O’Gara: Kill Bill(s); Nonbudget measures go down in flames, up in smoke

by Geoff O’Gara, Wyoming PBS (published with permission)
— February 12, 2014

Geoff O'Gara, Wyoming PBS
Geoff O’Gara, Wyoming PBS
Geoff O’Gara, Wyoming PBS

At the Wyoming legislature, bills that strut into the headlines at the beginning of a legislative session – marijuana decriminalization, a big tax break for Daddy Coal, the use of firing squads to carry out the death penalty – are often dead man walking: they’ll be six feet under in the first few days of legislative action. Especially in a budget year, when non-budget legislation needs a 2/3 vote in the House or Senate just to get introduced.

Attention-grabbing bills went down by the handfuls in the second day of the 2014 budget session. Rep. Jim Byrd’s (D-Cheyenne) bill lowering the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana to misdemeanor fines got only 15 votes (it needed 40) for introduction – or, as House Speaker Tom Lubnau put it, it went “up in smoke.” Sen. Bruce Burns’ (R-Sheridan) bill to add the firing squad as a backup to lethal injection in capital punishment cases misfired in the Senate. Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) offered a bill to lower the severance tax on the beleaguered coal industry, but the price tag – about $58 million in lost revenue to a state government fueled by energy taxes – made it unpalatable.

Plenty of bills did get through in the first busy days of the session, but many of the hundreds in the hopper are what might be called “house-cleaning” bills – removing archaic language from jury selection statutes, or making a small change in taxidermy licensing. Those will be introduced, and mostly passed, with little fanfare.

The rush to get bills introduced – Friday is the deadline – means a rapid succession of issues before legislators, and some quick wit. Before a bill to make the chocolate-chip cookie the state cookie went down, there was talk about adding raisins. Describing another House bill that had been considered last year but fatally altered by the Senate, Rep. Michael Greear (R-Worland) said it had been “boogered up by the grey-haired hobbits.”

Can we can expect the Senate, somewhere during the exhausting session, to refer to representatives in the House as Orcs?

— Please visit Wyoming PBS Capitol Outlook for further coverage of the Wyoming Legislature by Geoff O’Gara. 

Geoffrey O’Gara is a writer and documentary producer based in Lander, Wyoming. He works for The Content Lab, LLC and serves on WyoFile's board of directors. His column, Weed Draw, is named for a remote...

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