoming House of Representatives has given final approval to a massive 400 million dollar capital construction bill.

The Wyoming House of Representatives made some changes to a bill that would reform how the state handles people involuntarily hospitalized due to mental illness. 

During second reading debate, the House adopted an amendment that gives more authority to so-called ‘Gatekeepers’. 

Every county will now have a gatekeeper that will watch over the patient and how their case is handled.

Gillette Republican Eric Barlow said his amendment clarifies the gatekeeper’s duties.

Wyoming State Legislature

How would you rate the work of the Wyoming Legislature this year?

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The Wyoming House and Senate reached agreement on a state budget bill and sent it to the Governor. 

The biggest budget compromise was on K -12 education funding. The Senate proposed cutting education funding by nearly 46 million dollars while the House wanted to cut substantially less. Casper Representative Tim Stubson told House members Monday that their version of the budget would instead cut about 34 million dollars from education in the next two years.

The Wyoming House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the state to sell two 640-acre parcels of state trust land located inside Grand Teton National Park to the federal government. 

The legislature is looking for 92 million dollars for the land.  Conservation groups and National Park officials would like the land protected, but Evansville Republican Kendell Kroeker suggested the land be sold at an auction. 

A bill that was touted as an alternative to Medicaid Expansion died in the House of Representatives. House members did not consider the bill on the final day to debate Senate bills for the first time. 

Senator Charles Scott has long opposed expanding Medicaid, but wanted to help a few hundred low income Wyomingites get health care services. The plan was to study and find alternatives to the lack of low income health care services in the state.

A bill that would have clarified how edible marijuana possession would be handled in the courts has died. That's after it failed to come up for debate on the final day to discuss bills in the House. 

The Senate had passed a bill that would have made possessing three ounces of marijuana-infused edibles a felony, but the House reduced that to a misdemeanor.  

Bob Beck

Wyoming lawmakers are addressing a revenue shortfall that could reach 600 million dollars by 2018, by making some budget cuts and using some of the nearly $2 billion dollars they have in savings. But things could get worse very soon, especially since the state is losing a major source of income for school construction, which is coal. 

Jennifer Martin

A Wyoming legislative committee has voted to make possession of edible marijuana a misdemeanor and will require prosecutors to determine how much marijuana is actually in the candy, drink, or other products. 

The House Judiciary committee changed the Senate version of the bill that had said possession of three ounces of edible marijuana was a felony. Laramie Democrat Charles Pelkey said the focus will now be on the amount of marijuana in the edible.

Courtesy Wyoming Community College Commission

The Wyoming Community College Commission is considering changes to tuition policy for the state’s seven community colleges.

The discussion comes as lawmakers propose cuts to state funding for community colleges. The Commission decided last week to undergo a two-stage examination of tuition. Executive director Jim Rose says the first stage will be reacting to lawmakers’ likely budget cuts. 

Wyoming Legislature

Riverton Senator Eli Bebout says after meeting with Wyoming’s Consumer Advocate and others, he’s dropping his effort to get rid of the office by next year. 

The Office of Consumer Advocate represents consumers when utilities want to raise rates. Bebout said it appears that the office was doing its job, but some laws need to be tweaked to allow it to do more. 

After more debate over whether they are going too far, the Wyoming Senate gave final approval to a bill that makes marijuana laced food and drink a felony if someone has over three ounces in their possession. 

Senators clarified what a constitutes a felony and rejected amendments to require prosecutors to prove that the amount of marijuana in the edible exceeds three ounces. Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss said  it’s not difficult to measure such things, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Leland Christensen said the Wyoming Crime lab does not currently have that ability.  

People could carry concealed firearms into legislative, city council and County Commissioner meetings under a bill approved by the Wyoming House of Representatives. 

The House easily passed the bill Tuesday after rejecting an amendment by Democrat Charles Pelkey that local government agencies should get to decide if they want concealed weapons at their meetings. Pelkey said he was trying to make a bad bill better.

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