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Legislature

Bill Would Boost Cigarette Taxes By 24 Cents A Pack In Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature is set to review an increase in tobacco taxes that would add 24 cents to the cost of a pack of cigarettes if approved.

When the Legislature resumes its work late this month, one of the bills it is slated to review is House Bill 55, which would boost the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes from 60 cents to 84 cents.

The bill would also increase the excise tax on snuff from 60 cents per ounce to 72 cents.

The excise taxes are applied in addition to sales taxes and federal taxes also paid on the products.

According to a fiscal note accompanying the proposed legislation, the tax increase would generate about $6.1 million per year for the state’s main bank account and $920,000 per year for local governments.

Wyoming currently has the 44th-lowest excise tax on cigarettes in the nation, coming in just ahead of South Carolina at 57 cents per pack and just behind Tennessee at 62 cents.

If approved, the bill, sponsored by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Committee, would raise Wyoming to having the 39th-lowest rate, where the state would join Colorado, according to figures from the salestaxhandbook.com.

The country’s highest excise tax rate on cigarettes is found in New York at $4.35 per pack, according to salestaxhandbook.com.

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Wyoming Legislature 2021: Fuel Tax Increase, Per-Mile Fee Eyed To Fund Highway Work

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature is looking at two ways to raise money for maintenance and repair of the state’s roads, a fuel tax increase of 9 cents per gallon and a proposal to charge vehicles for every mile they drive in the state.

The two bills, both sponsored by legislative committees, have both been pre-filed for consideration by lawmakers when they reconvene on Jan. 27 for an eight-day virtual session.

The “road usage charge” bill, House Bill 37, would impose a per-mile tax on vehicles ranging from 1.3 cents per mile for motorcycles and multipurpose vehicle such as all-terrain vehicles to 14.3 cents per mile for semi-trucks with multiple axels.

The tax for passenger cars would be almost 2.2 cents per mile, while the fee for larger vehicles such as pickups and vans would be almost 2.9 cents per mile.

The fee would be imposed on any vehicle traveling on roads maintained by the state, counties or towns.

The bill, sponsored by the Legislature’s Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee, is designed to offset shortfalls in funding for road repair and maintenance in the state.

According to a fiscal note accompanying the legislation, the fee would bring in about $136.5 million per year for distribution to the state, counties and towns. The cost to administer the program would be about $12.8 million per year, the note said.

Drivers would be required to record the miles they travel on Wyoming roads 

If approved, the bill would impose the road usage fee on top of the state’s existing fuel tax of 24 cents per gallon. It would also allow for an increase of road usage charges should fuel tax income decline.

“As revenue from fuel taxes continues to decline based on increased vehicle fuel mileage and conversion to electric vehicle technology, it is intended that the pay by mile system may eventually replace fuel taxes and be the main funding mechanism to ensure a safe and effective surface transportation system in Wyoming,” the bill said.

The fuel tax increase bill, sponsored by the Legislature’s Joint Revenue Interim Committee, would raise fuel taxes from 24 cents per gallon to 33 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel, an increase of 37.5%.

According to the fiscal note accompanying House Bill 26, the additional tax would raise $60.3 million, including $40.2 million for the state highway fund and $14.2 million for county road funds.

Also receiving some of the money would be city and town street and alley funds, $5.9 million, and the state’s parks, almost $1.2 million.

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Wyoming Legislature To Convene For One-day Virtual Session

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The 66th Wyoming Legislature will convene at Noon on Jan. 12 for a one-day virtual session to fulfill the requirements of the Wyoming Constitution.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s message will take place at 2 p.m. During the convening of the 2021 General Session, the Legislature will address all necessary business in accordance with the Wyoming Constitution, including but not limited to:

• Election of Legislative Leadership;
• Adopt rules for the 66th Legislature;
• Receive a message from Gov. Gordon.

A video livestream of the House and Senate proceedings will be available on the Legislature’s website at: www.wyoleg.gov. Gov. Gordon’s message will be livestreamed separately on Wyoming PBS’s YouTube channel at 2 p.m.

Members of the public are encouraged to view the proceedings online. The public may contact members of the Legislature directly using the contact information available on the Legislature’s website at: www.wyoleg.gov/Legislators.

Members of the 66th Legislature will be sworn in during the week of Jan. 4 and the morning of Jan. 12 prior to the Call to Order.

The Wyoming Legislature will resume the 2021 General Session at a later date.

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Gov Gordon Lowers Flag For Former Legislator Clark Smith

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Governor Mark Gordon has ordered the Wyoming State Flag be flown at half staff at the Capitol in Cheyenne and in Laramie County from sunrise to sunset on November 24, 2020 in honor of Clark A. Smith.

Mr. Smith served in the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1965. He passed away November 19.

Please note that this notice is only for the Wyoming State Flag and only at two locations in the state – at the Capitol Building and in Laramie County. Other flags should remain at full-staff.

The following is Smith’s obituary courtesy of Schrader, Aragon & Jacoby Funeral Home in Cheyenne.

Clark Arthur Smith, 95 of Cheyenne passed away peacefully at home with family by his side on November 19, 2020.

Clark was born in Pine Bluffs on January 8, 1925 to Ralph H. Smith and Bernice (Beatty) Smith . His grandparents, Hubert and Laura Burns Smith ( Laura Burns direct descendant to Robert Burns, the Scottish Poet who wrote “Auld Lang Syne”) moved his family from Kansas to homestead and ranch in Pine Bluffs.

Clark’s father, Ralph Smith, a rancher and champion Bronc Rider, rode in early Frontier Days and also broke polo horses for F.E. Warren.

While attending Cheyenne High, Clark was an all around talent in athletics, played jazz trombone, and started an aeronautical club winning many competitions.  He also was a Champion Rifle Marksman in ROTC -7th Region.

In 1943, Clark graduated midterm at 17. Received an appointment to NACA, at Langley Field, VA. NACA was a precurser to what is known as NASA today in Houston, TX.  He worked with aeronautical engineers designing WWII Fighter planes (P-51) and the XP63 which were flown in the biggest free Flight Wind tunnel.

 Clark was later selected by the Army Air Corp college training Flight Officer Program at Beloit College and became a Cadet Colonel.

As a WWII Army Air Corp trained single engine pilot, Clark was tagged a “hot pilot” because he liked flying acrobatics in the Stearman and A-6.

In1945 Clark, a cadet Colonel was honorably discharged while training Chinese pilots at Luke Airfare Base in Arizona.

After College at University of Wyoming and Beloit College, Clark played jazz trombone with the Wayne Morrison Big Band around the state. He courted

 Ann Dinneen (1947 Miss Frontier, and daughter of William J. Dinneen).  They married during Lent with special permission from Bishop Hartman in 1951.

That same year, Clark was called back into service for the Korean War, at the Northeast Air Command, stationed in St. Johns Newfoundland with his wife, Ann and first born son, Clark Jr.

Clark & Ann moved back to Cheyenne and opened Clark Smith Real Estate office. He served in the Wyoming Legislature and was appointed FHA Director.

Clark and Ann had seven children, Clark Jr., Timothy, Christopher, Paul, Amy, Annie and William. Later, Clark was offered a position to develop golf courses in Albuquerque, New Mexico and California including Pebble Beach. While living in California, he also owned Clark Smith Chevrolet in Martinez, CA. Later Clark and Ann became licensed brokers, owned and operated a Century- 21 Real Estate office in the Bay Area of California.

When Clark & Ann moved back to Cheyenne, they opened up some of the first Century 21 and ReMax franchises. They also started the multiple listing exchange and Real Estate Auction business for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Oil and Gas Leases.

Clark was involved in various civic organizations in CA & WY: Past President of Chamber of Commerce in Martinez, Director of Northern CA Board of Directors & Auctioneers Assoc.  In Wyoming: Past Director Greater Cheyenne Kiwanis Club, Past President Cheyenne Auto Dealers Assoc. and appointed State Representative of the Governors Committee for the employment of the handicap.

Clark is survived by children, Tim Smith (Sue), Chris Smith (Diane), Paul Smith, Amy Smith Meier (Scott), Annie Smith Jackson (Edward) and William Burns Smith; grandchildren, Casey, Katie, and Alisa; step grandchildren, Jack, Maggie, Caroline; Micheal, Patrick, Philip; and great grandchildren: Eliza, Levi, Elsie, Harrison and Wyatt; and many nieces and nephews.

He is preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Ann; and his son, Clark, Jr.

At 95, he still pulled out his trombone to play on special occasions. His favorite place to go was the Bunk House to hear the talented musicians and friends who always saluted him and thanked him for his service. Of course, his Saturday breakfast at the Country Club with son, Paul. He read profusely, biographies, journals, and history. He enjoyed working with his sons in Clark Smith & Sons Real Estate Business. Clark was honored to meet the Vice Commander General of 20th Air Force. He would get tears in his eyes when he talked of his family. He loved our Country and Wyoming as he exclaimed often in song “W-Y-O-M-I-N-G”.

Funeral liturgy will be held at St Mary’s Cathedral, 10:30 am Tuesday with Father August celebrating. Interment will be private.

Friends may contribute to Cheyenne Kiwanis Club, High School Jazz Bands , VFW, and Veterans of FE Warren, Old West Museum, Cheyenne Symphony, St Mary’s & Holy Trinity.

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One-Third Of Wyoming Legislators Unopposed In Re-Election Bid

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By Tim Monroe, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s primary election won’t be held until August 18, but a flurry of candidate filings for office Friday added to the size of the primary ballot.

Friday was the deadline for potential candidates to submit their paperwork to run for office.

As usual, a fairly large number of candidates for the state Legislature find themselves unopposed in their efforts to be sworn in for a new term. This happens when only one candidate files from either party.

In the Senate, five Republicans and three Democrats face no primary or general election opposition. In the House of Representatives, 19 Republicans are unopposed, as are seven Democrats.

On the national level, there is high interest in becoming a U.S. Senator to succeed retiring Senator Mike Enzi.

A review of the Secretary of State’s website shows 10 Republicans filed to run in the primary election, including two who do not live in Wyoming.

Star Roselli of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Devon Cade of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, both filed for the office held by Enzi for three terms, joining former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis on the candiate roster.

Others seeking the Republican nomination for the field are Bryan Miller of Sheridan, Donna Rice of Casper, John Holtz of Laramie, Josh Wheeler of Casper, Michael Kemler of Lander, R. Mark Armstrong of Centennial and Robert Short of Douglas.

Democrats on the primary ballot include former gubernatorial candidate Rex Wilde of Cheyenne, James Kirk DeBine of Evansville, Kenneth Casner of Elk Mountain, Merav Ben David of Laramie, Nathan Wendt of Jackson and Yana Ludwig of Laramie.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is being challenged in her primary bid by Blake Stanley of Banner.

Three Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination for Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as well, including South Dakota resident Carol Hafner. Other candidates are Carl Beach of Saratoga and Lynnette Grey Bull of Fort Washakie.

A review of filings for legislative seats turns up some interesting facts. In Senate District 18, held by Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, four Republicans filed for the office, but no Democrats did. Coe did not file for re-election.

A pair of long-serving state senators are facing primary challenges, Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette and Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper. The two, who have almost 60 years of legislative experience between them, each face one primary opponent.

This is the same situation in Senate District 28, held by Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, where challenger Ryan Jackson has filed for the Republican primary.

Other than the U. S. Senate and House races there are no other statewide contests. The five state elected officials are up in 2022.

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Public Can Watch Wyoming Special Legislative Session On YouTube

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Although only legislators, staff members and media will be allowed in legislative chambers during the Legislature’s upcoming special session, members of the public will be able to watch the proceedings online, according to state officials.

Gov. Mark Gordon has called the Legislature to a special session beginning Friday, primarily to determine how to spend $1.25 billion provided to the state through the federal coronavirus relief program.

The Legislative Service Office, which handles administrative duties for the Legislature, announced that while legislators will take part in the session through an online video meeting app, members of the public can watch all the debate at the Legislature’s YouTube site

Members of the public can express their concerns or raise questions by using the Legislature’s online hotline or by contacting their legislators directly.

The session is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday and resume at 8 a.m. Saturday if a second day of work is needed.

Four measures authorizing Gordon to spend the money and laying out specific guidelines for spending some of it have already been filed for legislative consideration. Legislative leaders have adopted special rules to allow those bills to be reviewed quickly in both chambers.

The Senate and House will begin with identical versions of the bills. After approval in one chamber, the bills will be sent to the other for a review of changes made. Any differences in the two versions of the bills will be resolved by a joint conference committee. The result will be one bill that will be submitted for final approval by both chambers.

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Wyoming Bipartisanship on Display in Wall Street Journal

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It’s one thing political observers say they don’t see much anymore: bipartisanship.

Judging by last year’s impeachment and even the reaction to this year’s coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to agree with that assessment.

But one example of the two parties actually getting along occurred just last week in a Wyoming-focused video published on the Wall Street Journal.

The news story entitled “How Women in Wyoming Are Fighting to Boost Representation” touches on a story residents of Wyoming read a lot about last year with the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

This story, however, takes a unique twist when following a Cheyenne Democrat, Brittney Wallesch, who has never run for office before and is challenging a Republican incumbent.

Wallesch is getting help from a Republican: former State Rep. Rosie Berger.

“You are a Republican. Brittney is a Democrat. Why are you, a Republican, helping a Democrat?” asked Journal reporter Shelby Holliday.

“Because I want commonsense, capable individuals who love their state to represent our people and to get the work done,” Berger said.  

“Brittney brings another perspective to the table. She brings a young perspective to the table,” she said.

Berger added that the decline in both the number of women and Democrats in the Legislature is “not healthy for any institution.”

More than a decade ago, Berger founded the“Leap Into Leadership” program — an organization which helps female candidates run for office. 

You’ll see bipartisanship here as well as this year’s conference was co-chaired by a bipartisan trio: Republican lawmakers Sen. Affie Ellis and Rep. Sue Wilson, both of Cheyenne, and Democrat Rep. Cathy Connolly of Laramie.

As for the 11 1/2 minute news clip, Wallesch put the video on her Facebook page and is, by far, the most popular post she’s added.

Regardless, what candidate — especially a Democratic candidate in a red, red state — wouldn’t love to have a positive, bipartisan Wall Street Journal video introduce people to his or her campaign?

Whether Wallesch wins or not, it’s a heck of a way to launch a campaign.

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The Press Must Be Allowed In The State Capitol For The Special Legislative Session

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Cowboy State Daily Editorial

Wyoming is heading into a historic special legislative session in a week. And the public needs to have someone in the Capitol to watch that history being made.

Wyoming’s Legislature will convene for a special session May 15, primarily to determine how to spend $1.25 billion in federal funds — taxpayer dollars — awarded the state as part of the coronavirus relief program.

In the interest of safety, most of the state’s lawmakers will take part in the session through a video meeting application. A few legislators will be at the Capitol in Cheyenne to conduct business in what has been called the “people’s house.”

But the people for whom the building is nicknamed, in another historic development, won’t be allowed to watch their elected officials in person. Legislative leaders have decided only lawmakers and select staff will be allowed in the building. The public will be able to watch the proceedings online.

But the public needs someone in that building watching the proceedings that aren’t broadcast, the hallway meetings that will inevitably take place, the conference room negotiations that determine the fate of important legislation. 

In short, reporters, the eyes and ears of the public, need to be allowed into the Capitol to watch this special session.

For centuries, reporters have been the “watchdogs for democracy,” paying attention to those who handle the public’s funds and wield great authority to manage governments on the public’s behalf. 

With more than $1 billion in taxpayer money on the line, it is important, now more than ever, that reporters continue to do that job.

With all due respect for the interests of safety, it must be noted that since journalism has existed, reporters have been putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure the public has a clear idea of what is going on. Wars, riots, civil upheaval, floods, earthquakes, bombings — reporters will always be found in the thick of it.

The historic nature of next week’s special session makes it imperative that Wyoming’s reporters be found there, too.

Reporters stand ready to abide by any social distancing guidelines that may be placed upon them in exchange for access to the Capitol. But access must be given if the public is to know what is happening in its house.

Perhaps James Madison put it best: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

Wyoming Special Session Set For May 15, Legislators Say

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legislators will meet in a little more than a week for a brief special session to address how to spend federal money given to the state to soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to several lawmakers.

The Legislature’s Management Council is to meet Friday to set the rules for the special session that legislators said will be held May 15.

“Special Session on the 15th,” Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, said in a post on his Facebook page. “Not sure if it will be some in the Capitol and the rest at home or what.”

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, confirmed the date of the session in an interview with the Cowboy State Daily.

Anthony Sara, a spokesman for the Legislative Service Office, said he could not confirm the dates of the special session until it is officially called by Gov. Mark Gordon through the issuing of a proclamation.

The bulk of the Legislature’s work will be determining how to use $1.25 billion in federal funds the state is to receive through the coronavirus relief act. Gov. Mark Gordon has proposed using most of the money to provide assistance to the state’s businesses 

Gordon also asked that part of the money be used to create a program within the Wyoming Community Development Authority to help renters who have been unable to work avoid eviction.

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Gov. Gordon Vetoes “Born Alive” Bill

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday vetoed a bill aimed at guaranteeing medical care for any child born alive after an attempted abortion.

The bill was one of four vetoed by the governor as he took action on the final 11 bills on his desk from the Legislature’s recent budget session.

The “Born alive infant” bill, Senate File 97, would require that doctors “shall take medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of an infant born alive” after an unsuccessful abortion.

The bill was approved in the House by a vote of 44-16 and in the Senate by a vote of 23-7.

But Gordon, in his veto message, said the legislation was unnecessary because existing law guarantees appropriate medical care.

“This bill will not do anything to improve on those laws which already exist,” he wrote.

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