Politics

The State Senate easily defeated a proposed budget amendment that would expand Medicaid Services in the state by a vote of 21 to 9.  Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss says it’s a chance to bring health care to over 17 thousand people in the state.  Senate Health and Labor Chairman Charles Scott continued his opposition to Medicaid expansion by saying that it will encourage people to over utilize health care.  Rothfuss says his proposal actually would address that.

In an effort to reduce spending in the budget, the State Senate has cut in half the money available to school districts to increase public school teacher salaries. Teachers will get a pay hike in the first year of the biennium, but not the second.

Appropriations Chairman Eli Bebout said that Wyoming teachers are the highest paid in the region.  But Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss countered by saying Wyoming is losing purchasing power.

The 24/7 Sobriety Program Bill has passed general file in the Wyoming Senate.

The bill would create the option for people who have been arrested for substance abuse misdemeanors to be tested regularly for drug or alcohol use instead of staying in jail.   If the offender fails to complete or pass a test, he or she would be arrested and appear in front of a judge. 

The program would mainly be funded by fees paid up-front by the offenders themselves. 

The State Senate has given initial approval to a change in the way Wyoming handles involuntary hospitalization of those needing mental health treatment.  The bill removes the requirement that a judge must review the involuntary commitment within 72 hours of it taking place.

The Wyoming Senate began debate on a bill that would increase bonding requirements for oil and gas operators on split estate properties.

The bill would increase the bond for operators drilling on land where they don't own the surface rights from two-thousand dollars to ten thousand.  Supporters say that operators are causing surface damage in excess of ten thousand dollars. 

Senators voted down an amendment to reduce limit the bond to six thousand dollars.  Kaycee Senator John Schiffer says the higher bond helps protect landowner rights.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has defeated an attempt to increase state, University, and Community College pay hikes from two percent to two and a half percent in each of the next two years. 

Supporters say government employees have not had a raise in four years and many are leaving.  But Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau finds that hard to believe.  Lubanu says he has lost a number of employees to government employers.

The Wyoming House and Senate withdrew an amendment that stirred up segments of the University of Wyoming community Wednesday. The Amendment would have been added to the budget bill. 

It required UW deans to meet with a special legislative committee to discuss areas of mutual concern and ways to enhance the educational missions of their departments.

A bill that would allow local school boards to decide if teachers can have guns in schools has been approved by the Senate Education Committee.

Sponsor Paul Barnard of Evanston says the idea is to make schools safer.  He says teachers would undergo extensive and recurring training.  Barnard says smaller districts especially may benefit from the bill.     

A number of speakers asked the Legislature's Joint Labor and Health Committee to pass a bill that would expand Medicaid services in the state. However the committee adjourned and did not return to vote on the bill. 

The measure would use federal money to provide insurance well over 17-thousand uninsured people in Wyoming. Supporters ranged from Laramie County who's concerned about raising taxes to make up for 12 million dollars in uncompensated care to those who can't afford health insurance. 

The State Senate approved additional funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, but not without discussion.

The bill provides $14 million for the department to pay for health insurance and grizzly management.   It’s intended to address financial issues within the Department, after a hunting license fee increase was defeated last year. 

Senator Phil Nicholas says the fee hike was defeated because the Game and Fish has incurred the wrath of those who pay the fees.

creative commons

Wyoming lawmakers are voting on the state budget this week and are considering proposals to strengthen the energy industry in the state.

15 million dollars is proposed for a facility to study the capture, sequestration, and management of carbon emissions from a coal fired power plant.  Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says it’s important to the future of Wyoming Coal.

“Perhaps bring Wyoming into a new era and it would certainly in regard to our reliance on coal and other things that are carbon based be a blessing if in fact we could do this.”

Cindy Hill Superintendent

The Wyoming Senate Rules Committee has passed a bill that would let a group of legislators work on amending the bill that took away the bulk of powers from the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The Supreme Court declared the so-called Hill bill unconstitutional, and now the legislature must fix it.

Cheri Steinmetz with the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming testified against the bill, saying it's time the legislature stopped wasting money on the issue. But Senator Chris Rothfuss says the bill is necessary to resolve the management of the state's public school system.

The Wyoming House will consider a bill that would create a committee of educators and parents to determine if the state should continue to use Common Core State standards in K-12 education.  The bill would also develop new student assessment options.  Several teachers, the school board members, and a business leader spoke on behalf of the common core.  Bill Shilling of the Wyoming Business Alliance says that the bill doesn’t help.

“I don’t see in this legislation any advancement in the end product for our students,” says Shilling.

The Senate Minerals Committee approved a bill Monday that would increase the amount of money oil and gas operators have to put up before accessing split estate properties.

A split estate is when a private landowner owns the surface land and not the mineral rights. The bill raises the minimum bonding amount from $2,000 to $10,000. The bond covers any damages to the property from development, when a surface use agreement can’t be negotiated.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has approved a bill that would require school buses in the state to carry video cameras on the outside.

The cameras would help catch motorists who illegally drive by stopped buses, also known as fly-by's.  Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau opposed the bill, saying that using cameras to spy on people would make him uncomfortable.  Other opponents complained that it should be a local control issue and not something that the state should mandate.

After defeating a series of Medicaid expansion bills earlier this week, the Wyoming Senate voted to introduce a compromise measure.

Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss is the sponsor.  The bill would enable the state to expand Medicaid for one year, during which time it could ask the federal government for the ability to devise its own expansion plan for the next three years.

The Wyoming Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would require each teacher and school administrator to undergo eight hours of suicide training every four years.  Wyoming has one of the nation’s highest rates of suicide, and Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe says they want school officials to look for possible signs in an effort to prevent suicide.

“It is a serious problem," Coe said. "If we can go out with something like this and recognize a couple of…I mean just one…prevent one and its worthwhile.

A bill that would set up a committee to look into the possibility of the state transferring, acquiring, and managing federal lands has been given initial approval in the Wyoming Senate.

That's despite questions about the goal of the committee and whether the effort is worthwhile.   Senator John Schiffer wanted more clarification on what the committee is supposed to actually accomplish.

The Wyoming House of Representatives failed to introduce the second of two committee-sponsored Medicaid Expansion bills, essentially ending the chance that lawmakers will approve an expansion this session.

The bill was based on the Medicaid fit program that was created by the Wyoming Department of Health. Cheyenne Republican Sue Wilson urged the House to debate it.

The Wyoming House of Representatives failed to introduce a bill that would have lifted restrictions on carrying guns in school zones, while agreeing to introduce another bill that would leave it up to school districts to decide whether employees with a concealed carry permit can have guns in schools.

Cindy Hill Superintendent

The Wyoming Senate reconsidered and passed a bill that would set up a special committee to review the recent Supreme Court decision about Superintendent Cindy Hill.

The court ruled that removing Hill's responsibility to run the Department of Education was unconstitutional. The committee would be tasked with coming up with legislation to respond to the ruling, possibly in a special legislative session.  

The Senate at first rejected the bill, but reconsidered after lunch and passed it.  Senator Chris Rothfuss says that some education took place during the lunch break.

A bill that many people called the most important education measure this session has died after failing to get the necessary two thirds support for introduction in the Wyoming House of Representatives.

The bill would have empowered the Wyoming Department of Education to coordinate early childhood learning in the state and would have made money available to help enhance pre-school and day care programs in the state.  But state involvement in the program made many nervous, including House Education Committee Chairman Matt Teeters who's committee studied the issue last year.

A plan to expand Medicaid for Wyoming’s Native American population has failed in the Wyoming House of Representatives. 

A proposed bill would have allowed the state to go ahead with a demonstration program that was intended to help improve the health care of Native Americans.

Democrat Patrick Goggles of Fort Washakie was disappointed that the bill failed to get the 40 votes needed for it to move forward.  But Goggles adds that 32 people voted for it which tells him that it could pass in the future.

A bill that would use federal money to help poor people buy insurance was soundly defeated in the Wyoming Senate.

The so-called Arkansas Plan would use federal Medicaid expansion money to help those who need insurance to buy it through the state.  Instead of people being on Medicaid, they would have actual insurance. 

The Senate Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee recommended passing the bill last month, but Senator Charles Scott who chairs the committee voted against the bill because he says it's a long way from being workable for Wyoming.

Efforts to raise the state minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to nine dollars an hour failed to gain traction in the Wyoming House of Representatives. They voted down the bill Tuesday, 51 to 9.  The wage mainly impacts service workers.

Cheyenne Democrat Jim Byrd was the sponsor.  He said that he was attempting to help people earn a living wage.  He also said that it wouldn’t hurt business owners, but it would help the local economy.

Wyoming lawmakers killed a number of high profile bills Tuesday that failed to meet the requirement that legislation receive two-thirds support before it can be considered. 

One of those bills would have decriminalized marijuana.  Casper Representative Steve Harshman strongly opposed the bill. 

"What’s going on south of us with an all cash business, and with cartels moving in, this is a real serious issue," Harshman said. "I’d vote no on this, I’d say no on this, I’d send the right message to our kids. "

Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails

The Wyoming Senate has given initial support to a bill that would allow State Parks to use entrance fees on things besides major building projects.  But not everyone loves the idea. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas of Laramie said it was difficult to raise park fees to pay for important capital construction and major maintenance  projects and argued that it would be wrong to use the money for another purpose.

There is still a long ways to go before the Wyoming legislature is able to react to the Wyoming Supreme Court ruling concerning State Superintendent Cindy Hill. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the law that removed powers from Hill was unconstitutional.  But before the legislature can react to that ruling it needs more information.  

House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown says that is likely to come from the District Court who may soon get the case.                  

Governor Matt Mead said that Wyoming is strong and getting stronger.  During his annual State of the State address before the legislature, Mead urged lawmakers to invest in Wyoming.

"This investment should include increased support for local government, funding to complete a unified network, increased funding for school and courtroom security, for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities and for upgrading state institutions and facilities.  Pay raises for teachers,UW, and other state employees."

The Campbell County Commission has selected Troy Mader as the new representative for House District 52, replacing the late Rep. Sue Wallis.

Legislative leaders said he will be sworn in on Tuesday and begin serving in the Legislature immediately.

Wallis died in January at age 56.

Mader has served as a precinct representative for the Campbell County Republican Party.

He says his first priority for the current legislative session will be to make connections in the Legislature while learning the ropes.

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