Wyoming Legislature Interim Committees Report
by House District #20 Representative Albert Sommers
September 1, 2013
August 31, 2013:
Hello Sublette County, during the interim between the general session of the legislature last winter and the upcoming budget session next winter, I have been attending meetings of the Joint Education Committee (JEC) and Joint Minerals Committee; I am a member of both committees. During the general session the legislative leadership ranked the interim topics each committee was to investigate, and we are well into the process of examining issues and hearing reports. The JEC consists of the House Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee, and the Joint Minerals Committee has a similar format.
I have attended two JEC and one Select Education Accountability meeting so far. We have examined education accountability, early childhood education, suicide prevention, school bus drive-bys, data management, tribal education, online education, charter schools, alternative schools, and other updates. We heard from an audit of the Wyoming Department of Education’s information and data systems sector that revealed several areas lacking in capacity for the agency to function properly.
Two bills have been developed by the JEC on the above topics. One bill would require teachers to be trained in suicide prevention. Suicide rates in children and young adults are high in Wyoming, and hopefully this training will help save lives. I support this bill, but worry that more and more training is being required of teachers, yet we are not providing districts with more professional development days. I will work toward providing more days for the districts to support these mandated trainings.
The other bill which has been drafted and discussed would require school districts to place cameras in every bus in their district. The state will pay for the extra expense, and cameras will be positioned to record vehicles that drive by buses which are stopped with flashing red lights. We heard compelling testimony from students in Fremont County who had lost a fellow student to a drive-by accident, and received testimony on the high number of drive-bys around the state. We believe installing these cameras will help catch individuals responsible for this negligence, and dissuade others from endangering students.
The Joint Minerals Committee has met only once, in Gillette during the month of May. We received several agency updates on issues related to minerals and economic development, including an update from the governor’s staff on his newly released energy policy. An interesting aspect of that policy included development of a groundwater baseline before major energy fields are developed. Sublette County has been monitoring its groundwater cooperatively for several years. The governor’s policy was strictly aimed at groundwater, while Sublette County does some surface water monitoring as well. Clean water is important to everyone in Wyoming.
We also received an update on the federal government’s grab of Wyoming’s federal mineral royalties. Sequestration legislation required a 5.1% reduction in all non-discretionary funding, and Wyoming’s share of the federal mineral royalties has been construed as a payout, which has resulted in Wyoming’s share of the reduction being $53 million. The federal government appears to be backing away from the decision to strip Wyoming and other states of their full share of the federal mineral royalties.
The longest discussion centered on old coal bed methane wells that are being abandoned without reclamation ("orphaned wells"). This has left landowners with unplugged wells on their property and little recourse to get them cleaned up. The Oil and Gas Commission had begun work on this issue, but it was apparent that the pace needed to speed up. A key issue was whether bonding requirements were sufficient to meet the needs. We were updated on EnCana’s Moneta Divide project in the center of the state, and on the necessity to obtain access to ports which can load Wyoming coal sought after by the Near East. We also heard how Wyoming’s wind energy has a good market in California, when and if the transmission lines can be completed.
Wyoming has some of the best energy resources in the world, including wind, coal, natural gas, crude oil, and uranium for nuclear reactors. Our challenge is to extract them in an economical and sustainable fashion, find economical transportation to our markets, and find ways within Wyoming to create value added products from our raw materials.
My committee meetings will continue in September and October, as we prepare for the Budget Session in February. Feel free to contact me at Albert.Sommers@wyoleg.com or firstname.lastname@example.org