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Felony animal cruelty bill passes House

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would give Wyoming its first chance to charge someone with a felony if they repeatedly abuse animals cleared the House on Wednesday.

HB 235 would create Wyoming’s first charge of felony animal abuse. While a conviction of animal abuse once would be a misdemeanor, any subsequent convictions would be felonies punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. It won approval on its final House review on a vote of 41-18.

Wyoming has never had a felony charge for animal cruelty, so even if people were found guilty of multiple counts or convicted multiple times, the harshest penalty they could face would be for a misdemeanor violation punishable by up to six months in jail.

The House vote sends the bill to the Senate for its consideration.

Bill to change legislative sessions clears House

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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposed change to Wyoming’s longstanding practice of dividing its legislative sessions into “budget” and “general” sessions passed the House on Wednesday.

HJ 6, proposing an amendment to Wyoming’s Constitution, was approved by a vote of 42-16, sending it to the Senate for review.

Currently, on even-numbered years, 20-day budget sessions are held to approve a budget for the next two years. On odd-numbered years, general sessions are held to address other issues.

If approved by the Legislature and then by voters, the measure would continue to limit Wyoming’s Legislature to meeting 60 days every two years. However, there would no longer be a budget or general session and no limit on how long legislators could meet during those sessions. For instance, one year’s session might last 25 days and the next year’s might run 35.

The change is seen as a way to make it easier to introduce bills during what are now budget sessions. During those sessions, any bill not dealing with the budget must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate or House to even be introduced and considered by a committee.

Supporters of the measure maintain the Legislature spend too much time on bill introductions during those budget sessions.

In Brief: Bill calling for grizzly bear hunting clears House committee

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would authorize the state Department of Game and Fish to set a grizzly hunting season cleared a House committee Wednesday.

The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee voted to send SF 93 to the full House for debate.

The bill is a response to a federal judge’s decision in September to block a grizzly bear hunt. The hunt was set by the Game and Fish Department after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the grizzly population in and around Yellowstone National Park to have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the Endangered Species List. The federal judge ruled that action was improper. The Fish and Wildlife Service, joined by Wyoming and other groups, is appealing that decision.

SF 93 would allow the Game and Fish Department to set up a grizzly hunt if it determines such a hunt to be beneficial to Wyoming’s wildlife and necessary to protect the safety of its citizens and workers.

The bill notes that federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act are to be administered by the federal government in cooperation with state agencies and adds that the judge’s ruling prevents that from happening.

Cheyenne vet named winner of Rotary award

in News/Agriculture
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By Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne veterinarian was named the winner of the Cheyenne Rotary Club’s agricultural recognition award on Wednesday.

Dr. Gary Norwood, a veterinarian since 1981, owns Frontier Veterinary Clinic, one of the few vet clinics in Laramie County that treats large animals.

“Where I grew up, we were raised with only mixed practitioners, so the veterinarian would do  both small and large,” he said. And that was what I based my goals on when I was 7 years old and decided I wanted to be a veterinarian.”

Norwood said Wyoming farmers and ranchers provide a quality of care for their animals that is at the highest possible level.

Representatives approve their version of party switching bill

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Wyoming party switching bill
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By Cowboy State Daily

One of the two measures aimed at limiting when voters can change their party affiliation won final approval from the House on Wednesday.

HB 106 was approved in a vote of 41-18, send the bill to the Senate for its review.

The bill would make voters who want to switch their party affiliations do so no later than two weeks before a primary election. It would also eliminate the option for voters to switch parties on the day of a primary election.

A Senate version of the bill won its final Senate approval on Tuesday. While the bills are similar, SF 160 has different deadlines for party switching — it would have to be done at least two weeks before the Secretary of State’s office sends absentee ballots for a primary election to voters. Those ballots are usually sent in mid-June.

Performance compensation for investment professionals examined

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By Cowboy State Daily

A plan to reward the people who invest the state’s money for good choices is headed for the Senate floor.

HB 222 was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday on a vote of 5-0 after winning the final approval of the House last week on a vote of 54-4.

The bill would award investment professionals inside the state Treasurer’s office if the investments they select meet certain benchmarks for performance.

Patrick Fleming, the state’s chief investment officer, said the the state needs to pay its investment professionals more because they are paid less than people in similar jobs in most other states.

“It’s very difficult with Wyoming in some of the tough times we’re having right now to increase salaries,” he said. “But what (legislators) said was ‘If you could beat the benchmark, then potentially we could give you a bonus.’”

Benchmarks for investment performance would be set by overall market performance.

Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, a supporter of the bill, said if the state’s investment professionals perform well, the state might be able to reduce the fees it pays to outside money managers.

In addition, Landen said, the bonuses might help keep high-quality employees in the state.

“How do we keep our investment officers longer so that we can develop that expertise and take good care of the state’s money and therefore cut into the $60 million or $80 million that we spend every year having somebody else manage our money?” he said.

Daylight Savings Time bill clears Senate committee

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill to keep Wyoming on Daylight Savings Time throughout the year has been approved by a Senate committee and will next be reviewed by the full body.

HB 14 was unanimously approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday despite arguments that such a measure would put Wyoming out-of-step with neighboring states.

Before the change can take effect, three neighboring states must agree to the change as well. Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said two of those three states must be Colorado and Montana, otherwise, it would cause considerable confusion in doing business.

Scott compared the situation to one he said existed in Casper in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when part of the city switched to Daylight Savings Time and the rest did not.

“And if you made an appoitment, you had to ask which time it was because people in some businesses stayed on one time and other changed and there was total confusion,” he said.

Opponents have also argued that the annual switch between Daylight Savings and Standard times help reduce energy use, but supporters of the bill disagreed.

“There is no real reason and it doesn’t make any sense any more,” said Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “So let’s move our state over to (Daylight Savings) time and make it permanent year-round.”

Daylight Savings Time was adopted in the United States during both World Wars I and II, but there was no standardized system for changing the clocks until 1966.

The bill is awaiting its first review in the full Senate.

Bill load reduced by more than 200 since start of session

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Wyoming State Senate, senators at work
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A controversial measure making it a crime to interfere with the operation of “critical infrastructure” such as oil wells was one of more than two dozen to die in the Legislature on Monday without being reviewed by either the full House or Senate.

HB 10 was among 25 bills to fail to make it off of the “General File,” the list of bills reviewed by committee and sent to the House or Senate for review by the full body.

In addition, another 189 bills either died in committee or somewhere else along the legislative path as the Legislature ended the first half of its general session.

The Legislature is in the midst of what is referred to as the “crossover” portion of its session, when bills approved by the House are sent to the Senate for review and vice versa. Only after clearing both chambers will any bill become a law.

HB 10 was one of 22 bills reviewed and approved by committees and then placed on the General File in the House, only to die at the end of business Monday. In the Senate, three bills suffered the same fate.

HB 10 was defended by supporters as a measure to protect the continued operations of important facilities, while opponents maintained it was an attempt to prevent protestors from expressing concerns about such facilities.

SF 141 suffered a similar fate. That bill would have required the state Senate to confirm gubernatorial appointments to the state Judicial Nominating Commission.

More bills died on a negative vote by the “Committee of the Whole,” the official title used when either the full Senate or House gets their first review of a bill.

HB 271, making arbitration between firefighters and cities non-binding, HB 273, setting the state’s minimum wage at $8.50 per hour, and HB 284, creating a plan to regulate “video skill games,” all died in votes by the House Committee of the Whole on Monday.

SJ 4, which would have had Wyoming officially call for a convention of states to suggest new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, also died in a Committee of the Whole vote in the Senate.

As the deadline approaches for bills to move from one chamber to another, legislators tend to become more discriminating about the bills they approve for further debate, said Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, a former state representative and speaker of Wyoming’s House.

“Later in the last days of General File, the body becomes less patient and they become even more discerning,” he said in an interview during the opening days of the 2019 session. “In those last days, you’ll see some things die even though they made it up for debate in Committee of the Whole.”

In all, Wyoming’s Legislature proposed more than 500 pieces of legislation for the 2019 session. Of those, 214 died before the crossover point was reached this week — 156 in the House and 58 in the Senate.

Most of the measures died in committee, died in votes on the chamber floor or simply were not introduced for consideration.

In Brief: House approves bill to allow the growing of hemp

in News/Agriculture
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming farmers would be able to begin growing hemp under a measure that won final approval from the House on Tuesday.

Wyoming’s representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 171,  which would make hemp a legal crop and provide for the regulation of growers.

Hemp is a relative to marijuana, but lacks the chemicals found in marijuana that intoxicate users. However, it has many commercial applications, including use in the textile industry and as a dietary supplement.

Because of its similarities to marijuana, the growing of hemp has been restricted for years, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently defined it as a legal crop.

Under HB 171, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture would be responsible for licensing hemp growers or processors. No one with a felony controlled substance conviction on their record could obtain a license.

Felony animal cruelty bill wins initial House approval

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By Cowboy State Daily

An attempt to strengthen Wyoming’s animal cruelty laws won approval in its first House review on Monday.

HB 235, making some animal cruelty crimes a felony, won 37 “aye” votes to pass in its “Committee of the Whole” review. It will be read a second time Tuesday.

Under current law, the a person accused of animal cruelty could face a misdemeanor charge with a maximum sentence less than one year in jail. HB 235 would make it a felony for anyone to “unnecessarily or cruelly” beat, torture or otherwise harm an animal. The crime would be punishable by a sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said the state has needed a felony animal cruelty law on the books for some time.

“We’ve had 10 years now of trying to fix our animal cruelty statutes and we’ve piecemealed various things together that haven’t worked,” he said. “So this is the first large step that we’ve gotten to really put an aggravated cruelty to animal statute in place.”

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