Gordon Vetoes Bill That Carved Out $75 Million To Fight Feds

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday vetoed a bill that would have carved out $75 million for Wyoming to fight federal overreach, including the BLM’s controversial Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. He said the bill was a "clear attempt to cross, blur and trample the line of separation" between the branches of government.

LW
Leo Wolfson

March 15, 20246 min read

Gov. Mark Gordon during the 2024 legislative session.
Gov. Mark Gordon during the 2024 legislative session. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Gov. Mark Gordon signed 16 bills into law Friday and vetoed two.

Gordon vetoed Senate File 13, which would have provided $75 million for the state of Wyoming to fight federal overreach into the state, including a controversial proposed BLM resource management plan (RMP) for the Rock Springs area.

The plan has been the source of significant pushback in southwest Wyoming and around the state with claims that the BLM ignored local input on the project to push a Biden administration agenda against fossil fuels.

“I respect the concerns of the Legislature; however, they do not overcome the fact that this bill represents a clear attempt to cross, blur and trample the line of separation between our equal, but separate, branches of government,” Gordon wrote in his Friday veto letter.

He said if passed into law, the bill would only “enable duplicative Legislative litigation safaris that would be counterproductive and contrary to Wyoming’s well-established practice of cooperation between branches” and respect for the state Constitution.

State Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, a member of the Joint Agriculture Committee that originally proposed the bill, said he’s disappointed with Gordon’s veto of a measure that would only assist the Attorney General’s office.

“As legislators, we provide the funding to ensure our virtues and values are defended,” Conrad said. “The fact that he rejected this seems counterintuitive.”

It’s His Fight, Not Legislature’s

Gordon said he vigorously opposes federal overreach in Wyoming’s resource management and believes fighting these actions should come solely from the executive branch to allow for a single voice in litigation. He has come out against the RMP and assembled a task force late last year to address the matter.

In his veto letter, Gordon expressed concern that SF 13 failed to recognize a separation of powers between the legislative branch and the executive branch.

“I cannot conceive a situation when dealing with federal management plans that the legislative branch would provide a litigatory advantage beyond that of the executive,” Gordon wrote. “Such litigation is costly, and there is no financial reason to double the cost to the Wyoming taxpayer with two parties, both claiming to represent the state of Wyoming. That represents a weakness to be exploited by those not wishing the state of Wyoming to succeed.”

Conrad said he doesn’t understand this argument as the Legislature is already in charge of deciding the funding needed for state agencies to perform their duties.

“It’s disappointing he didn’t see the need for help,” Conrad said. “It was reinforcing our views.”

In his veto letter, Gordon said there are limited situations where the Legislature could dictate litigation when the federal government is treading on its lawmaking authority and the attorney general position exists to help advocate in these situations, “but these instances would be exceedingly rare, and should never confound a court.”

He does not believe the proposed RMP creates this situation.

“At best, competing litigation efforts would only serve to confuse courts as to who represents the State of Wyoming, and at worst it would enable frivolous and political pursuits,” Gordon wrote.

Gordon also criticized the bill as not fiscally conservative, mentioning how the $75 million would represent 67% of the Attorney General’s office current biennial budget.

The bill had originally started as a $50 million appropriation but grew to $75 million after Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Rock Springs, successfully amended it.

Other Veto

Gordon also vetoed SF 103, a “trigger” bill that would only become effective if the federal PRIME Act is passed by Congress, a proposed federal law exempting from federal inspection requirements animals and meats that are slaughtered and prepared at custom animal slaughter facilities for distribution within the state.

The Wyoming PRIME Act would have applied to meat products raised, slaughtered, processed and sold in Wyoming. These animals would have had to be slaughtered on the producer’s property or at a custom slaughter facility, where no state or federal inspector would have been required on-site.

Gordon said although he supports food freedom, he also expressed concern that the trigger bill could have created confusion for consumers, meat processors and livestock producers who may think it was already in effect.

“Currently, an attempt to use the provisions of SF 103 by Wyoming producers before the federal PRIME Act is passed by Congress would put them at risk of fines and license revocation, and imperil Wyoming’s primacy for its meat and poultry inspection program,” Gordon wrote.

He also expressed concern that if the act were to be amended, it could require a change to Wyoming’s statute, which may further delay implementation.

In 2015, the Legislature passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which allows people to buy produce, poultry and home-processed non-meat foods directly from ranchers, farmers and other producers without interference from the government.

Bills Into Law

Gordon also signed 16 bills on Friday.

House Enrolled Act 43 will establish that day care is an acceptable residential use of property superseding any restrictive covenants.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, was the lead sponsor and said he hopes the law will inspire more families to open up day care facilities.

“The need for child care is an issue shared across the entire state,” Yin said. “This law clarifies the freedom you have in your own home to help serve your community’s needs.”

Senate Enrolled Act 35 will create a penalty for people who violate signs and markers for closures to light and high-profile vehicles and other weight-based closures.

House Enrolled Act 47 will require the Division of Criminal Investigation to develop and maintain a cold case database and require law enforcement agencies in the state to provide cold case information to the division. He also signed House Enrolled Act 46, somewhat similar legislation establishing a pilot program for forensic genetic genealogical DNA analyses and searches.

Gordon has 35 bills remaining to take action on before the March 23 deadline.

Editor's note: This story has been clarified to reflect that the $75 million that was included in Senate File 13 wasn't designated exclusively to the Attorney General's office to fight the BLM's Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. The money was for the state's legal staff, which could include the AG's office, to fight federal overreach, which could included the BLM plan but not exclusively.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter