CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s 2022 Legislative session passed the crossover period last week, and more than 100 bills made the cutoff to swap chambers. With a week left to wrap up the session, here’s a slice of what’s still on lawmakers’ plates.
Coal severance tax reduction
What is it: House Bill 105 – Severance tax reduction-coal would decrease the coal severance tax rate from 7% to 6.5% to help offset an expected increase in the minimum royalty rate for federal coal. If passed into law, coal producers would collectively pocket an estimated $9 million to $10 million annually, according to estimates.
What happened: The bill sailed through the House and survived an initial Senate committee vote Friday. Those for and against the bill revisited familiar arguments from past unsuccessful attempts to lower the state severance tax on coal that date back more than a decade.
Proponents said the tax break would enable Wyoming coal producers to retain more jobs and maintain production amid mounting costs and federal regulations. Opponents said tax adjustments have little to no effect on mining jobs or coal production.
Status: House Bill 105 passed the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee 4-1, with Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) voting against. The bill was scheduled for debate on the Senate floor Monday.
Who said what: “This is something that we’ve talked about for several years, and now is the right time … One operator told me, just this morning, that operators’ costs are up roughly 10% in this quarter alone, and rising.” — Travis Deti, Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director
“This is, effectively, a $10-million appropriation direct to the coal industry. That’s what this is. Usually when we appropriate money, we have expectations of an ROI [return on investment].” — Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie)
Related legislation: Another bill that would have offered a state severance tax “rebate” to help offset potential impacts of an expected increase in minimum royalty rates for federal oil and gas died in the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Friday by a vote of 5-3. The committee tabled Senate File 84 – Mineral royalties-proportional severance tax relief. The measure is likely to be taken up as an interim topic.
What is it: House Bill 85 – Child endangering-controlled substance use while pregnant would create an additional way to criminalize drug use by a pregnant person. Rep. Ember Oakley brought the bill to address what she has called a “hole in the law;” opponents say it will do more harm than good.
What happened: The House voted 46-13 to pass the bill last week. The Senate Judiciary Committee followed suit by voting 3-2 to advance the bill. Sens. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) and R.J. Kost (R-Powell) voted against it at the committee meeting.
Status: The bill, which makes drug use while pregnant a felony, died in the Senate on Monday. The vote in committee of the whole was 17-8 with five excused.
Who said what: Korin Schmidt, director of Wyoming’s Department of Family Services, told the committee there is no statewide data on the number of newborns exposed to meth, narcotics or other drugs. That data gap concerned Nethercott.
“If we really want to understand how to address this issue, I think that is a fundamental place to start,” she said.
Water developers seek control of $95 M
What is it: Water developers are vying for control of $95 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for water and wastewater projects, extending a tug of war with Gov. Mark Gordon. The House on Thursday amended and passed Senate File 66 – American rescue plan act recovery funds appropriations. House amendments would shift control of the ARPA water tranche and increase the amount to $95 million.
The original SF 66 earmarked $334.5 million in ARPA money for appropriation to various agencies and programs, including $50 million for grants for eligible water and wastewater projects. The Senate measure put those funds under the auspices of the Office of State Lands and Investments, which distributes a variety of grants for civic and domestic water and wastewater projects.
What happened: A skirmish developed last year between the governor’s office and water developers over who should run an ARPA water and wastewater program — OSLI or the Water Development Office. The House amendments last week added $45 million to SF 66 for a total of $95 million for the water grant program and shunted control to the Water Development Office.
Lawmakers have more oversight over funds that run through the Water Development Office and Commission, they have said, compared to the state lands office, which is overseen by Wyoming’s top five elected officials.
Under the House version of SF 66, the OSLI and Department of Environmental Quality will play consulting roles only and decisions by the Water Development Office would not be subject to administrative appeal or judicial review.
Status: A joint House-Senate committee met to debate the differences during a noon break Monday but took no action.
Who said what: In vying for funds to be controlled by the Water Development Office, members of the Select Water Committee last year claimed that the OSLI was too busy to administer the program.
A representative from the state lands office, however, said lawmakers were misrepresenting what Jenifer Scoggin, director of OSLI, had told a different legislative committee. In fact, OSLI routinely runs domestic and civic water and wastewater grants programs and could administer the funds, Beth Blackwell, grants and loans manager at the state lands office, told the water committee.
Related bill: House Bill 6 – ARPA funds for water and wastewater projects sought $95 million in ARPA funds for the Water Development Office to distribute in a water and wastewater grants program. After passing the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 3-2 against a motion to recommend the entire upper chamber pass the bill. Nevertheless, the House version of the separate SF 66 retains the entire $95 million and Water Development Office control.
Redefining absenteeism and truancy
What is it: Senate File 31 – Absenteeism and truancy redefines a habitual truant as a child who “habitually disobeys reasonable and lawful demands of his parents, guardian, custodian or other proper authority or is ungovernable and beyond control.” It also defines “willful absenteeism,” as an instance in which the parent or guardian is at fault for a child not attending school.
What happened: Senate File 31 breezed through the Senate and passed the House 31-28.
Status: The bill will now go before Gov. Mark Gordon for signature into law.
Who said what: “Right now the statute really doesn’t delineate who’s at fault for the truancy. Is it the fault of the child more or less? Or you have parents that are dropping their kids off at school in good faith but the child leaves or doesn’t show up to class, versus those instances where parents are being truly neglectful and not caring about getting their kids to school. The reason having the distinction is important is because of how we want to start addressing those circumstances.” — Sen. Affie Ellis, (R-Cheyenne)
Carbon capture liability
What is it: Senate File 47 – Carbon capture and sequestration-liability would provide a pathway for carbon sequestration operators to transfer ownership and liability to the state for anthropogenic CO2 injected into geologic formations. Proponents say the measure is needed to encourage investors and insurers to back carbon sequestration. The bill would require a 20-year monitoring period before an operator could apply for a certificate of transfer.
What happened: The measure sailed through the Senate with one amendment to shift the monitoring period from 10 to 20 years. But SF 47 met some opposition in House debates last week, resulting in a 6-3 vote to advance the measure out of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. Reps. John Bear (R-Gillette), Chuck Gray (R-Casper) and Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) cast opposing votes in the minerals committee. Debate on the House floor Friday centered on questions of ownership distinctions between the CO2 and the geologic “pore space” it occupies and the state accepting liability in perpetuity.
Status: Senate File 47 passed first reading in the House on Friday and second reading on Monday.
Who said what: “We’re trying to set a stake in the ground with a regulatory scheme that will encourage this activity, which I think most everybody here agrees with.” — Rep. Mike Greear (R-Worland)
“I think if you’re [private business is] going to ask someone to use their property for your purposes and then want to back out of that liability, whether it’s 20 or 30 or 40 years later, that doesn’t make sense to me. Because guess what? It’s still my, or your pore space, that that liability is associated with. How do you gain value out of that?” — Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette)
Related legislation: 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.
Drug middleman regulations
What is it: Pharmacy benefit managers act as intermediaries between insurance plans, drug manufacturers and pharmacies. Senate File 36 – Pharmacy benefit managers act enhancements would restrict how PBMs reimburse pharmacies for the cost of drugs covered by insurer prescription drug plans. Independent pharmacies in Wyoming had called on the Legislature to study and create such legislation.
What happened: The House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee voted to table the bill, which paused the bill without killing it. The idea behind that move is to set it up as an interim topic once again. The bill was studied and developed in the last interim, but lawmakers decided it still needed more work.
Status: Tabled and likely to be taken back up during the interim.
Who said what: Committee Chairman Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) agreed with testimony that there’s currently an uneven playing field between PBMs and pharmacies.
“My issue is, I don’t know how to solve it at the state level. And I think the bill has great intentions, but somewhere along the way, it went from the small steps that we need to this is a very large leap,” Zwonitzer said.
This story was updated to reflect the change in status of HB 85. — Ed.