Wyoming Legislature updates – Feb. 17 & 18, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
February 19, 2016
Thursday, February 18, 2016:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the legislature on Thursday the 18th. Today my House Joint Resolution, HJ4, which asks Congress to remove the grizzly bear and gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act and provide fiscal support for management of these species, passed third and final reading in the House. The resolution will now be headed to the Senate.
Most of our time on Thursday was spent trying to hear 53 different bills in Committee of the Whole, which is the first major debate of a bill. A few of the bills that passed Committee of the Whole and are headed to second reading include:
HB19 - provides authority to develop Wyoming’s next K12 statewide student assessment;
HB41 - the omnibus water bill, which appropriates money for both municipal and agricultural water projects;
HB74 - which would allow public nursing homes the ability to capture cost-of-care dollars from the federal government through a match program (this could help funding for Sublette Center if it were to become a public entity through a merger with the Rural Health Care District);
HB117 - increases fees for those selling pesticides, in order to support the pesticide applicator certification program;
HB49 - provides a means to obtain title to abandoned vehicles;
HB76 - would allow a hospital patient the right to designate their caregiver;
HB40- makes the blood/alcohol level for driving while under the influence the same for boat drivers as for car drivers;
HB77 - my bill allowing electronic notification for property assessment and tax due from your county treasurer and assessor, if both the taxing agent and the taxpayer agrees;
HB97 - which I co-sponsored, would compensate ranchers when wolves kill livestock in the area that is Wyoming’s wolf predator zone;
HB113 - which I co-sponsored, would eliminate governmental immunity for health care facilities, in instances when a health care worker is a whistleblower and gets fired;
HB86- would allow a gun to be carried into a governmental meeting or legislative meeting. This bill was supported by our county commissioners.
I supported all of these bills in Committee of the Whole, but there are two more readings to hear debate. Remember, this is just a sampling of the bills we heard today.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Wednesday the 17th. We spent a long day reviewing second reading amendments on the budget bill. This is where the legislative body puts forth its priorities in the budget.
We passed three amendments to help support the providers of the developmentally disabled. I was a co-sponsor of all three of these amendments. I believe this is the most disadvantaged sector of our society, and a priority must be to maintain the providers we have in Wyoming.
I ran an amendment to reduce the cuts the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) made to the K12 block grant. They proposed cutting $47.5 million from education, and my amendment would have pared that cut in half. We are seeing families leave Sublette County as the minerals industry spins downward due to low commodity prices. As families leave, school funding is reduced, because the school funding model is driven by enrollment. Declining enrollments will double down on the cuts proposed by JAC, and the effects will be severe for those districts where families are moving away. State funding for K12 education, especially school capital construction, is going to take a real hit, both from declining revenues from oil & gas and the loss of coal lease bonus money. My budget amendment recognized our challenges in K12 funding, but would have softened the impact to districts from declining enrollment.
My amendment failed by a narrow vote, and I will decide whether to run a third reading amendment with a different strategy. When we cut education spending, the result is job cuts in most communities in Wyoming. These teachers, aids and administrative staff buy groceries and durable goods in every nook and cranny in Wyoming. I believe education is the great equalizer, and is the most important service state government provides to its citizens.
If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.