wyoming legislature

Wyoming Department of Education

Top heavy school districts are a concern for lawmakers looking for improved efficiencies in school finance. According to the latest data from the Wyoming Department of Education, in 2015-2016, there were more administrators statewide than what’s recommended in the school funding model, but that’s not a reflection of all districts’ employment practices.

 

If you want to become a licensed dental hygienist or sell insurance in Wyoming, you have to be reviewed by a professional licensing board.

These boards oversee a number of industries in the state, and their rules for admitting people convicted of a crime vary depending on the profession. State lawmakers have introduced two bills that would instruct all licensing boards to look past convictions for some crimes.

As policymakers head into the 2018 Budget Session, education is a topic many will be watching. Wyoming Public Radio's Tennessee Watson joined Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard to examine what might be in store after education consultants hired by the state recommended giving more money to education instead of implementing cuts.

Wyoming Legislature

Early this summer lawmakers were looking at a massive shortfall in education funding and overall revenue. That pushed lawmakers into a lengthy discussion about possible tax hikes. The idea was to hold a number of hearings over the summer on a variety of proposals and then pass bills that would raise $100 million, $200 million and $300 million. But a funny thing happened on the way to passing tax legislation the state’s revenue picture improved.

While the legislature and the school system continue to work on the state’s $400 million deficit, Wyoming Public Radio’s education reporter, Tennessee Watson, sat down with Brian Farmer from the Wyoming School Boards Association. Farmer says local school boards offer a critical perspective on spending and educational outcomes, because it’s a conversation they are constantly having on the local level.

Craig Blumenshine

  

It’s been a little over a month since the Wyoming legislative session ended and today Governor Matt Mead joins us to reflect on the session among other things. Many left the legislative session with bad feelings, but Mead tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck he was pleased with what lawmakers did for economic development. Among other things, the legislature supported his ENDOW plan for diversifying the economy. 

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Lawmakers, district administrators, and concerned citizens gathered this week for the first meeting of the Legislature's Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration. 

Recalibration is the process of evaluating and adjusting the school funding model. They are intended to happen every 5 years as mandated by a 2005 Wyoming Supreme Court decision. The next one was scheduled for 2020, but in response to the $400 million deficit in the education budget, legislators bumped up the schedule. 

Wyoming Game and Fish Department logo
Wyoming Game and Fish Department

 

This week the legislature gave final approval to a bill that will take general fund money away from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and require them to make up the difference through fee increases.

It’s just one of a few issues Director Scott Talbott is finding challenging these days. He sat down with me to explain that it’s critical that the fees do not lead to a net loss. 

Bob Beck

No conclusive action was taken Thursday on House Bill 236 – the last standing piece of legislation, which addresses the $400 million education budget deficit.

Legislators and lobbyists expected the bill to come up for a concurrence vote on Thursday, but Speaker of the House Steve Harshman said he delayed action on the bill because he wanted one more day to work on it.  

“I’m going to actually sleep on it, and I’m gonna' keep working tonight on it,” said Harshman. “We’re still working. Working like dogs.” He added a few barks as he walked off down the hall.

Tennessee Watson

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill to increase circuit court judge salaries Monday. 

Circuit court judges are currently paid an annual salary of $119,000 and the bill proposes an increase to $132,000.

There was concern expressed that now was not a great time to increase judges’ salaries, considering the widespread budget cuts affecting state employees and public education.

University of Wyoming

  

A bill to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to carry guns on the University of Wyoming’s campus and community colleges was defeated this week by the State Senate. Those in support of the legislation say it would have made campuses safer, while those opposed to it worried about potential dangers.

Wyoming Department of Education

February 23rd is Digital Learning Day. It’s appropriate then that on Thursday, the House took up Senate File 35 on virtual education. The bill, which updates guidelines for student enrollment in online classes, passed Committee of the Whole in the House, but not without being amended. An appropriation for $250,000 to establish a centralized statewide management system was removed.

The Senate’s Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Wednesday to create a tiered penalty system for products containing THC, or edibles. House Bill 137 originally dealt with the plant form of marijuana, but the committee amended the bill to define marijuana product as a substance meant to be consumed in ways other than smoking. 

 

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Wyoming is among the states with the highest proportion of people living in mobile homes, but they don’t have the same rights as other homeowners.

House Bill 56, which is now before the Senate, will fix an oversight in how mobile homes are titled.

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People packed the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday to discuss House Bill 236 that will attempt to address the state’s education funding shortfall. The bill differs from the Senate approach to the problem in that it proposes some funding reductions, but holds off deep and immediate cuts to education by using legislative savings.

Should those savings dip to $500 million, a half percent sales and use tax would go into affect to generate more revenue. Representatives of the energy industry say that tax would hurt their industries.

Wyoming State Legislature

The Wyoming House of Representatives and the Wyoming Senate have both passed their respective versions of the budget bill. The two bodies will now swap bills for consideration before a conference committee meets to select one final bill to adopt.

The Senate’s version cuts $91 million from public education funding, marking the largest difference between the two different versions.

Speaker of the House Steve Harshman is a school teacher in Casper, but Jackson Representative Andy Schwartz said that’s not why the House took a less severe approach to K-12 cuts.

Tennessee Watson

School business managers asked the legislature to remove a six percent interest on funds borrowed temporarily from the common school account. They also asked that schools be allowed to repay those funds in June instead of December. 

The bill narrowly passed the committee of the whole.

Proponents of the bill argued that penalizing schools doesn’t make sense when cash flow issues are caused by payment schedules decided by the state. The bill sailed through the House, but is now being met with scrutiny in the Senate.

Tennessee Watson

According to a bill that passed the Senate Monday, students at the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges should own the material they store on school servers and send in school email accounts. The bill further specifies that writing and correspondence will be kept private unless students are otherwise notified.

The bill passed by a narrow vote of 16 - 13, and is up for review by the governor.

Tennessee Watson

Wyoming schools use digital tools and software to support teaching and school operations, but a bill to protect digital student data was defeated on a tie vote.

The data includes everything from student name and home address to test results and cafeteria food purchases for children in preschool through 12th grade. The protections in the bill were meant to prevent the sale or sharing of this information, and to block the possibility of its usage for targeted advertising.

Wyoming Legislature

State Representatives Marti Halverson and Cathy Connolly are unlikely allies. Halverson has been a supporter of religious rights bills in the past, while Connolly is the state’s only openly gay lawmaker. But there’s one thing they do agree on: the need for an in-depth study Wyoming’s gender wage gap which reports say is the worst in the nation.

State of Wyoming Legislature

An amendment approved in the Wyoming Senate’s version of the state budget that would cut the salaries of certain state employees by two percent has some concerned, especially senators in districts with large populations of people who work for the government, specifically Cheyenne.

The amendment excludes school district employees and those who work for Community Colleges and the University of Wyoming.   

Cheyenne Senator Tara Nethercott is opposed to the amendment, and said she was surprised she didn’t hear more input from constituents after it passed.

House Bill 211 is a simple bill that has the potential to make a big difference for families of young children with disabilities.  

State funding for developmental preschool and early intervention programs is based off a once a year enrollment count. These programs work with kids, ages zero to five who have disabilities, to help prepare them for school and life. House Bill 211 proposes pushing the date of that count from November 1 back to December 1.

The Wyoming Legislature

A bill to raise the minimum wage in Wyoming failed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. House Bill 140 would have raised Wyoming’s minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 an hour.

Wyoming has the lowest minimum wage in the country at $5.15 an hour. When Cheyenne Representative Jim Byrd first introduced the bill in the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, he proposed raising minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.

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Marijuana reform was a popular topic at the Wyoming Legislature on Tuesday with the House Judiciary Committee voting to support House Bill 197 to create a tiered penalty system.   

The bill would mean stiffer punishment for second, third and fourth possession convictions within ten years of the first, and would apply to possessions of less than three ounces. 

Tennessee Watson

The House Education Committee discussed their proposed omnibus education bill to a packed auditorium at Cheyenne East High School Monday evening.

A steady line of school administrators, teachers, school board members and parents made comments on the proposed budget cuts.

Many people raised concerns about the bill’s overreach. Rather than having the legislature determine how cuts should be made, multiple superintendents said they would prefer a percent cut across the board, giving control to districts and local school boards to decide how to tighten budgets.

Bob Beck

The Wyoming House of Representatives is debating three bills that would allow concealed weapons in places where they are currently banned.

One bill allows concealed carry permit holders to have guns on the University of Wyoming campus, including athletic events. The House had a lengthy discussion over whether UW trustees should be allowed to declare parts of the campus off limits to guns. That amendment failed. Casper Representative Bunky Loucks says having guns on campus will keep it safe.

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The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would change the placement of liability from ski area operators to skiers and recreationalists.

All ten of the state’s ski operators are in support of the bill, as well as the Wyoming Business Alliance. In a press release, the Alliance said the bill would be especially beneficial to smaller operators who might suffer from lawsuits.

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A Wyoming legislative committee soundly defeated a bill that would have substantially increased the state’s wind tax. 

The bill, which was supported by House Revenue Committee Chairman Mike Madden and others, would have raised Wyoming’s wind tax from a dollar a megawatt hour to five dollars a megawatt hour. 

Stephanie Joyce

 

The House Revenue Committee killed a bill Friday that would have lowered the coal industry’s severance tax from seven to six percent.

The Coal industry has struggled over the last couple of years and Gillette Representative Tim Hallinan said he hoped that the decrease would spur industry and prevent further bankruptcies, but he said it’s unknown whether or not it would create jobs. For Laramie Representative Dan Furphy that was a deal breaker.

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The Wyoming Legislature’s House Education Committee moved a bill forward to end the foreign language requirement for kindergarten through second grade students.

The requirement is currently an unfunded mandate. Evanston Representative Garry Piiparinen said the best approach to foreign language is a dual-immersion system where students are exposed consistently, and that the current requirement forces teachers to give up time they could use more productively. 

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