Wyoming Legislature updates Feb. 5 & 6, 2015
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
February 8, 2015
Friday, Feb. 6, 2015:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting from Cheyenne on Friday. Today, we passed several bills on third reading. The bills I supported include a resolution memorializing the Magna Carta, a bill which would allow students in college who have successfully passed two semesters with at least a 3.25 grade point average to move up one level on their Hathaway Scholarship, a bill which would base industrial site impact fees on actual impacts versus a tax formula, and a bill which would develop a new budgetary process for community colleges based upon enrollment. This could turn into a big issue for Sublette County, because we currently do not pay any mill levy for a community college. As the legislature struggles to fund our Community Colleges, which are extremely important to our workforce needs in Wyoming, they make look to those counties which benefit from them, but are not financially supporting them.
There was great debate over HB209, transfer of public land. I have as much reason as anyone to seek state ownership of federal lands, because my ranch operation is totally dependent upon these lands and my landlord has become ever more dysfunctional. More and more often decisions coming out of our land management agencies have been delayed by lawsuits from extreme environmental organizations. Decisions are now based on whether the agency might get sued, and not on what is best for the multiple use resource. I like the idea of state management of our federal lands, because I believe Wyoming would be more responsive to ALL of its citizens. However, I do not believe this approach will ever be successful, because the federal government will not willingly give up these lands, and a lawsuit to take those lands back is on very shaky ground constitutionally, according to an attorney general opinion from a couple of years ago. I voted against the bill, in what was the hardest decision I have made this session. I do believe the state would be a better manager of the land, but this effort is a waste of time and money. More productive efforts for state management would be the Agreement State status, which states can use to manage certain resources. A pilot project is being developed which would investigate State management of certain federal lands, and I think that is the best bang for our buck. This was a tough one. Everyone in Sublette County uses federal lands, and our identity and our economy are woven into the very fabric of those lands. This issue is very important, yet HB209 had not been thoroughly vetted and brought by a committee. We assigned the issue, of transferring federal lands to the state, to the Select Committee on Federal Land and Natural Resources last session, and I believe any bill on this issue should have come from that committee. The bill passed by a margin of 34-26, not a resounding majority. This is not the last vote on this issue, and if "hell freezes over" and the feds offer us these lands, then the bill calls for a final piece of legislation to be created for receivership.
Two OSHA bills that were defeated in my Minerals committee this morning dealt with increasing regulation or fines for worker safety. Though the bills were defeated, Wyoming does need to address the issue of worker deaths. I asked the Chairman of the committee to consider forming a sub-committee of Joint Health and Joint Minerals to bring both philosophies to the table to create a safer work environment in Wyoming. I could not vote in favor of these bills, at this time, but I do support a balanced approach to reduce worker deaths in Wyoming.
A bill passed Committee of the Whole which would extend the Critical Access Hospital Endowment Challenge program for three more years, providing opportunities for these much needed hospitals. There may be an amendment to allow newly created hospitals or Rural Health Care Districts to participate, which may aid Sublette County.
I voted against a bill in Committee of the Whole which would have studied the impact to Wyoming from legalizing marihuana. I do not support legalizing marihuana and I dont think the state should waste the money on this study. I remain concerned about the message legalizing marihuana sends to our youth, and I believe legalization would put more impaired drivers on our roads. The bill died.
Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting from the Capitol on Thursday. Bills which passed the House today that I supported included a bill that creates a lifetime archery license in the state and a bill eliminating the SAWs writing test. Additionally we passed bills limiting what a Wyoming delegate could do at a Constitutional Convention of the states, a bill further defining penalties for exceeding the 80 MPH speed limit zones, and two bills providing additional opportunities for disabled hunters. The 80 MPH speed limit bill would set the fine at five dollars per mile an hour for speeds exceeding the speed limit by up to five miles per hour.
A bill that I sponsored, HB233, passed Committee of the Whole today. The issue it addressed was brought to me by bankers and the division that regulates banking. The bill was very simple and is designed to increase efficiency in banking by allowing banks to renew their annual licenses for their branch banks on a single date.
HB238 was assigned to the Minerals committee, which is one of the committees I serve on, and would initiate a tax on flared gas after 90 days. This bill will likely not be in heard in committee, but will likely become an interim topic for the Minerals Committee. I support the concept of a tax on flared gas, but we need to investigate the manner in which that should happen in a very open and deliberate manner.
If you have any questions or concerns please reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and my updates will be posted on my website at albertsommers.com.