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Hathaway scholarship for selected out-of-state students headed for final review

in News/Education
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By Cowboy State Daily

Selected graduates of out-of-state high schools would be able to apply a state Hathaway Scholarship under a bill approved in its second reading in the House on Wednesday.

Representatives voted to send HB 133 on for a third and final House review.Supporters including Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, said the program would be a good way to lure students from other states to Wyoming.

“We want to try to reach out and grab some of the better students, or real smart students … in the surrounding states,” he said.

The bill would allow two students from each state that shares a border with Wyoming to apply for the scholarship each year. The winners of the “Hathaway expands Wyoming” scholarships would be selected by a committee made up of the governor, superintendent of public instruction, president of the University of Wyoming and the director of the Wyoming Community College Commission and would receive funding for up to four years of college.

For every four semesters of scholarship funds provided, recipients would have to agree to either work in Wyoming for one year or attend graduate school at the University of Wyoming for one year.

In Brief: Plan to prohibit sanctuary cities dies in House

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposal to bar Wyoming’s cities and counties from declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants was killed in Wyoming’s House on Wednesday.

HB 151 would have withheld state money and state-administered federal money from any local government that adopted an ordinance to keep its employees from discussing immigration issues with federal agencies.

The bill was narrowly defeated in its first reading in the House, with 36 representatives voting to kill it and 22 voting to move it to a second reading.

Harsher animal cruelty penalties win committee approval

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would increase the penalties for animal cruelty won approval from a House committee Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to send HB 235 to the House floor for debate by all representatives.

The bill would make it a crime for anyone to knowingly or intentionally hurt an animal. A violation of the law would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. However, a second conviction would be a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Britney Wallesch, executive director and founder of the Black Dog Animal Rescue, said without the possibility of charging someone with a felony, Wyoming lags behind other states in laws designed to prevent animal cruelty.

“Without felony charges, that puts us at the bottom in terms of protections for animals across the country,” she said.

The bill would also make it a crime to stage an exhibition of any kind of animals fighting and would require the state Board of Veterinary Medicine to create standards for the euthanization of animals and regulate those who perform the euthanization.

Man freed from prison says life in prison preferable sentence for killer

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By Cowboy State Daily

The death penalty is not the best way to punish a killer for his crimes, according to a man whose murder conviction and death penalty were overturned in 2004.

Randy Steidl, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in the 1986 death of a couple, was at the Legislature this week to lobby in favor of SF 145, which would repeal the state’s death penalty and make life without the possibility of parole the state’s harshest criminal penalty.

Steidl said a lifetime of incarceration is a preferable punishment for a convicted murderer.“If you really want to punish a vicious killer, you put them in a cage for the rest of their life to think about the crimes they committed,” he said. “If they don’t repent to their God, then when they die, they burn in Hell. That’s justice.”

The House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee voted 5-4 last week to send the bill to the House floor for debate by the full body. It is on the House’s “General File,” a list of bills waiting for their first full review.

Health care study bill heads for final Senate reading

in News/Health care
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A final Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday on a bill that would launch a study into the cost of health care in Wyoming.

SF 67 was approved in its second Senate reading on Monday. The bill calls for  study to determine why Wyoming’s health care costs are higher than the national average.

According to bill sponsors, Wyoming’s hospitals charge patients about $4,000 per day, compared to the national average of $3,000 per day. The bill identifies about a dozen possible reasons for the disparity to be examined.

Community Colleges could offer four-year degrees under bill

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Wyoming’s community colleges may be offering 4-year degrees in the future under legislation approved in its second reading in Wyoming’s Senate on Monday.

SF 111 would allow all seven of Wyoming’s community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in applied science. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said the program would give vocational and technical students a higher level of training.

“What that looks like on the ground is really … an individual who may have an associate’s degree in welding or some other vocational education like electricians to get an additional next-level step of educational opportunity, by understanding legal principals that may apply or owning their own shops or businesses, that kind of degree programming,” she said.

The University of Wyoming is opposing the bill, largely because of concerns it would encroach on the university’s mission of higher education and research.

The bill is to be read a third time Tuesday. If approved, it will be sent to the House for its review.

Representative seeks cut in coal taxes

in News/Taxes
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By Cowboy State Daily

A state representative is trying to bring coal taxes more in line with those assessed against oil and gas.

Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, is proposing a cut in coal severance taxes from 7 percent to 6.5 percent, a reduction he said was warranted given the fact the coal industry has paid the state almost $1.2 billion in taxes in the last five years.

Hallinan said a 6.5 percent tax rate would bring coal closer to the 6 percent severance tax assessed on oil and gas.

“I saw this a an equity issue and a way we could strengthen the coal industry in my community,” he said.

The reduction would cut Wyoming’s severance tax income by an estimated $13.5 million per year, according to Legislative Service Office estimates.

Hallinan’s bill, HB 167, is awaiting a review from the House Revenue Committee.

Tobacco tax dies in House committee

in News/Taxes
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A measure that would have boosted taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products was killed in a House committee on Monday.

The House Revenue Committee voted 5-4 to keep HB 218 from reaching the House floor The bill would have increased cigarette taxes by $1 per pack, from 60 cents to $1.60.

The measure was one of a number of bills introduced this session aimed at raising tax revenues. 

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the House Revenue Committee, said the bills represent ways legislators are looking at avoiding a state budget deficit moving forward.

“Three years ago after the financial crisis hit Wyoming, we were still in crisis mode, tryng to see how far down we were going to go,” he said. “Now that we’ve stabilized, it’s time to say ‘How are we going to fix this decrease.’ We’re $350 million still in deficit and so that’s why you’re seeing a lot of tax bills this session. It’s to say long-term moving forward, how do we make sure we have a balanced budget?”

Bipartisan legislation introduced to delay health insurance tax hike

in News/Health care
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s costly health insurance premiums can make it difficult for independent businesses to provide policies for employees, a National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) spokesperson said.

“Premiums are not decreasing — they’re increasing, and they have been for years,” said Tony Gagliardi, the NFIB state director for Wyoming and Colorado. “It makes it harder and harder for small employers to continue to provide the benefits for their employees.”

As a result, Gagliardi is welcoming a move proposed by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and some of his colleagues to delay implementation of a tax on health care premiums created by the Affordable Care Act.

Wyoming Department of Insurance Senior Health Policy Analyst Denise Burke said the majority of Wyoming residents rely on health benefits provided by employers.

“We have a very high percentage of Wyoming residents who receive their insurance from their employer,” Burke said. “It’s about 59 percent. That’s above the national average.”

If the federal Health Insurance Tax takes effect as planned in 2020, anyone paying insurance premiums, including Wyoming’s employers, will see a jump in premium costs.

On Wednesday, Barrasso joined a bipartisan group of legislators trying to ensure health insurance premiums don’t jump up in 2020.Barrasso and Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, Doug Jones, D-Alabama, Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, introduced the Health Insurance Tax Relief Act to provide a two-year delay of the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) created by the Affordable Care Act, a news release from Barrasso’s office says.

If the delay fails, the tax could increase premiums by about 2 percent or $196 per person in the individual market, $479 per family in the small-group market, $458 per family in the large-group market and $157 for Medicaid premiums on average nationwide, the news release says.

“We’re very pleased and thanked Sen. Barrasso for pushing against HIT,” Gagliardi said. “Should that tax be implemented, it will be passed on to the policy holders.”

The NFIB is a non-profit organization, which represents small businesses in Washington, D.C., and each of the 50 state capitols. It was created 75 years ago and boasts approximately 325,000 members across the U.S. Gagliardi said the organization has been active in Wyoming for decades and represents about 2,300 small business owners throughout the state.

“Increased health insurance premiums themselves may not affect a business opening or closing,” he said. “It does have a workforce effect. Oftentimes, the inability of an employer to offer good health insurance affects their ability to attract good employees.”

Burke said Wyoming’s health insurance premiums are the second costliest in the nation, with only Iowa ranking more costly. 

“Across the board, rural health insurance is more expensive,” she explained. “Wyoming has higher than the national average smoking rate and a higher than average elder population, and all of those contribute.”

Currently, tax on premiums offered within the state is set at 3 percent, Burke added. Estimates within her department place the rate of Wyoming’s uninsured residents between 13-18 percent, and she said the national average was about 13 percent.

“Anecdotally, we are thinking the people who are leaving the market are the young and the healthy,” Burke said. “The way insurance works is balancing the cost pool between the healthy and the unhealthy, so without healthy people in the pool, the cost will go up.”

If the HIT takes effect in 2020, Gagliardi said the potential 2 percent increase to premiums could have serious ramifications for Wyoming’s workforce.

“The HIT tax could be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Weekly wrap: Corporate income tax moves ahead, party switch bill dead

in News
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By Cowboy State Daily

A thumbs up for income taxes on large companies and putting Wyoming permanently on daylight savings time, a thumbs down for a personal income tax in the Legislature this week.

Lawmakers wrapped up their third week of action Friday after having taken care of a number of bills, including HB 233, which would have imposed a 4 percent income tax on people making more than $200,000 a year. The bill died in the House Revenue Committee, but another, imposing a 4 percent income tax on large retailers with headquarters outside of Wyoming, won final approval in the House. HB 220, also called the National Retail Fairness act, now heads to the Senate for review.

A bill that would have put restrictions on when voters can change their party affiliation was also killed this week, dying in the Senate Corporations Committee. SF 32 would have required people changing party affiliation to do so before candiates begin filing for office in May. Two similar bills are awaiting review in the House and Senate.

Also killed this week was a bill aimed at exempting some senior citizens from property taxes. HB 128 would have granted an exemption to seniors who have owned their homes for at least three years.

Meanwhile, a bill to declare Dec. 10 2019 as “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Day” cleared the Senate with no opposition. SJ 3 now moves to the House for its review.

In addition, a bill keeping Wyoming on daylight savings time year-round won approval in its second House vote.

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