Wyoming Legislature updates – March 9 & 10
Legislature approves ENDOW bills
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
March 13, 2018
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne. On Saturday, March 10, the House was in session until 11:30 PM, as the Legislature worked two remaining bills: state capital construction and education finance. The Joint Conference Committee on HB1, the budget bill, had reached a compromise Friday. We voted and passed the budget through the House with a vote of 38-20; the Senate passed the budget bill as well.
HB194 is the state capital construction bill, which was the primary sticking point between the House and the Senate. Discussions eventually narrowed down to one topic: funding for the University of Wyoming’s Science Initiative. This money had already been saved and set aside over the course of several years, but this bill authorizes the final spending authority for the projects. The House wanted to provide 100 percent spending authority, but the Senate wanted to fund only to 75 percent and make UW find the other 25 percent elsewhere. In the end, the decision was made to fund the UW project at 85 percent, a compromise all parties can live with.
HB140, education finance, was also hanging in limbo until late Saturday evening. This bill will cut about $27.2 million from K12 education. The cut will be made by adjusting how students are counted, by changing the way funding is generated from the square footage of buildings, by slightly altering which special education employees are eligible for extra hazardous worker’s compensation, and by freezing special education funding for two years. The Senate had proposed cuts to education that could have exceeded $100 million, and had crafted two constitutional amendments that, in my opinion, would have eliminated Wyoming students’ fundamental right to an equitable and adequate education. The House did not pass the Senate’s cuts or its call for constitutional amendments. The House had maintained that we would not support any cuts to K12 education, unless they were in conjunction with a broader solution for education funding. HB194, state capital construction, included that compromise as well. It committed a portion of our investment earnings from our Permanent Mineral Trust Fund to K12 major maintenance.
The budget bill that passed both bodies also diverted some existing revenue streams to education, one of which was 33 percent of state royalties from state lands. The movement of the 33 percent state royalties to K12 capital construction, plus guaranteeing the use of investment earnings for K12 major maintenance, solves the funding issues for K12 capital construction. Remember, Wyoming had previously funded K12 major maintenance and capital construction out of revenues received from federal Coal Lease Bonus money, which has been eliminated since the federal government quit issuing new coal leases.
We reached a compromise late last night on all of the major issues, but our staff did not have time to finish the final products for official approval. The Legislature will return to complete the session on Wednesday, March 14 and Thursday, March 15 for final votes, including review of any line item vetoes the Governor may make on HB1 and HB194. I will not attend next Wednesday, as I have another commitment.
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WY Legislature Approves ENDOW Bills to Diversify State's Economy
CHEYENNE, WYOMING - The Wyoming House of Representatives gave its final approval to a series of legislation in support of ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming), a 20-year initiative to make lasting and meaningful gains in diversifying and growing Wyoming's economy.
"It's our job as legislators to look ahead to the future and take action on behalf of this and future generations of Wyoming citizens," said House Majority Whip Albert Sommers. "Diversifying Wyoming's energy dependent economy is no easy task, but it's one we need to tackle head on. By taking steps to remove barriers to economic growth, including limited air service and inconsistent access to broadband, we can begin setting the stage for new and growing industries to take root right here in Wyoming."
Last year, Governor Matt Mead worked with the legislature to pass a bill authorizing ENDOW. The ENDOW Executive Council recently released ten preliminary recommendations to address barriers to, and opportunities for, economic diversification. Members of the legislature worked together to craft and pass legislation, reflective of these recommendations, to address air service, broadband connectivity, workforce training, blockchain technology, computer science education, entrepreneurial opportunities and international marketing of Wyoming products.
Among the measures passed was legislation to help grow and expand air service across Wyoming while driving down costs to taxpayers. Senate File 40, Commercial air service improvement, would support the Wyoming Department of Transportation's (WYDOT) 10-year Commercial Air Service Plan (CASP) to create a reliable and affordable option for air service in Wyoming.
WYDOT already operates the Air Service Enhancement Program (ASEP), which has been in place since 2004 to help Wyoming communities improve or retain air service. The CASP proposal would augment AESP and enable the WYDOT Aeronautics Division to contract with one airline to provide commercial air service to a major hub airport, such as Denver or Salt Lake City. Local communities and the state would be able to determine the fares, flight times and potentially share in the profits.
According to WYDOT's budget projections, SF 40 will cost the department less money than is currently spent in supporting air service in Wyoming. Over the past ten years, the state has invested nearly $23 million in air service support, with local communities contributing over $11 million. Under SF 40, WYDOT projects over the next ten years the state will invest $12.2 million and local communities a little over $8.1 million while establishing a predictable, reliable and affordable option for air service in Wyoming.
In addition to SF 40, Sommers advocated for a bill to improve access to broadband and technology. Senate File 100, Economic diversification-broadband services, would establish a broadband coordinator position, a broadband advisory council and a Wyoming broadband grant fund to help ensure every community in Wyoming has the opportunity to connect with the world through reliable high-speed internet. The coordinator and council will provide the Governor and the legislature with recommendations and policy guidance to improve broadband coverage, speed and accessibility. The end goal is to bring high-speed broadband to more areas of the state and improve speed and reliability in others.
Sommers also worked to advance Senate File 108, Economic diversification and development, which would expand the state's agriculture marketing program and provide for an international trade representative to promote and sell Wyoming products.
Other ENDOW measures approved by the legislature include:
Senate File 119, Workforce development-priority economic sector program, will provide a sustainable source of workforce training funds to target long-term economic diversification successes.
Senate File 118, Kickstart Wyoming-economic diversification, will build out Wyoming's entrepreneurial network by establishing a dedicated organization to provide capital access funds for startups.
Senate File 29, Education-computer science and computational thinking, will add computer science to the state educational program - making Wyoming the first state in the country to require its schools to offer computer science education.
The legislature also approved a series of bills that will help drive new industries here in Wyoming - virtual currencies and blockchain technology. House Bill 70, Open Blockchain Tokens Exemptions, House Bill 101, Electronic Corporate Records, House Bill 126, Limited Liability Companies-Series, and House Bill 19, Wyoming Money Transmitter Act-virtual currency exemption and Senate File 111, Property taxation-digital currencies will all help empower blockchain entrepreneurs and innovators, positioning Wyoming to be a national cryptocurrency leader.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Friday, March 9. Today, on Third Reading we passed with my support SF61, which would allow fluorescent pink to be utilized for a hunting safety color. Other bills that passed Third Reading with my support included creating a retirement income security task force, allowing real property to be utilized as a collateral bond, studying efficiencies in K12 transportation systems, funding further efforts at finding state government efficiencies, creating an opioid addiction task force, expanding a drug donation program, and two more ENDOW bills which help expand workforce and entrepreneurial ecosystem development.
SF71 passed with my support today. This bill was the Senate’s version of the Stand Your Ground bill. The bill was heavily amended in the Senate, and as a result law enforcement and county attorneys ended their opposition to the bill. Originally, the bill was too expansive, and would have greatly impeded law enforcement’s ability to investigate potential crimes. Today, an amendment was brought that would limit the civil immunity a person would have under this Act, if he shot an innocent bystander. I believe that was a good amendment, it passed, and I supported the bill.
SF74 passed today without my support. This bill was created to provide increased penalties for causing damage to critical infrastructure, or for impeding the ability to access critical infrastructure. This was designed to protect structures like natural gas compressor stations from either internal or external terrorist attacks. It was also in response to the issues that occurred in North Dakota during the Keystone Pipeline protests. This bill came to the floor of the House from the standing committee with at least two amendments, and took on 23 more amendments on the floor of the House. There were concerns that this bill would impede free speech, but I believe that amendments were passed to address that issue. In the end, I voted against the bill because I was concerned about the unintended consequences that this bill would have for landowners who had critical infrastructure on their property. The definition of critical infrastructure was too broad, and the penalties for violation too steep. A second reading amendment would have exempted landowners from the Act, but it was stripped in a third reading amendment. After protection for landowners was stripped, I could not support the bill. When a bill has that many amendments brought to it, there is a good chance something is wrong with it.
The Joint Conference Committee on the budget bill reached a compromise today, but state capital construction and education finance still need a resolution. We will work on Saturday to find a solution.
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