Wyoming Legislature update – Feb. 12, 2016
by Representative Albert Sommers, House District #20
February 14, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the Legislature on Friday, Feb. 12. Today was the last day that bills could be introduced into the process, and the House was picky about what bills it supported today, given that we would soon be working on the budget. Fourteen bills failed the 2/3 majority vote for introduction today.
There were some interesting ideas raised today, though most failed to catch fire with the body. A constitutional amendment to require term limits for all state-wide offices, including legislators, was offered today in the form of HJ6.This resolution would have allowed elected officials to stand for no more than two terms in a row, and this resolution failed introduction. I supported the resolution, but the language in the resolution needed amending. Two terms is not enough time for legislators to fully understand the process, and too much institutional knowledge would be lost if all House members were turned over every four years. However, I do believe there comes a time when legislators become entrenched, and are less likely to look at issues with a fresh eye. Another House Joint Resolution that failed introduction, HJ8, would have given the Legislature the ability to overturn Wyoming Supreme Court decisions by a vote of the Legislature. We have checks and balances created in our republic form of government, which were established in our Constitution to ensure that neither the executive, legislative, nor judicial branch could overpower the rest. This is a foundation of our government, and for that reason I did not support the bill. Yet another House Joint Resolution that failed, HJ8, would have eliminated the severability clause in the Wyoming Constitution. Article 1, Section 37 of Wyoming’s constitution declares that "The State of Wyoming is an inseparable part of the federal union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land." This nation has grown so strong and prospered so much because the states have hung together and remained "inseparable." We fought a civil war over this issue, at the cost of over 600,000 American lives, and we do not need to learn that lesson again. I voted against this bill. I agree that states’ rights continue to erode, but that is not fixed by pulling ourselves apart.
I voted against HB157, which would have granted county commissioners and citizens the authority to bring a sales tax on groceries to a vote of the people in their county, to support local government funding. I actually like this kind of tax, because the people decide whether it is needed or not. The Revenue Committee in the next interim will be examining sales tax issues, so this bill was a little premature, and it failed introduction. HB149 would have granted school districts more money for food service, as the federal government school lunch program no longer fully covers the cost, and the restrictions on the types of food served are ridiculous. However, I voted against the bill because all districts had agreed this summer that we should just leave the K12 funding formula alone, and at $20 million, the bill’s cost was too steep. One interesting piece to this legislation was a requirement to procure some of the food from local sources, which appeals to a food producer like myself. This bill failed.HB128 would have eliminated the livestock investigation unit within the Wyoming Livestock Board, and would replace it with an education program on livestock theft for local law enforcement. There has been dissatisfaction with the Livestock Board’s investigation unit for more than eight years, but with a new director there is optimism these concerns will be addressed. I voted against the bill, which failed, but having served on that board I know first-hand the issues that have arisen.
I supported a bill to scale back the Capitol renovation project. I know the project is needed, but I am not sure we need a +$300 million dollar project at time when we are cutting K12 education and local government funding. This bill failed as well.
Next week we will start working on the budget bill, and my funding priorities will be K12 education, early childhood development, and local government funding. I believe in people first, and projects second.