EVANSTON — Nearly 50 people packed the hospitality room at the Knights Inn on Thursday morning, March 21, for the Evanston Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast. A buffet breakfast greeted participants, and chamber director Tammy Halliday opened the meeting by asking Evanston Mayor Kent Williams to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Wyoming representative from House District 19, Danny Eyre, R-Lyman, spoke first. He commented on the fact that even though municipalities in Wyoming may be struggling in this slowed-down economy, he was proud that the state has $20 billion in savings, and for each 1-percent return it will generate $200 million in revenue for the state. Eyre said he served on the Corporations Committee and there was a lot of discussion about blockchain and cryptocurrency technology.He said the Legislature had passed a law to create a “sand box” to protect businesses from excessive oversight.
“Wyoming is one of the leading states in the nation in establishing a friendly business environment for blockchain and cryptocurrency technology,” he said, “and providing regulatory protections for special depository financial institutions.”
Eyre said he was the primary sponsor of HB 175, which had minor language changes to Chapter 28 of the Wyoming Insurance Code. The changes update the language to be consistent with current model language adopted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The first change is to make the statute explicitly applicable to health maintenance organizations. The second change reallocates the assessment for long-term care insurance insolvencies so that 50 percent is allocated to accident and health member insurers, and 50 percent is allocated to life and annuity member insurers.
House District 18 Rep. Thomas Crank, R-Kemmerer, said he is proud that a bill providing for a nursing facility for veterans passed. Part of the loan money was appropriated from the state and a large amount from the federal government. He said he is proud of other bills that passed this session, including a bill regarding requirements for the sale of coal plants, the school finance bill, which gained an increase of $100 million, and HB 297, which will help experts identify dyslexia and provide services.
“I sponsored a bill to build overpasses or underpasses for wildlife to avoid all of their deaths on Wyoming highways and was sorry it did not pass,” Crank said. “I hope it will be brought up again.
Lobbyist Parker Jackson stood in on behalf of Rep. Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston, who is recovering from a stroke and multiple heart attacks. Jackson reminded the audience that Piiparinen had recently received national recognition for his voting record and that he served faithfully on the Education Committee and championed a transparency bill.
“Wyoming has been rated as one of the worst states for transparency and Piiparinen was instrumental in seeing HB 148 - Contract transparency pass,” Jackson said.
District 15 Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, began by expressing her appreciation to those in the Wyoming House and Senate for helping her during her first term, and she said it has been a great experience so far. Shuler said she, too, had worked hard on the public records and transparency bill and that there was a lot of compromising that took place. She said she was pleased that they had bumped up the time limit from 10 days to 30 days as she realized how difficult it would be to gather all the information needed for some public records request.
Schuler talked about the important changes to the Hathaway Scholarship that will now allow students to take a technical or trade subject in place of the foreign language requirement. This will make it more appropriate for different career choices, she said. Schuler mentioned that the bill regarding state requirements for teacher accountability did not pass, as legislators felt that local school districts should assume that responsibility.
She also praised a bill that passed that has legalized and will regulate hemp in Wyoming.
“I supported the hemp bill,” she said, “and I really feel it is important and will help Wyoming farmers and ranchers and the economy as a whole. We can also look at producing hemp products, including the CBD oils that help people control pain in place of using opioids.”
She concluded by stating she is serving on the Appropriations Committee as well as several others and is looking forward to more work.
Halliday then opened the meeting to questions from those attending. The first question had to do with a consensus tax form for the state.
Eyre responded that Gov. Mark Gordon had authorized the secretary of state’s office to investigate it, though he is not in favor of changing the tax form. He said Gordon would rather leave it up to cities and towns.
The second question had to do with the large numbers of highway deaths and what the state is doing to make the roads safer.
Crank said it is under discussion. He then asked to be excused early as he needed to attend the Industrial Resource Plan (IRP) meeting at Rocky Mountain Power in Salt Lake City, where they were to be discussing the closing of the coal plant in Kemmerer.
Sen. Schuler said decreasing the speed limit of semi-trucks was part of the discussion about highway deaths. Schuler also said that adding another truck lane had been brought up but the cost is prohibitive at this time. She said there is also the possibility of a tax increase for semi-trucks. WYDOT is looking at possible solutions.
The Family First Act was brought up for discussion. Schuler said at first, she knew very little about it, so she took time to research it and found it focused on keeping children in their own homes as a priority. The Family First Act was passed at the federal level a year ago. The goal of the act is to place children with a family relative if there is a need to separate them from their parents, rather than placing them in an institutional setting. Wyoming wants to let people know that there is money available for crisis intervention and counseling.
Someone asked why the bill requiring voters to provide a picture ID failed, and Crank responded that what constitutes an ID became part of the problem; there are tribal IDs, identity cards and driver’s licenses.
Eyre said that when people register to vote, they have to present an ID, then at the polls most people in small towns know everybody and don’t want to create a problem. Currently, county clerk offices have the authority to determine what constitutes a valid ID.
Jackson said too often bills are presented at the last minute and there isn’t enough time for legislators and lobbyists to read them all carefully or even begin to work on them. He said 300 bills were added just before the session began.
Jackson said that Piiparinen had brought up the problems with the State Capitol renovations. There were bidding issues and a controversy over whether there was a flooding problem. He said $3 million had been appropriated for the drainage repairs and clear answers were needed. Jackson said that a meeting was taking place in Cheyenne that day to resolve those issues.
That brought up another question about government spending and someone asked why Wyoming is spending more than the state brings in.
“That is a misconception,” Rep. Eyre said. “Wyoming has increased their savings and has a balanced budget. Wyoming does have higher spending per capita.”
Jackson said Wyoming has roughly three years of taxes in the bank, though he said we do need to look at where the dollars come from and where the dollars go.
“Though the state is improving,” he said, “local economies are down, and yet special districts are sitting on $3 billion in reserves. ... There is a disparity in allocation.”
Schuler also spoke to HB 220 regarding corporate taxes and said the proposed 7 percent tax seemed a little high. There was concern on how it might affect jobs if it passed. The bill was shelved, and she said she would like to have seen it debated in the senate. She added that it will probably be brought up again.
The last question had to do with the bill on opioids and prescription limits.
Schuler said the bill passed, setting a seven-day limit on opioid prescriptions unless there was hospice or palliative care involved. She also said a hospital cost study is being done, as rural areas have increased costs.
Schuler mentioned the work on Medicaid expansion and that more data is required, and it will be worked on again. She also said the pharmacy bill had passed and it states that if a cheaper alternative drug is available, pharmacies will be required to offer it.
Eyre agreed that the Medicaid expansion bill will be worked on again.