Wyoming Legislature update – March 4, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
March 4, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the last day of the legislative session on the 4th day of March. Today was another slow day, as conference committees finished up on several important bills. We voted on concurrence of the conference committee on local government funding, and I voted against concurrence, because Sublette County communities were severely cut in this bill. If it had been a close vote I would have voted in favor of the bill, in order to move the bill to the finish line, but it was not, so I was able to register a protest vote in dissent.
Two education bills made the deadline today: the bill that will authorize development of Wyoming’s next K12 assessment, which will replace the PAWS test; and HB87, which provides districts flexibility to allow students to take classes in non-resident districts. It also provides a funding mechanism to accomplish this.
HB97 crossed the finish line today. It helps set up a temporary compensation program for livestock depredation caused by wolves in Wyoming’s wolf predator zone. I was a co-sponsor of this bill and also HB87, which both had a signing ceremony with the Governor today.
Governor Mead signed the budget yesterday, but he exercised line-item vetoes on several sections. Leadership determined to try to override nearly all of the Governor’s vetoes, which I think was a mistake. I did vote to override his veto granting him authority to move $36 million between different sections of the budget. We, the Legislature, set the budget, including priorities, and I would hate to see money stripped out of a program I fought to support, in favor of a program that was not a high priority. This veto was overridden by both the Senate and House.
The Governor also vetoed several efforts to prevent him from moving items from the exception budget (usually one-time monies) into the standard budget. Exception items, especially in hard times, should not be placed in a standard budget, because adding items to the standard budget usually results in expansion of the budget. Leadership bunched a group of these veto items together in one vote, but one Representative made the case that this was unconstitutional, as the Wyoming Constitution requires each item of an override to be voted on separately. I agreed with this analysis, and voted to uphold the Governor’s veto in this instance. However, the House overrode this veto.
I supported several of the Governor’s budget vetoes, especially where budget language appeared to violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Several attempts were made during this budget session to erode the Governor’s power, and some of these efforts appeared to be punitive in nature. For this reason, I voted against most of these bills and the veto overrides that seemed to strip the chief executive’s power. In the end, the Legislature voted to override several Governor vetoes, and I supported some of those.
This was the most contentious session that I have witnessed, in my short tenure, between the Governor and the Legislature. The Governor has been very responsive to issues that are important to our county. He has been very accessible to me as a legislator, and I did not like the way he was treated. It is a little sad that these overrides were the final acts of this session.
It has been a privilege to serve Sublette County in the Legislature this term, and I intend to run for re-election. I have gained valuable experience in the last four years, which has allowed me to become an effective legislator. Besides my work on interim committees this summer, I intend to investigate what it would take to create a Wyoming presidential primary. I have heard from multiple constituents who are dissatisfied with the current caucus system as it relates to presidential elections. I would be interested in your views on this issue as I research it. I will also continue to support efforts to make the Title 25 (involuntary hospitalization) process more workable for Sublette County. I was able, with a colleague’s help, to amend the Title 25 bill to give the Department of Health the ability to provide some transportation support in remote counties.
It will be good to get back home to Sublette County.