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Committee approves bill setting out “Capitol Complex” area

in News

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s House will get a look at a bill that would create a four square-block area for planning future development in the state’s Capitol Complex.

The House Rules Committee on Thursday approved HB 149, which officially sets the boundaries of the area considered the “Capitol Complex” in Cheyenne. The bill is headed for the House for a review by the full body.

The bill would give the state Capitol Commission the authority to develop a master plan for the area, including construction, maintenance and restoration. The area already includes a number of state buildings and facilities, however, it also contains some private property.

The bill would give the Capitol Commission permission to only make plans for the area. 

The bill does not call for the creation of an area inside Cheyenne similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., said Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie.

“I do know there are members in leadership who eventually envision turning that into a small version of the mall in Washington and that woudl cut out traffic on (area) roads,” he said. “That’s not in the bill and that’s going to be a subject for heated discussion, I can imagine, in future legislatures.”

While the measure would have an impact on planning for a portion of Cheyenne, it is fitting that the state government has some say over what its facilities look like near the Capitol, said Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr.

“Really, the state Capitol belongs to the citizens of the state and while we talk about local control … I also believe that when it comes to the state Capitol, the citizens of the state of Wyoming should have a say,” she said.

Orr also noted that the bill would only give the state the authority to make plans for the area.

“It gives them planning ability,” she said. “It’s hard to plan for something if you don’t own it. This will allow for … planning well into the future.”

Bill providing bonus for good investment performance approved by Senate

in News
Pulling $100 bills from a wallet, ALT= money, economy, bills, investment

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would reward the state’s investment professionals for making decisions that boost the state’s revenue won final approval from the Senate in a unanimous vote on Thursday.

HB 222 would provide bonuses for investment professionals in the state treasurer’s office. The state’s top investment professional could double his annual salary of $250,000, while other bonuses would range from 25 percent to 75 percent of an investment official’s salary.

The bonuses would only kick in if the investments made by the officials did better than certain market benchmarks. And the bonuses would be paid out over three years — and would be forfeited if the employee left state government at any point during those three years.

The program seems like a good way to encourage wise decisions in the treasurer’s office, said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody.

“If you start telling somebody in there ‘You’re going to get rewarded when you help make good decisions,’ I think that makes a difference,” he said.

Gordon signs 19 measures into law

in News
Wyoming Legislature bills signed by Governor Gordon

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure creating a Wyoming National Guard museum in Cheyenne was among 19 signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon signed what had been HB 39 on Thursday, designating the historic National Guard armory in Cheyenne as the Wyoming National Guard museum.

The bills signed by Gordon were the second batch to come from the Legislature’s 2019 session. Others signed included:

HB 25, clarifying the credentials required by teachers handling virtual education classes;

HB 71, raising penalties for violation of equal pay provisions to $500, and,

HB 21, creating an “election readiness account” with federal funds to replace and maintain voting systems.

In Brief: Death penalty repeal killed in first Senate review

in Criminal justice/News

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would have repealed Wyoming’s death penalty failed to pass its first review by the full Senate on Thursday.

HB 145 would have made life without the possibility of parole the harshest penalty that could be handed down in a Wyoming criminal case. It died in the Senate on a vote of 12-18 in its review in “Committee of the Whole,” the first reading of a bill by the full body.

Proponents of the bill argued that the death penalty is too expensive for the state, given the large number of appeals usually surrounding such cases and the cost of housing death row inmates.

The bill cleared the House last week on a vote of 36-21 and won unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee before being rejected on the Senate floor.

Death penalty repeal headed to Senate floor

in Criminal justice/News

By Cowboy State Daily (updated: Feb. 13, 2019 7PM MT)

A proposed repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty is moving to the Senate floor for debate by the full body.

HB 145, already approved by the House, was passed on a 4-0 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. If approved in its Senate review, it would make life without parole the harshest penalty possible in Wyoming.

Testimony in support of the bill before the committee focused largely on the cost of death penalty cases due to the multiple appeals involved and the cost of housing death row inmates.

Others, however, noted that since the death penalty has been reinstated nationally, 164 death row inmates have had their penalties or convictions overturned.

Gary Drinkard, mistakenly held for five years on Alabama’s death row, said life without parole is a far worse prospect than the death penalty.

“You get to spend the rest of your life in there and it’s torment,” he said. “It’s torment every day. You’ve got to deal with idiots every day.”

Matt Redle, the former prosecuting attorney for Sheridan County, said the issue is not one of equal justice because there is no such thing in murder cases.

“No matter what that verdict is and no matter what that sentence is, (families) don’t get their loved one back,” he said.

‘Suffrage Day’ measure first from session signed into law

in News
A Grou of proud women wearing yellow rose lapels, ALT=Law declares Wyoming Women's Suffrage Day

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure setting aside a day to recognize Wyoming as the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote became the first bill of the Legislature’s 2019 session to be signed into law Wednesday.

Senate Joint Resolution 3, setting Dec. 10 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day, was the first of eight bills signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Wednesday.The date marks the day in 1869 when Territorial Gov. John Campbell signed the bill giving women the right to vote in Wyoming.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate.

Other measures signed into law by Gordon on Wednesday included: SF 11, moving back the deadline for the governor to submit a budget to legislators from Dec. 1 to the third Monday in November; SF 21, requiring candidates for elected office to list the addresses of their homes for the last five years on their applications for nomination or election, and SF 17, adding electronic records to the list of documents that county clerks must keep available for examination.

School safety bill awaiting House review

in Education/News

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure proposing a comprehensive safety and security plan for Wyoming’s schools is awaiting its first debate in front of the full House.

SF 64 would require the state’s schools and superintendent of public instruction go prepare safety and security guidelines for schools, along with staff training and drills to prepare for attacks by intruders.

Schools would also have to develop strategies for identifying students who could potentially engage in violent behavior and craft a system to alert officials when an attack on a school occurs.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said it is important to consider the issue of school safety comprehensively.

“When we really look at school safety and security comprehensively, we need to consider and act on the well being of every single student to make our schools safe,” she said.

Wyoming schools take Rachel’s Challenge: National anti-bullying program comes to state

in News

A national anti-bullying program founded in memory of one of the victims of the Columbine High School shooting was brought to a Cheyenne high school on Tuesday.

Rachel’s Challenge, created in honor of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, is based on the “Code of Ethics” she wrote a month before her death in the Columbine shooting of 1999.

Since 2001, Rachel’s family has offered the program to thousands of schools in 14 countries reaching 25 million people. The “challenge” has to do with following five points listed by Scott in her code of ethics: Look for the best in others, dream big, choose positive influences, speak with kindred spirits and start your own chain reaction.

Nate Rees, regional manager for Rachel’s Challenge, said the goal is to get students to agree to pursue the “calls to action.”

“We believe that if you can get to the student’s heart, that they’ll give you their head and they’ll give you their hands,” he said. “But it starts at the heart of the matter and that’s one of the things that Rachel’s story is able to do almost 20 years later.”

Jessica Gerwig, a Cheyenne East High School teacher involved in bringing the program to the school, said she was impressed with the ideas forwarded by Rachel’s Challenge.

“I think that the idea of spreading kindness and positivity is just so important,” she said.

The program is to be offered at high schools in Lyman and Mountain View next week.

Democrats call for Hutchings’ resignation; Senate promises probe

in News

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Democratic Party on Monday demanded the resignation of a state senator criticized for her comments to a group of students.

As the state Senate promised a thorough investigation into the complaints lodged against Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, a leading House Republican noted that Hutchings has the right to express her opinion.

In a news release, Joe Barbuto, Democratic Party chairman, called for Hutchings to resign because of her comments made to Cheyenne Central High School students Feb. 1.

The 10 students, members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, asked Hutchings to discuss House Bill 230, a bill that would prohibit employees from being fired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The bill died in the House.

Hutchings is alleged to have told the students: “If my sexual orientation was to have sex with all of the men in there and I had sex with all of the women in there and then they brought their children and I had sex with all of them and then brought their dogs in and I had sex with them, should I be protected for my sexual orientation?”

Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, reported the students interpreted the comments to compare homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia.

Hutchings on Monday declined requests for an interview with Cowboy State Daily.

Barbuto called Hutchings’ comments, first reported by Wyoming Equality, “indefensible, insensitive and repugnant” and said her decision to share her thoughts with the high school students at the Legislature “shows a clear lack of good judgment.”

“Senate District 5 deserves a senator who they can trust to behave and speak in a manner that upholds the dignity of the office and reflects an understanding that every person deserves to be treated with respect,” he said. “Lynn Hutchings is now incapable of providing that level of representation. She must resign immediately.”

Wyoming Equality reported the incident in a letter to Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper. The group said the encounter so disturbed the high school students that they “quickly removed themselves from the Jonah Business Center to process this interaction and provide a supportive space for one another.”

Wyoming Equality said some of the students were “deeply hurt and disturbed.”

While no formal complaint had been filed as of Monday afternoon, the Senate’s Republican leadership pledged to look into the incident.

“In the coming days, we will continue through the process designed to properly vet and address complaints filed against members,” Perkins, Majority Floor Leader Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said in a joint news release. “Both Sen. Hutchings and these students deserve fair consideration and respect as we work to address this matter.”

However, asking for Hutchings’ resignation at this point is premature, said. Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, the House majority whip.

“Nobody’s heard from Sen. Hutchings in this regard,” he said. “If Sen. Hutchings comes out and gives a statement that she said those things, first of all, she’s got First Amendment rights. If she did say those things, I’d say it was not classy, but calling for her resignation is definitely premature.”

If the statements were made, an apology is in order, Lindholm said.

“If it’s true, I would definitely think an apology … should happen,” he said. “I think about my kids, if somebody said something like that to my kids, I wouldn’t be OK with that.”

But Nina Hebert, director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said the party wants Hutchings’ resignation.

“It is the position of the Chairman Barbuto, as well as the Democratic Party, that Sen. Hutchings should bring whatever dignity she can back to the office she holds by immediately offering her resignation,” she said.

College, city, state help workers displaced by Western Sugar closure

in Agriculture/Business/News
A forklift loading sugar into semi trailer, ALT=Western Sugar layoffs hit 200 Torrington workers

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

City, state and educational institutions are stepping up to help the almost 200 Western Sugar Cooperative employees in Torringon who will soon be out of work with the closure of the cooperative’s plant there.

“We’ve done a rapid response already, and we have one planned in mid-March,” said Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Torrington Center Manager Gilbert Servantez. “(A rapid response is) a core team that meets with individuals that are going to be laid off and lets them know what services we can provide.”

As first reported by the Torrington Telegram, Western Sugar recently announced they planned to layoff 193 employees from the Torrington facility by mid-March. The layoffs are predicted to be permanent, and Western Sugar attributed the workforce reduction to evolving business needs, the Telegram reported.

Many of the employees at the plant are seasonal. However, Western Sugar would not respond to requests for additional information or comment.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said the news of the layoffs was not surprising, because Western Sugar announced a coming round of layoffs in 2016, but the timing of the move is less than ideal.

“Western Sugar is not our only problem — just this weekend we had a major fire downtown,” Adams said, explaining no one was hurt, but a major business was shut down. “In the last year, we also heard the South Morrill yards, a Union Pacific engine repair facility, was closing. We had quite a few people working at that facility.”

In office for just more than a month, Adams said he’s got a lot on his plate, but he’s not going to let that stop the city from pitching in to help the soon-to-be laid off Western Sugar employees.

“We’re working directly with (Servantez) on all the things he’s trying to do,” the mayor said. “All my departments have been told to consider Western Sugar people who are slated to lose their jobs when an opening comes up.”

As part of the rapid response core team, Adams said the city is also working with the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation — Wyoming’s only economic development organization funded by an optional local sales tax — to explore economic effects the layoffs might have on the area and offer dislocated employees opportunities for opening new businesses. The Goshen County Economic Development Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

Servantez said another key member of the rapid response team was WDWS unemployment insurance staff.

“That was probably one of the most important core partners,” he said. “There was a lot of questions regarding unemployment insurance.”

Some of the workers could also be eligible for WDWS dislocated worker funding, Servantez added.

“When a business closes down such as Western Sugar, and there is no other place for the workers to go in regards to their skill sets, they qualify for dislocated worker funding,” he said, explaining the money would be in addition to the employees’ unemployment payments. “They do have up to $6,500 dollars that is available to them for whatever it is they want to do after their employment ends.”

One of the challenges of the Western Sugar layoffs is they haven’t happened yet, Servantez said, so determining what programs and training opportunities could best serve the people affected is on hold until after March.

At Eastern Wyoming College, Vice President for Student Services Roger Humphrey said the school is reaching out to Western Sugar employees with information about high school diploma equivalency courses, single-semester certificate programs and other post-secondary training opportunities.

“We’re hosting a job expo scheduled for Feb. 13, and we encourage those displaced workers to attend,” Humphrey said. “We’ll have 20 employers from the around the region in attendance. We’re also offering seminars on employee culture and interviewing techniques.”

The college is also encouraging the Western Sugar employees to enroll for summer and fall courses.

“We’ve went out twice during shift changes (at Western Sugar) and talked about opportunities for financial aid to attend and how to re-enroll in the school,” Humphrey said. “We also outlined all the one-semester degrees and certificates that could potentially put them right into the job market.”

Servantez said it would be difficult for Goshen County to retain all the workers, but WDWS has prioritized finding former Western Sugar employees work as close to home as possible.

“It’s important that our community knows there are some options for these folks — training options and post-secondary options,” he said. “Our goal going forward is to find them work, we will do what we can to find them work here, but the reality is some might need to move to find work.”

With help from the economic development corporation, Adams said new jobs could soon be available in Goshen County as Torrington and the surrounding area push for tourism growth.

“Economic development is rebranding and trying to attract more tourism,” he explained. “We’re on the (U.S.) Highway 26 to Yellowstone (National Park), we’re on (U.S.) Highway 85 to Devil’s Tower — there’s things looking to the future that are positive, and that hopefully we can build on.”

Whatever the path forward may be for Torrington and the Western Sugar employees, Adams said they would work on it together.

“I don’t know that it will be rather quickly, but we will overcome this,” he said.

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