EVANSTON — The Wyoming State Legislature’s budget session begins on Monday, Feb. 12, and nearly 200 bills have already been filed for consideration during the 20-day session. As of press time, 113 House bills, 70 Senate files and five joint resolutions have been listed on the Legislature’s website.
In spite of well-publicized budgetary woes, the draft budget proposed by the Joint Appropriations Committee makes use of Wyoming’s large reserve accounts instead of significant cuts in spending, and even returns funding to some agencies like the Department of Health. However, the draft bill does ask Gov. Matt Mead, and presumably the state’s next governor, to eliminate 50 state positions over the next two years.
Several tax increases were considered by the Revenue Committee during the interim; however, the vast majority of these were not advanced to go before the full Legislature, leaving only bills to increase taxation on tobacco products and on alcohol sales. A better-than-anticipated report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, showing a more than $300 million increase in revenue over the next two years, allowed lawmakers to put off talk of significant tax increases or changes in the state’s revenue structure for another day.
A bill to increase taxation on wind energy generated in the state has been filed but is not sponsored by the Joint Revenue Committee.
Some uncertainty still looms over the state’s public schools. The Legislature hired an outside consulting firm at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars to go through an early recalibration process to look into the funding of Wyoming schools, in hopes that cost savings could be found. Ultimately that firm, APA, recommended an increase in spending, specifically on teacher salaries and on funding for English-language learners and at-risk students, while also increasing class sizes.
The Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration unanimously rejected a bill proposal based on APA’s recommendations. It is still possible that bits and pieces of APA’s recommendations may make it into separate bills.
Other bills filed address a range of issues. The House and Senate have separate bills to address the state’s marijuana laws and specifically “edibles” — such as brownies and candies containing the drug. The proposed legislation would add edible forms of marijuana to existing legislation and provide for weight determinations, inclusive of other ingredients like sugar or flour that may also be present.
Two bills would seek to create additional license plate options. Specialty Yellowstone License Plates would be designated to support rest area construction and maintenance, while funds from specialty Wildlife Conservation Plates would be designated to support wildlife corridors, crossings and game fences.
Education-related bills would extend the time frame for eligibility to apply for the Hathaway Scholarship to four years from two years following graduation, while another would specifically add computer science courses to the required curriculum for Wyoming public schools.
Other filed bills would toughen penalties for voter fraud; outlaw so-called “Sanctuary Cities” in the state; designate a state revolver; establish committees and task forces to study commercial air service, Wyoming Retirement investments, and a biennial energy strategy; and stiffen penalties for domestic violence as well as cruelty to animals.
A pair of joint resolutions would call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention to require that all legislation passed through Congress deal with only one subject and would declare pornography a public health crisis.
A Senate File, if passed, would allow for the creation of a Veterans’ Skilled Nursing Facility in Wyoming, and another is a Wyoming “Stand Your Ground” law.
Several proposed House bills deal with the Wyoming Retirement system, including changes to employee contribution percentages. Another House bill would merge the Department of Family Services into the Department of Health. Finally, a House bill seeks to create “Mountain Daylight Saving Time,” doing away with the twice-yearly time changes and keeping the entire state essentially in the central standard time zone year-round.
Since it is a budget year, any non-budget bills have to pass a high threshold of a two-thirds vote prior to consideration. Bills may continue to be filed up until Feb. 14.