CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s 66th Legislature is halfway through the four-week budget session. During week two, the Senate and House spent considerable time working the budget, but that’s not all. Here’s a rundown of what died and what is still in play.
Trespass bill dies
What is it: Legislators did not consider House Bill 103 – Prohibit travel across private land for hunting purposes for introduction. The bill would have changed the hunter trespass law, adding three words (in italics here) to read “no person shall enter upon or travel through” private property to hunt without permission.
What happened: Lead sponsor Rep. Barry Crago (R-Buffalo) said the bill was not intended to address corner-crossing, the controversial practice of stepping from one piece of public property to another. At the intersection of four alternating public-private parcels in a checkerboard pattern of ownership, it is possible to step from one public piece to another without setting foot on private land.
Status: Because it was not considered for introduction, the bill died in the House on Feb 18.
Who said what: Crago said his bill was intended to make uniform the enforcement of the trespassing to hunt law across Wyoming. The bill would have required those found guilty of the amended law to surrender any antlers or horns collected during an incident involving an infraction and to pay a $1,000 fine.
“I don’t want to do anything with corner crossing,” Crago said.
$71 million yanked from water
What is it: A key sponsor yanked some $71 million from a water funding bill after federal officials said American Rescue Plan Money generally can’t be used for irrigation projects. Senate File 82 – Supplemental water development funding sought $155 million from the general fund for major dam and reservoir construction, among other things.
What happened: U.S. Treasury Department guidelines released Jan. 6 appear to rule out agricultural dams, reservoirs and irrigation as candidates for those funds. “The final rule does not include infrastructure projects related to dams and reservoirs … unless they meet the conditions discussed … drinking water and the management of wastewater and storm water,” the rule states.
Status: The Select Water Committee sought $155 million in general fund money in the supplemental funding measure, plus numerous internal transfers among water development accounts. Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told the Senate last week that the committee wanted to reduce the general fund request by about $71 million, an amendment the body agreed to. More than $80 million appears to remain in the legislation, which had passed second reading in the Senate by the end of last week.
Who said what: “We don’t have the money we thought we had,” Hicks told the Senate. The committee’s revenue forecasts were “pretty high,” when it eyed ARPA funds Hicks said. Since then, the state learned “what’s eligible for funding and what’s not,” in the ARPA legislation, discovering that its hopes to include general irrigation projects would not pan out.
Property tax hike cap fails
What is it: Senate File 69 – Property tax limits sought to provide relief to Wyoming residents in hot real estate markets whose property taxes have jumped up significantly. The legislation put a 5% cap on annual increases in assessments, imposing a constraint on county assessors who are bound by the Wyoming Constitution to tax most property based on its market value.
What happened: The prospect of capping property tax hikes had momentum early on in the 66th Wyoming Legislature, with a 23-6 introductory vote in the Senate. The proposal met its end in a 2-to-3 vote after Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) referred it to the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resource Committee, where Sens. Brian Boner (R-Douglas), R.J Kost (R-Powell) and Jeff Wasserburger (R-Gillette) voted it down.
Who said what: “Our seniors, our veterans on fixed incomes, our families working two jobs to make ends meet are losing their homes because they can’t afford the increase in property tax assessments. In my town of Dubois there are actually instances of property tax assessments going up 50%.” — Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton)
“The [Wyoming] Constitution says all property shall be taxed at its full value. In our opinion this bill does not let it be taxed at its full value because you are putting a cap on it — an arbitrary number that stops that value for that calculation for tax purposes.” — Wyoming County Assessor’s Association President Dave Divis
Related legislation: The Legislature has considered a bevy of property tax bills this session, many of which have died. House Bill 109 – Property tax value acquisition study would have required a study of changes needed to convert Wyoming’s property tax system to one based on the acquisition value. House Bill 23 – Agricultural land qualifications-annual gross revenues, which didn’t pass its introductory vote, proposed limiting access to agricultural tax rates that are intended for legitimate farmers and ranchers. House Bill 98 – Property tax appeals-revisions met a similar fate, though the proposal wasn’t considered for an introductory vote. Also dead: Senate File 113 – Property tax exemption-organizations funded by the WCDA, which would have exempted nonprofit community housing development organizations from property taxes.
Some related legislation lives. Senate File 19 – County optional property tax refund program, which narrowly passed the Senate, would allow counties to develop programs that could refund up to half of residents’ prior year tax bills. It’s now up for consideration in the House, and is on the agenda for the Revenue Committee’s 8 a.m. Tuesday meeting. Senate Joint Resolution 2 – Senior citizen property tax relief-constitutional amendment — which does what it says — also remains in play, having passed its second Senate reading on Monday.
What is it: House Bill 52 – Timeline to prepare and process absentee ballots would give county clerks a head start in processing absentee ballots and is designed to address the rapidly increasing number of Wyoming residents who vote that way.
What happened: The bill passed the House, which also adopted an amendment to add a felony penalty for clerks or other election workers who violate any absentee ballot voting procedures. The amendment was brought forth by Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett).
Who said what: “We need to make sure we have an environment that promotes participation,” Bill Henderson (R-Cheyenne) said in opposition to Neiman’s amendment.
Status: The bill has been referred to the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.
Related legislation: Senate File 96 – Collection of election ballots-prohibition would also impact absentee ballot voting in Wyoming by restricting how people or groups can help voters deliver completed absentee ballots to county clerks. It’s currently on the Senate’s General File after passing the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.
What is it: Senate File 97 – Change in party affiliation would end Wyoming voters’ ability to change political party affiliation on the day of an election. Instead, voters wanting to switch parties would need to do so about three months ahead of the primary election.
What happened: An amendment by Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) failed adoption, but would have allowed any political party to “opt out” of such restrictions.
Status: The Senate approved the bill on third reading with 18 votes in favor. It will now be considered by the House.
What is it: House Bill 20 – Medical treatment opportunity act would have expanded Medicaid eligibility in Wyoming.
What happened: The bill was never introduced. Legislators, trying to accomplish a similar end by different means, offered an amendment in the budget allowing for expansion. The Rules Committee deemed the amendment introduced by Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) to be outside of the usual scope of the budget. Case tried one more time on Friday to pass an amendment that would have given the governor authority to negotiate Medicaid expansion, but it too ultimately failed. It was the last opportunity for expansion efforts to take hold this session.
Who said what: “There’s a cost of not passing this. There’s a cost for those people. What happens if you don’t have health insurance? You’re stressed all the time.” — Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander)
“This proposal should have come to you as a companion bill to a tax increase, because you need the tax increase both to fund the state participation piece ongoing and you need to fund the Medicaid reimbursements which are very low in Wyoming up to a higher level so that the providers aren’t hurt.” — Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper)
“As demonstrated by today’s impassioned debate, lack of movement on Medicaid expansion this year clearly does not indicate a lack of continued bi-partisan interest in this topic, and we look forward to working with our partners to resume this important work during the 2023 legislative session.” — American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
Transfer of CO2 storage liability
What is it: Senate File 47 – Carbon capture and sequestration-liability would transfer ownership and liability of injection facilities and geologic reservoirs storing CO2 from private operators to the state. The measure would mandate a monitoring period of 20 years before the state can consider taking title and liability to ensure geologic stabilization. Proponents say it would encourage investment in both CO2 injection and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration — one of Wyoming’s key energy policy priorities to preserve its coal and fossil fuel industries.
What happened: The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee sponsored the bill after crafting it during the 2021 interim. Though SF 47 has enjoyed enthusiastic support from industry and tentative support from conservation groups, doubt remains over the state’s ultimate liability and how parties might seek relief for any damages that occur from leaks.
Status: Senate File 47 sailed through the Senate and passed the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Monday morning by a vote of 6-3.
Who said what: Senate File 47 attempts to advance another Wyoming policy initiative “to see carbon capture on a coal-fired generation plant.” But, “I guess I’m a little frustrated, you know, when we have this as an interim topic that we’re not thinking about these [liability questions].” — Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland)
“It seems to me like it’s setting us up for potential liability suits that we might not need.” — Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette)
Related legislation: Senate File 47 proponents say the measure would help Wyoming enforce a suite of past legislation — such as 2019’s Senate File 159 – New opportunities for Wyoming coal fired generation — that attempts to encourage or force regulated utilities to retrofit coal-fired power plants with carbon capture technology. Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) sponsored Senate File 64 – Carbon capture and sequestration this year, which would have forced utilities to sell a coal-fired power unit to a third party willing to install the technology. But Scott withdrew the bill early in the budget session.
Targeting treasurer deadlines
What is it: Senate File 111 – Wyoming financial transparency act proposed reinforcing and enhancing financial reporting requirements already imposed on the Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier’s office. The legislative push was born from lawmakers’ frustration with a repeatedly tardy state audit, causing worries about potential effects on the state’s bond rating and even its eligibility for federal funding.
What happened: The Senate voted 29 to 0 to introduce SF 111 to the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) testified in support. So did Meier, who did not oppose the legislation, though he did express concern about his ability to convey the complete suite of financial data identified in the legislation because of issues outside his office’s control.
Status: Senate File 111 passed through the Senate Corporations committee unanimously, but died after it was not heard by the whole Senate before a deadline lapsed Monday.
Who said what: “The treasurer, by all accounts, is doing a terrific job running our investment house … Now one in every four dollars that we’re bringing into state government is through investment dollars. That is not at issue, nor in question. What is in question is how we do the more mundane task of accounting for it in the back of the house.” — Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), speaking in support of his bill in committee.
Related legislation: Provisions in SF 111 are repeated in the footnotes of the Wyoming Legislature’s general budget bill. Though the standalone legislation died, the reporting requirements could still have the force of law if the footnotes hold up, though they would be considered session law set to expire in two years.