Wyoming Legislature update – Feb. 29, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
February 29, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Monday the 29th.This was the last day that bills could be heard in Committee of the Whole, so we buckled down for a long day. Nearly 35 Senate Files needed our review.
The day would not have been quite so long but for approximately 10 second-reading amendments on SF41, the state facilities capital construction bill. I co-sponsored one of those amendments with the Chairman of Revenue. Our amendment would use the LSRA, the rainy day account, instead of a diversion of severance tax to back up the state’s capital construction projects. I am concerned that diversion of the statutory 1% severance tax into a capital construction bill will set a bad precedent; I believe we may need that money to fund education if our economic outlook continues to deteriorate. The amendment passed.
Several amendments to the capital construction bill were defeated, including ones that attempted to reduce state funding to a state facility in Casper, a science building at the University of Wyoming, and the Life Resource Center in Lander. I voted against these amendments, though I am sympathetic to the sentiment that too much money this session is being spent on capital construction.
The state operations budget bill passed after the conference committee report, which included the compromise on K12 education. This compromise was the last item of contention between the House and the Senate. The Senate stuck with the Joint Appropriation Committee’s recommendation to cut education by $45.7 million, but the House had passed budget amendments reducing those cuts. In the end, the conference committee put about $8 million back into K12 funding, and asked for a review of both transportation costs and enrollment trends. If enrollment starts to decline, then the funding model will reduce dollars to education, which might alleviate concerns by the Appropriations Committee.
Hopefully, a review of enrollment data will result in smaller cuts to education during next session’s supplemental budget. A budget amendment in the House that continues the early childhood community grant program was adopted by the conference committee. This would utilize federal dollars for at-risk students as a funding source. All in all, education gained back some ground from the cuts the Joint Appropriation Committee recommended.
In Committee of the Whole, we heard several bills which seemed to consolidate power and remove authority from the executive branch. The House pushed back against some of these bills, but several will continue on, which I think is a mistake.
We had a great discussion in Committee of the Whole on SF14, which would recognize that children have rights with respect to who can access their cell phones without parental permission. It would further ensure that districts keep student data secure by requiring the establishment of data security guidelines. In committee, we heard both support and dissent on this bill, with some districts concerned that their ability to stop school violence would be negatively affected. I support the data security piece of this bill, but remain concerned about the part which restricts access to a child’s cell phone. This is a very complicated issue, and I would be interested in parents’ and teachers’ view on Senate File 14.
All of my press releases from this session are available at http://www.albertsommers.com