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.
After a lengthy discussion, the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee voted to support a two-percent external cost adjustment for public schools.
The external cost adjustment would address inflation issues within the school funding model, and is used by most districts to pay for salary increases. Lawmakers have been reluctant to support an ECA over the last several years due to budget concerns, and the appropriations committee was told that spending for education in Wyoming remains among the top 10 in the country.
The Wyoming Board of Education has written to the Legislature’s select committee on educational accountability, asking to set up a group of stakeholders to develop or choose a new educational assessment for the state.
Assessments will be used to determine such things as student progress in some key subject areas. State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli says in Oregon, stakeholders included state board members, teachers, administrators, higher education officials, and parents. He says they’d like to do the same thing here.
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.
Animal-vehicle collisions have long been a problem in western states, leaving big game carcasses discarded along – or in the middle of – roadways. This week, it became legal in Montana to salvage and eat deer, elk, antelope and moose that have been hit and killed by cars.
Similar legislation died in the Wyoming Legislature this year. Currently, anyone who picks up road-killed game without a game warden permit runs the risk of being charged with poaching.
Bill co-sponsor Representative Dan Zwonitzer says this means more work for state agencies, which manage the road kill.
The Wyoming legislative session wrapped up Wednesday. Lawmakers leave with mixed emotions about the session. Most agree that the one thing that they will remember about the session is the vote to strip State Superintendent Cindy Hill of many of her duties. Senator Cale Case says that set the tone for the first part of the session.
“It’s been a very different session I think. That whole Senate File 104 that Cindy Hill…Department of Education bill…that was a different way to start. And I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that I think,” says Case.
After receiving threats and attacks concerning Senators’ patriotism and support of gun rights, Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas decided that the Senate would not debate a pair of gun rights bills. One bill would allow local law enforcement to arrest federal officials enforcing federal gun laws in the state and the other gave the state power to keep local officials from developing their own gun regulations. Nicholas says the bills were poorly drafted and gave one example:
During debate on a Medicaid reform bill, the Wyoming House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have expanded Medicaid for over 17,000 uninsured state residents. Supporters noted that the state has looked for ways to reduce health care costs and they say the expansion would accomplish that. House Labor and Health Committee Chairwoman Elaine Harvey says the issue requires more study. The federal will pay 100 percent of the first three years of the expansion. Harvey says Wyoming can join at a later date.
The State Senate has approved a bill that allows Wyoming to enter into a multi-state lottery. Senators amended to move money that would be generated from the lottery from cities and counties to a fund that benefits schools. Opponents of the lottery say it will hurt the poor. But Senator Hank Coe says there is a lot of support for the measure.
“The citizens of this state want this bill. I saw a poll in the last 12 months, 62 or 63% of the people in that poll support this lottery,” says Coe.
A massive bill that attempts to reform Wyoming’s current Medicaid program was given initial approval in the State House of Representatives. One of the goals of the bill is to establish caps on how much is spent in the developmental disability program. What lawmakers want to do is limit spending to what’s really necessary for clients in the program. Evansville Republican Kendall Kroeker says his son receives services from the program and only requires a minimal amount of money, so he supports the new limits.
A bill that would legalize the practice of tip sharing has failed after a conference committee of House and Senate members could not reach agreement on the bill. Sponsor Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson says lawmakers also heard a lot of negative feedback on the bill, so conference committee members agreed to drop it for the year.
The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that would focus accountability in education on individual schools in the state. The statewide education accountability phase one bill would establish benchmarks for schools. If schools don’t meet those benchmarks, they will have to develop a school improvement plan. Senator Chris Rothfuss says that lawmakers hope to measure student performance in coming months.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has line item vetoed three areas of the state supplemental budget. The governor vetoed a section that involved the management of surplus state money and he vetoed a section that required state agencies to consider more budget cuts. Mead says it doesn’t make sense for agencies to re-do that exercise, especially since it’s possible that the state may get more revenue.
The Wyoming Senate is close to approving a bill that would allow the state to enter into a multi-state lottery. The Senate spent the second day of debate on the bill clarifying language to make sure that the lottery is run properly and that the state is protected. The Senate has not spent as much time on the moral issues that were the focus in the House. Senator Michael Von Flatern of Gillette says the Senate noted that those concerns were already aired in the House.
A Wyoming Senate Committee has watered down a bill that was intended to arrest federal officials if they enforced federal gun bans in Wyoming. The House version of the bill would have allowed local law enforcement to arrest federal officials and charge them with a misdemeanor. But several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee worried that the bill was unconstitutional. Jackson Senator Leland Christensen successfully changed the bill to allow the enforcement by federal law enforcement officials, but keeps Wyoming law enforcement from helping.
The Wyoming House and Senate have reached a budget agreement on a $78 million supplemental budget and will send it to the Governor for his consideration. While there was no discussion in the Senate, several representatives in the House were concerned that instead of cutting government…the legislature is spending more. But House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman says most of the money is one-time spending.
The State Senate has approved a bill that will study ways to keep the Life Resource Center in Lander open. The facility serves those with extreme disabilities. The House version of the bill looked at ways of phasing residents out of the facility with the option of closing it down. Senator Cale Case of Lander says the Senate wants to take a different approach.
The Wyoming House has passed a bill that will allow hunters to use silencers and suppressors for various types of hunting in the state. Before passing the bill, the House removed an amendment that would not have allowed silencers when hunting for big game. But Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau argued that there are plenty of protections if someone violates the law and if they misuse a silencer or a suppressor the hunter can be punished.
The Wyoming Senate has given approval to a bill that will allow restaurants to set up a system where servers will turn in tips, so that they can be redistributed to other service workers at the establishment. Senator Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower says it will allow all service employees to make a greater wage. Driskill says such pooling already takes place in Wyoming, but it isn’t legal. He says workers and employers want it legalized.
The Wyoming House and Senate passed their respective versions of a state budget. Both bodies feature budget cuts of roughly 6% in an effort to deal with declining revenues. Cheyenne Representative Mary Throne says she is generally satisfied with the budget cuts.
Governor Matt Mead has let a bill that would change Wyoming’s Open Records law go into effect without his signature. The Governor expressed concern over the legislation that would allow University of Wyoming Trustees to continue their search for a new President in private. Mead says he is concerned about expanding the exemption of the Open Records law. A Judge recently ruled that the finalists for President needed to be made public. But Senate President Tony Ross defended the bill’s enactment.
After hearing from whistleblowers and attorneys that there may have been irregularities in spending within the State Department of Education, the Wyoming House of Representatives has set aside money to perform a whistleblower audit of the department.
Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau says Superintendent Cindy Hill has denied that money was spent improperly, but he says the legislature is obligated to determine if there is any truth to the charges and the House will ask for a complete audit.
While Wyoming Governor Matt Mead favors gun rights, he said that he is very concerned about a couple of gun rights bills making their way through the legislature.
One bill would allow school employees, parents of a student or their guardian, who hold a concealed weapon permit, to have guns in schools. Mead said that there are better ways to ensure school safety and he wants the state to look closer at those solutions.