Wyoming Legislature update – April 25, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
April 25, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the Sommers ranch calving pastures. I do not believe that I have ever seen such an early spring. I hope we continue to get some beneficial moisture, as that helps cattle, wildlife, meadows, and lawns. There are a few issues that I would like to update the community on.
On May 9th and 10th, the Joint Corporations Committee of the Legislature will meet in Lander, at the Inn of Lander. At 1:15 on the 9th, the committee will discuss the issue of county residents participating in municipal elections. I have been contacted by several property owners in Pinedale about their inability to vote on municipal issues that affect their property rights and wallet. I had the Legislative Service Office research this issue almost two years ago, and they found that Colorado has a statute that addresses this concern. Colorado allows municipalities, by charter ordinance, the ability to grant qualified non-resident property owners the right to vote in municipal elections. This is strictly a home rule decision in Colorado, which a town council would make of its own volition. Qualified voters have to meet certain age, citizenship, residency, and ownership requirements, and any similar effort by Wyoming should have strict criteria for participation. I asked the Legislative Service Office to draft a bill based upon the Colorado law, but have not filed the bill during a session because I wanted the idea to be vetted thoroughly through a legislative interim by citizens, clerks, and municipalities. Prior to this last session, I was contacted by a Senator from eastern Wyoming who was interested in a similar idea. I have also been approached about expanding municipal voting rights to citizens within some defined radius of a town, one to five miles. One mile has some justification due to a town’s ability to deny a subdivision plat within one mile of its border, thus affecting private property rights of those who cannot participate in the election of decision makers, but I am more supportive of qualified property owners. We presented these ideas to the House and Senate Corporations Committee Chairman, and the concept was placed on the interim study list. Some of the municipalities in Sublette County support this increased flexibility, provided towns make the decision, but some municipalities do not like the concept. Everyone will have the opportunity to voice their concern or support for increased municipal voting flexibility on May 9th. Unfortunately, I will not be at this May 9thmeeting, because the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability meets that day in Casper. I serve on that select committee. If you want to provide comments on the municipal voting issue, but cannot make the meeting, please send me your thoughts via e-mail. Pro or con, I will send the chairmen your comments. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have never been a big fan of state level education accountability, because I believe that is the role of local school boards. Two years prior to my arrival in the Legislature, Wyoming passed a comprehensive bill mandating the creation of an accountability model for Wyoming schools. This statewide accountability effort had been pushed at a federal level, and was part of a national reform movement for K12 education. I will never believe that legislators and state bureaucrats know more about educating children than do the teachers and administrators hired by local citizen boards. Phase I of Wyoming’s education accountability program, school accountability, is fully in place, and utilizes the statewide assessment to grade school performance. If Wyoming simply uses this system as a way to shine a light on those schools needing support, and then if the state can provide some meaningful support, this will be a successful endeavor. Phase II of education accountability is teacher and leader accountability, and would attempt to grade teachers and principals at a state level. In my opinion, this is a local school board’s job, and the state should not be involved in those decisions. At the May 9th and 10th meeting of Select Accountability, we will discuss topics like Phase II accountability, Wyoming’s next statewide assessment, and alternative school accountability. I have been vocal about eliminating Phase II, and need to be at the meeting to continue to support that position.
This past session, I was a co-sponsor of a bill that raised the speed limit on highways from 65MPH to 70MPH. As someone who travels the long stretches of road in Wyoming, I look forward to the new speed limit. However, in recent weeks, I have received multiple comments about the effect this raise in speed limit will have on migrating big game in Sublette County. Certain stretches of highways in Sublette County already see high big game fatalities, and I certainly do not want to see that exacerbated by this higher speed limit. I visited recently with a communication specialist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, and she assured me that the department will monitor wildlife collisions, and that they have the authority to reduce speed limits based upon local conditions. I have often thought that a reduced speed limit during night time hours would help reduce collisions in these migration areas. I will continue to pursue the issue of lowering speed limits in these critical wildlife movement areas, especially the moose corridor between Boulder and Pinedale. Please e-mail me any concerns or questions on these or other issues.