Wyoming Legislature updates
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
March 2, 2016
Wednesday, March 2, 2016:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Wednesday, March 2. Today, there was great debate on several Senate Files on third and final reading in the House. Four Senate Files we heard were, in my opinion, duplicative with current law, burdensome, or added additional layers of government. Senate File 68, budget shortfall measures, seemed unnecessary, because authorities in the bill already exist through both the Legislature and the Governor. It does, however, seem to limit the Governorís ability to profile the "Rainy Day Account" (Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account or LSRA) in his budget. There should have been a separate bill that discussed when and how we use the LSRA, because this issue is too important to be buried in a last-minute bill. During the last interim, the Revenue Committee heard a report from the PEW Trusts that stated Wyoming had one of the largest "rainy day accounts" in the nation, and that we needed a comprehensive spending policy for that account.
Senate Files 91 and 92 − again, in my opinion − are bills created to fix a problem resulting from issues with individuals in certain departments, specifically the department that is in charge of state construction. I understand the necessity of carefully developing state facilities, including any new prison, but reorganizations or creation of committees to supplant existing departments is not good governance.
Senate File 73, welfare fraud prevention, is duplicative and may require substantial verification from the department in charge, wasting more money. There were no examples showing this bill is necessary. I do not support welfare fraud, but this was a "feel-good" bill. All of these bills came late in the process and were large. I generally am suspicious of large bills not brought forward by a standing committee. I voted against all of these bills. They all passed, though with slim margins.
SF97, the student and school safety/security bill, finally passed the House. This bill would consolidate school security efforts under the Attorney Generalís Office. This bill should facilitate anti-bullying and anti-suicide efforts around the state. I strongly supported this bill.
We also passed Senate File 88, which would pave the way for Wyomingís sale, transfer, or lease of school sections in Grand Teton National Park to the federal government. I supported an amendment to allow a 99-year lease to the federal government as another option for the state. I like the concept of a lease, because we could get a steady stream of money from the feds for education, yet retain the land. This would allow its value to steadily increase. We are getting close to the end of session, and there are rumors the Governor may veto the budget, which might make sense if our revenues continue to drop. If revenues continue to take a hit, we may need to rethink whether all of our capital construction projects are appropriate.
All of my updates are available at www.albertsommers.com.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the Legislature on Tuesday, March 1.The biggest bill to pass the House today was Senate File 41, the state capital construction bill. I supported it, but remain concerned about the amount of money we spent on the construction of state, college, and university buildings when we reduced funding to K12 education. Several amendments were attempted on this bill again today, but the body had made up its mind, and the amendments failed. The vote in the House was 35 ayes and 24 nays, and that is a close vote on a major appropriations bill. One concern I had was that the University of Wyoming was let off the hook for the obligation (mandated in past legislation) to find a $15 million match for a new College of Engineering building. The University seems to find private matches for athletics, but not for an engineering building, and I think that is unfortunate.
We will have about 25 Senate Files left to vote on in third reading tomorrow. Senate File 97 would create a school security program and call center in the Attorney Generalís office out of existing federal dollars from the Department of Homeland Security. I support and co-sponsor this bill, believing it will help support anti-bullying and suicide prevention efforts in our schools. The bill will have its last vote in the House tomorrow, and I hope it will pass.
Senate File 88 will give the federal government one more chance to buy two school sections that the state of Wyoming owns in Grand Teton National Park. The price tag for each school section is $46 million dollars, and the proceeds would go into the permanent school land fund. I have supported this bill because it should bolster funding to education.
My House Joint Resolution HJ4, asking Congress to delist the grizzly and wolf, and my bill on electronic transmission of county assessments and tax due, HB77, have passed through both chambers of the Legislature and are headed to the Governor for his signature. It is a long process to get a bill passed, but these two bills are in the home stretch.
The local government funding bill and the abandoned mine land funding bill are both hung up in conference committee, with substantial differences in the House and Senate positions. The Governor has yet to sign the main operations budget bill, and I am sure he is waiting for the outcome on other funding bills. We will see how it all shakes out.