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Drunken boating bill passes first Senate reading

in News/Recreation
Close up of boat docked in marina, ALT=Boating, Boating under the influence
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would make the limits for boating while intoxicated the same as those for driving while intoxicated won initial approve in the Senate on Friday.

SF 40 would reduce the blood-alcohol limit for operating a motorboat from 0.1 percent to 0.08 percent, the same limit in place for driving a vehicle.

Sponsor Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, said her intent was to put some consistency into state law.

“I think it’s just a consistency issue as well as a safety issue for the citizens in the state,” she said.

 The bill will receive its second Senate review on Monday.

Personal income tax dies, corporate tax moves ahead

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Two bills proposing Wyoming’s first income taxes met with different fates on Friday in Wyoming’s House.

One bill proposing an income tax on individuals died in the House Revenue Committee, while another proposing a 7 percent tax on large out-of-state retailers doing business in Wyoming won approval in its final House review.

The individual tax bill, HB 233, would have imposed a 4 percent income tax on those making more than $200,000 per year.

Sponsor Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said she suggested the measure as a way to begin a discussion on a possible statewide income tax, especially given recommendations to remove the state’s sales tax exemption on food.

“Who should be paying that extra amount?” she said. “Is it the most vulnerable among us? Or is it those with the means to do so? So I want that conversation out there.”

Connolly said the bill would have raised $200 million a year for education.

The corporate tax bill, HB220, was moved out of the House on a vote of 44-14.

Also called the “National Retail Fairness Act,” the measure would impose a 7 percent income tax on large businesses whose headquarters are in other states.

Sponsors of the bill argue that large retailers, such as WalMart, charge the same for their products in Wyoming as they do in states with income taxes, such as Nebraska. Since the price of the income tax is built into the price of the product, that means Wyoming residents are helping to pay the income taxes charged in other states, backers argued.

Wyoming Senate Update: Meat labeling, health cost study, drunken boating bills win approval

in News
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Wyoming’s Senate wrapped up its week with a flurry of activity Friday, approving bills addressing meat labeling, a statewide study of health care costs and drunken boating.

SF 68 would require that only meat from livestock or poultry could be labeled as meat. The measure would also require that any meat not made from a harvested animal — such as a vegetable-based product — would have to be labeled as “imitation food.” The bill won final approval from the Senate on a vote of 25-3 and was sent to the House for its review.

Backers of SF 67 are seeking a study of Wyoming’s health care costs because national figures show the average cost to treat a patient in Wyoming is $4,000, compared to the national average of $3,000. The bill was approved in its first review by the full body on Friday and will be heard in its second reading Monday.

Finally, a measure that would impose the same standards on boating while drunk as are in place for driving while intoxicated was also approved in its first reading. SF 40 would set the blood-alcohol limit for operating a boat at 0.08 percent — the same limit in place for driving a car. For years, the boating standard has been set at 0.1 percent.

Casper to host ‘Global Game Jam’ event

in News/Technology
Man playing computer games in a gaming forum, ALT=Global Gaming jam
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By Brady Brinton

Wyoming game designers will come together in Casper this weekend to collaborate on new video game creations as part of a national “Global Game Jam.”

During the event, to begin Friday evening at the Wyoming Technology Business Center, programmers and designers of all skill levels will collaborate to create playable video games.

What exactly is a Game Jam? A Game Jam is a two-day session where people collaborate together to create playable video games. Attendees will form groups to program the code, design the art and graphics, fashion a musical score, create sound effects and architect the gameplay. The objective is two part; create a functional and emersible game, and to create synergy and provide experience in the game design field.

At the same time participants are working in Casper, others will be working at hundreds of locations around the world.

According to organizers, the event encourages people with all kinds of backgrounds to participate and contribute to the global spread of game development and creativity.

Today at the Wyoming Legislature: Party switching, tax break bills die in House

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

Bills on party switching, daylight savings time and a property tax exemption for seniors were all on the table at the Wyoming Legislature on Thursday.

A bill that would have limited when voters can change their party affiliations, SF 32, was killed for a second time by the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

The committee on Wednesday refused to send the bill to the Senate for a review by the full body. But committee Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said there was interest in the Senate in seeing the bill, so he asked committee members to reconsider their vote Thursday. Members voted again not to send the bill forward.

The bill would have specified voters could only switch party affiliation before the filing period for candidates for office in early May. Two more bills aimed at putting similar restrictions in place are pending in both the Senate and House

House members killed by a vote of 29-27 a bill that would have removed the names of public employees from published lists of what counties and cities pay their employees. Current law requires that the names, positions and salaries of public employees be published.

A measure that would put Wyoming on daylight savings time year-round won approval in its “Committee of the Whole” review in the House. HB 14 will receive its second review in the House on Friday.

However, representatives voted 37-20 to kill a vote that would have granted property tax exemptions for some over the age of 65. HB 128 would have made seniors exempt from property taxes if they had owned their home for at least three years.

Bill to impose tax on out-of-state companies headed for final House reading

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

A corporate income tax could be seen in Wyoming under a bill that cleared its second vote in the House on Thursday.

Representatives voted in favor of HB 220 — also called the National Retail Fairness Act — to send it to a third and final House reading on Friday.

The bill would impose a 7 percent tax on companies that do business in Wyoming but are headquartered in other states, raising an estimated $45 million a year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Obermueller R-Casper, said Wyoming residents pay the same for items from large retailers, such as WalMart, as residents of Nebraska, which has an income tax. Because the income tax is built into the price of items, Wyoming residents are helping to pay Nebraska’s income tax, he said.

“We’re saying we’re paying the taxes in, we want the taxes back to build our roads and schools, not yours,” he said.

But Chris Brown, director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said the tax could hurt the state’s hospitality industry.

He also questioned the speed with which the bill is moving through the legislative process, saying retail and hosptality industry representatives have not had chance to thoroughly review it.

The bill was introduced on Tuesday, was cleared in committee on Wednesday and went through its second reading Thursday.

“That’s unfortunate because it’s been limiting the ability for retail to get its grips around it and weigh in on it accurately,” he said.

Public records bill clears Senate committee

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would require state agencies to release public documents within a specific period of time cleared a Senate committee on Thursday after the original version of the bill was almost entirely replaced.

SF 57 won unanimous approval from the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee for debate in front of the full Senate.As approved by the committee, the bill would require government agencies to release public documents within 30 days of their request. Currently, there is no deadline for the release of documents.

The bill would also create the position of “transparency ombudsman” in the governor’s office to mediate any conflicts between people asking for documents and government agencies.

Committee members had spent most of the interim developing a measure which would have required the release of documents within 10 days of a request and levied criminal penalties against government employees who failed to comply with the law.

However, the bill was changed in the face of testimony from a number of state and local government officials that they would be unable to meet the 10-day deadline if they received requests for large numbers of documents. State agency officials said they sometimes receive requests for many thousands of documents.

The new version of the bill also contains no criminal penalties.

Committee members agreed the issue of public documents would have to be looked at going forward, but most also agreed that the changes proposed in the bill would be a good first step.

“There are a lot of things this bill doesn’t do,” said committee Chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper. “Somehow, we’re going to have to get our arms around these massive requests.”

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, argued more work might be needed to craft an acceptable law.

“Allow this topic to be worked through the interim,” she said. “I believe we can do better to satisfy all the needs in the room.”

But Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, said he thought the change was needed immediately.“It’s not perfect, but it’s a great improvement,” he said.

The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions approved SF 57 for debate by the full Senate on a unanimous vote. The bill would require public agencies to release public documents no later than 30 days after they are requested. It would also create a “transparency ombudsman” to mitigate conflicts in document issues.

Health care study bill approved by committee

in News
Emergency rooom sign, ALT=Health care
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By Cowboy State Daily

An effort to determine the cause of Wyoming’s high health care costs won approval Wednesday from a Senate committee.

The Senate’s Labor, Health and Social Services Committee approved SF 67 on a vote of 4-1, sending it to the Senate for debate by the full body.

The bill would direct the governor’s office to study Wyoming’s health care system to determine why the costs to patients are higher than the national average.

Senator Charlie Scott said the Labor Committee, which he chairs, identified a dozen possible reasons why Wyoming hospitals charge their patients an average of $4,000 for care compared to the national average of $3,000.

“We hope that we’ll find some that we can fix and that will help bring our health care costs down, because they’re a problem for all of us,” he said.

The study would also address allegations that the federal Medicare system pays health care providers less for their services than what those services cost.

Legislature looks at shift in meeting schedule

in News
Calendar with date circled, ALT=meeting schedule
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature launched a review of its own schedule Wednesday as a House committee approved a possible change in the way lawmakers meet.

Wyoming’s legislators now meet for 40 days one year and 20 days the next — for a total of no more than 60 days every two years. The shorter session is dedicated largely to drafting and approving a budget for the state.

Under HJR 6, proposed by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, the Legislature could decide on its own how to divide those 60 days — perhaps 30 days one year and 30 days the next.

The biggest change would be that the short session now designated as the “budget” session would be part of a “regular” session. During a budget session, all bills not related to the budget have to be approved for debate by two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature. The change would eliminate that requirement.

Zwonitzer said that requirement for a two-thirds majority for introduction costs the Legislature valuable time.“We spend the first week of every budget session just getting those two-thirds introduction votes and that kills 20 or 30 bills,” he said. “If we didn’t have to do that two-thirds process, we could get through a lot more legislation, spend more time and effort on the budget.”

Zwonitzer’s bill proposes a change to Wyoming’s constitution. As such, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of the state’s Senate and House before it could be submitted to the state’s voters for their approval.

Gun-free zone repeal dies in committee

in News
Anthony Bouchard being interviewed on camera
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have eliminated Wyoming’s “gun-free zones” was killed by a Senate committee on Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 to kill SF 75, proposed by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne.

The bill would have eliminated areas where concealed weapons are not allowed, such as government buildings and school campuses.

Bouchard said he tried unsuccessfully to get his bill moved to the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he believed it stood a better chance of approval.

“I kind of knew if it went into (the Judiciary) Committee, it would die,” he said.

A similar bill, HB 183, is awaiting introduction in the House.

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