By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
When Wyoming was admitted into the Union, Congress stipulated that federal lands granted to the state for school funding could be used to earn interest, but that it couldn’t issue grazing leases on those lands for a term of more than 10 years.
The Wyoming Legislature is now considering a resolution to ask Congress to change the state’s Act of Admission, to take the 10-year cap off grazing leases and to change the term “interest” to “earnings.”
On the first day of the 2023 Legislative Session on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the plea, titled Senate Joint Resolution 1, on a unanimous vote.
Committee Chair Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said the change would give Wyoming greater latitude for investments generating school funding.
Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, visited the committee to explain the bill, saying other states have adopted similar resolutions, including Idaho.
Hicks said the word “interest” instead of “earnings” in the language of act is limiting.
“What we want to do is be able to sue all the other investment tolls that are out there now that didn’t exist before,” said Hicks.
Hicks described a cellphone tower contract, where the company leasing land might strike a better deal for the state if the lease agreement could be longer-term.
Jenifer Scoggin, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, countered somewhat, saying the office has always understood that grazing leases are capped at 10 years, but special use leases – such as a cellphone tower project would warrant – are not.
The congressional act now says that mineral, grazing, agricultural or other lands can be leased, but that agricultural and grazing leases can’t exceed 10 years, according to its replication in the bill.
Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, expressed concern over how lease terms are set.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said perhaps Gierau could bring those concerns in a different bill addressing state law, saying that, “This issue (is) not actually before us.”