Legislative session gets underway

EVANSTON — The 2019 session of the Wyoming Legislature got underway on Tuesday, Jan. 8, and to date more than 100 House bills and approximately 70 Senate bills have been filed. Bills filed to this point include legislation targeted to address state revenue, elections, wage equality, the opioid epidemic, school safety and security, protection of children and more. 

Newly-elected Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-SD 15) joins returning local legislators Sen. Fred Baldwin (R-SD 14) and Reps. Danny Eyre (R-HD 19), Tom Crank (R–HD 18) and Garry Piiparinen (R–HD 49) in Cheyenne for the 35-day session that is scheduled to run through Feb. 27. 

Schuler is the sponsor of Senate File 60, dealing with the protection of children and amendments to child endangerment statutes. The bill would revise the elements of abandoning and endangering children as well as revising when children can be taken into protective custody. The legislation would stipulate that children residing in the same household as a child who is reasonably suspected of being the victim of child abuse may be taken into protective custody, as well as add cocaine, heroin and LSD along with methamphetamine to child endangerment statutes. 

Schuler is also a co-sponsor of a resolution that would designate Dec. 10, 2019, as Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day to mark the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state. 

Crank is a co-sponsor of a bill that would exempt broadband internet infrastructure from taxation, Baldwin has sponsored a bill that would extend the deadline for licensure of freestanding emergency centers, and Eyre is a co-sponsor of a crimes against critical infrastructure bill that was unsuccessful during the 2018 session. 

Piiparinen is a co-sponsor of the “Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act,” which would allow anyone legally carrying a concealed firearm to carry in government meetings, the state legislature, public schools and colleges and professional athletic events. Piiparinen is also listed as a co-sponsor for HB100, which would allow adults to possess and use hemp extracts. Schuler is also listed as a co-sponsor for HB100. 

Filed bills dealing with elections include SF32, which would prohibit voters from changing party affiliation from the opening day of the candidate filing period through the day of the primary election, and a similar House bill that would prohibit party changes after May 1 for a primary election or within 30 days of a general election. 

A different bill dealing with elections is SF65, which would allow for open ranked-choice primary elections. The legislation would eliminate primary elections by political party and would instead allow for the top vote-getters, regardless of party, to advance to the general election. Voters would be able to rank their top choices at the polls and voters would all receive the same ballot in the primary election. 

HB21 would create an election readiness account to be used for the replacement and maintenance of voting systems and election costs and would appropriate $7.5 million for that account. HB36 would allow counties to conduct mail ballot elections. 

Several revenue bills have been filed, including a bill that would increase property taxation to fund public schools, a statewide lodging taxation bill and a bill that would decrease the state sales tax rate but would repeal the sales tax exemption on food and impose sales taxes on services, including everything from lawn care to haircuts to bowling and more. 

A pair of bills filed in the Senate would address the opioid epidemic by placing limits on opioid prescriptions and mandating changes in pharmacist education and pharmacy administration related to opioid prescriptions. 

School safety and security bills include two Senate files, one that would clarify the definition of school district personnel able to apply to carry firearms according to W.S. 21-3-132 passed in the 2017 session. The other bill, SF64, would require school districts to create and annually review school safety plans, including intervention techniques, publicization of a school safety call center, law enforcement coordination and employee training on dealing with violent intruder situations. The bill also calls for stiffer penalties and enforcement for illegally passing a school bus. 

HB84 would promote wage equality between male and female employees through biennial evaluations of wages of public employees and providing resources for private employers to reduce the gender wage gap in Wyoming. HB72 would prohibit employers from barring employees from discussing wage information. 

A House bill aims to cut state Worker’s Compensation costs related to air ambulance transport by either asking a company to accept twice the Medicare rate for the transport or allowing air ambulance companies to bill the injured worker for those costs. 

Other filed bills include a bill to repeal exemptions to underage marriage and require persons to be at least 18 to be married and a bill to increase nonresident tuition and fees at the University of Wyoming. Proposed changes to the Hathaway scholarship would allow students to qualify by taking three years of an elective pathway, such as fine and performing arts or career-vocational classes, as an alternative to the current foreign language requirement. 

A bill refiled that has also been introduced in the last couple of sessions would put Wyoming in the Mountain Daylight Time zone provided three other contiguous states do the same. Also filed are a bill to designate the blotched tiger salamander as the state amphibian and a resolution calling on the federal government to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species list. 

Bills are being filed and assigned numbers daily, with more than two weeks still remaining before the filing period closes. The last day to submit bills for consideration in the Senate is Jan. 24, while the deadline for the House is Jan. 29.


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