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Gun-free zone repeal dies in committee

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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.

Party switching bill could be revived

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Voting day sign and stickers
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would limit when voters can change their party affiliations may be resurrected. SF 32 was killed by the Senate Corporation, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee on Tuesday, but the committee’s chairman said he’ll bring the issue back up for another vote.

There is enough interest on the Senate floor to justify moving the bill out of the committee, said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.

Under current law, voters can change their party affiliations on the day of a primary election. SF 32 would allow changes only before candidates begin filing for office — usually in early May.

Landen said there was not a lot of discussion on the bill in committee. He added he believes many members of the full Senate would like to review it.

Landen said he plans to bring the issue back to the committee on Thursday to see if members will approve it for more debate.

Transparency bill sent back for major overhaul

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Public records in Wyoming
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have set a deadline for public agencies to turn over public documents was pulled back Tuesday to allow for a major overhaul.

The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, faced with concerns by state and local government agencies about a proposed 10-day deadline for the release of public documents and criminal penalties for the law’s violation, agreed to begin work on the bill again using language proposed by the Wyoming Liberty Group.

Most committee members agreed that the change to the Wyoming Public Documents Act was needed to further improve government transparency, a cause championed by Gov. Mark Gordon and Auditor Kristi Racines.

“I feel this is an important tool to move the effort of our auditor and chief executive forward,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “If we let this slide, we will do a real disservice for transparency in Wyoming.”

The original bill, SF 57, would have set a 10-day deadline for government agencies to turn over documents and would have established criminal penalties for government officials who refuse to release public documents. The penalty could be a felony for anyone who knowingly and intentionally withheld a document that should be released.

The Wyoming Liberty Group’s proposed changes to the bill would set the deadline at 30 days and eliminate the criminal penalties entirely.

“That’s not the way we do things,” said Cassie Craven, who forwarded the group’s recommendations to the committee.

The group also recommended the creation of a document “ombudsman” inside the state who would resolve conflicts over the release of documents.

Craven said the philosophy governing public documents should be that the documents belong to the public, not the government.

“We need to take the position that the people own these documents,” she said.

The committee decided to work on changes to the bill Wednesday and review a revised measure Thursday.

The board’s decision came after a number of officials from state and local government agencies expressed concern about the 10-day deadline, saying it often could not be met.

Steve Lindly, deputy director of the state Department of Corrections, said his department often receives massive record requests, many times from inmates, that can take up to 400 hours to process.

“I would say most of our requests cannot be met in 10 days with current resources,” he said.

Other agency directors agreed and said the criminal penalties contained in the original bill would make it hard for them to direct people to fulfill public document requests.

Tony Young, the state’s chief information officer, told the committee the answer might lie with improved technology that would allow the state to post most of the information sought through public information requests on publicly accessible websites.

“If we can put the technology together, we may not have these requests come up,” he said.

Committee approves bill to put 48-hour waiting period on abortions

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Waiting room with empty chairs, ALT=abortion, clinic
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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose a 48-hour waiting period on abortions was approved by a House committee on Tuesday.

HB 140 was approved by a 6-3 vote of the House Judiciary Committee after lengthy public discussion.

The bill would require doctors to wait to perform an abortion for 48 hours after telling women seeking the procedure that they could see an ultrasound of the fetus and hear a recording of the heartbeat, if audible.

The bill now heads to the House floor for a discussion by the full body.

Measure restricting changes in voter affiliation killed in committee

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Silhoutte of vote being cast into box, ALT=voter, voter affiliation
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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure to restrict when voters can change their party affiliations was narrowly defeated in a Senate committee Tuesday.

Senate File 32 would have prevented voters from changing party affiliation after candidates begin filing for office — usually in early May.

Under current law, a voter can change his or her affiliation at the polls on the day of the primary election.

Some 12,500 Wyoming voters changed their party affiliations prior to last year’s primary election. The state’s Republican Party, expressing concern about how such switches might affect a party’s primary, made a bill to restrict such switching a priority.

The bill died on a vote of 3-2 in the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Wyoming Legislature: Week in Review

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The Wyoming Legislature is in recess for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

Before lawmakers reconvene Tuesday morning we bring you a review of where a number of key bills – including Hathaway scholarships for career technical education, opioid abuse prevention, and limits on switching political parties – stand. #wyleg

One of first state ‘Kickstart’ companies in operation

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

One of the first companies to receive a new type of economic development grant from the state of Wyoming has started operations in Cheyenne.

Nymbl, financed in part by a $50,000 startup grant from Kickstart: Wyoming, uses its proprietary software to help companies sell and deliver small quantities of imprinted merchandise.

The service is particularly valuable to small companies that may want to sell imprinted products such as coffee cups and T-shirts but do not want to keep large inventories of the goods on hand, said Chris Mickey, Nymbl’s director of marketing and outreach.

“We want to give people who have a small business or small following a chance to merchandise,” Mickey said. “Our platform makes it so they don’t have to have any inventory at all.”

Users of the system, a band, as an example, can set up an account at the company’s website, nymbl.io, and select from a list of products what it wants to put on the market. Using the software developed by Nymbl CEO Zac Folk, users can virtually apply a logo or design and then preview how the products will look.

After linking the product page to their own website, users can then direct visitors to the Nymbl site, where visitors can select the product they want, right down to size and color, and then place and pay for the order. Manufacturers used by Nymbl the handle the shipping.

Kickstart: Wyoming is a Wyoming Business Council program that provides grants of $5,000 to $50,000 to startup companies with a high growth potential and fewer than 50 employees.

In addition to the state financing, Nymbl received an investment from Breakthrough 307, an organization created to provide capital to Wyoming companies.

Breakthrough 307 is made up of 20 investors who have put money into an account to invest in small Wyoming companies like Nymbl, said Jerad Stack, one of the group’s founders.

“We are really excited about Nymbl,” Stack said. “It’s a high growth space, a value-added e-commerce platform that will solve a really big problem. We’re looking for companies that solve problems in really big markets and Nymbl is definitely that.”

Such private sector involvement was identified as crucial to economic development efforts by the “Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming” or “ENDOW” program created by former Gov. Matt Mead.

The program’s primary goal was to identify ways the state can break away from the “boom and bust” cycle of its energy industry. In 2018, the group released its 20-year plan.

Stack, who serves on ENDOW’s executive council, said his group agreed before ENDOW released its report that one of Wyoming’s big problems was a lack of access to capital for entrepreneurs.

“When you go and look at the lists of best states to do business in … Wyoming is consistently 48th to 50th in our ability for entrepreneurs to access capital,” he said. “When you look at venture capital, ‘angel’ capital, early seed stage money, there isn’t a lot of that. We see ourselves as part of that.”

Stack and his fellow investors started Breakthrough 307 about 18 months ago and have made fewer than 10 investments in fledgling companies. The group is very selective in its choices of investments.

“We’re doing this to help Wyoming companies and we also want to make a profit,” he said. “So not every little startup is something you make a profit on. When you look at the statistics on these investments, most fail and a handful succeed. But you don’t know which is which going in. You’ve got to pick what you think are a bunch of winners.”

After investing, Breakthrough 307 provide the expertise of its investors — who include experts in technology, finance and marketing, to name a few areas — to the companies it has invested in.

In the Platte Valley, ice fishing derby a community affair

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Video courtesy of Mike McCrimmon.

Ice anglers from several states are on Saratoga Lake this weekend for the annual Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby. The weekend, always the third in January, includes a special Small Fry Derby for children under age 14.

Last weekend Platte Valley kids took to Treasure Island Pond on the Silver Spur Ranch to learn all the basics. And catch fish. Our report is from Cowboy State Daily videographer Mike McCrimmon.

Super Blood Wolf Moon could be hidden by winter storm

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The moon transitioning during lunar eclipse, ALT=Super Blood Wolf Moon
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Total lunar eclipse to occur Sunday during moon’s closest orbit to Earth

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily (Image credit: NASA)

When the moon hits your eye like a big cherry pie, that’s a Super Blood Wolf Moon, aka total lunar eclipse, and it’s happening Sunday night.

“A lunar eclipse is when the moon passes into the Earth’s shadow,” said University of Wyoming Professor of Physics and Astronomy Chip Kobulnicky. “It typically happens about twice per year.”

While Super Blood Wolf Moon may sound like the name of  an ’80s hair-metal band, Kobulnicky said the nomenclature refers to the moon’s proximity to the Earth, and the atmosphere’s tendency to filter blue light.

“The moon’s orbit is ever so slightly elliptical,” he explained. “It looks pretty circular, but it has a small eccentricity, and that means during part of its orbit, it’s closer to the Earth.”

When its orbit draws the moon closest to the Earth, it is referred to as a Super Moon.

“The lunar eclipse has to happen on a full moon, because that is the time of month that the full disc of the moon is lit by the sun, so the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun,” Kobulnicky said. “As the moon moves completely into the Earth’s shadow, the moon will still be visible, because a small amount of sunlight gets through the Earth’s atmosphere.”

The atmosphere preferentially blocks and scatters blue light, giving the sky its blue appearance.

“It’s mainly the red light that gets through the Earth’s atmosphere,” Kobulnicky said, explaining the filtering process also grants sunsets a red appearance. “So, that’s why the moon will look red, and why I think they call it a Blood Moon.”

The first full moon of January is referred to as a Wolf Moon, likely because of the packs of wolves that gathered and howled outside Native American settlements during this time of year, the Farmers’ Almanac reported. It has also been dubbed the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule.

Unlike the limited visibility of 2017’s total solar eclipse, the Super Blood Wolf Moon will be seen from most places throughout North and South America — weather permitting — Kobulnicky said.

“They are usually visible from a wide swath across the Earth’s surface,” he added. “It’s a fairly long event, so I’m hoping we have clear enough skies for people to see the Super Blood Moon.”

As is often the Wyoming way, however, the event might be disguised by a storm front rolling in Sunday night, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Matthew Brothers.

“Right now, it looks like there will probably be some clouds in the sky Sunday night,” Brothers said. “We have a potential storm system moving in early Monday. We’re looking at cloud cover of about 50 percent for most of the state.”

The north and west portions of Wyoming are likely to see the most cloud cover, while southeastern Wyoming — mainly Laramie County — could experience less cloudy skies, he said.

Cloudy or clear, NASA reported the lunar eclipse will begin at 7:36 p.m. Mountain time Sunday with the edge of the Moon entering the Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra. At 8:33 p.m., the Moon will enter the Earth’s inner shadow, or umbra, and begin darkening significantly, NASA reported.

By 9:41 p.m., the Moon will be completely enveloped by the umbra, kicking off the total lunar eclipse. The Moon exits the umbra at 10:43 p.m., ending the total lunar eclipse. And, the event will end entirely with the moon leaving the penumbra at 12:48 a.m. Monday, according to NASA.

Image credit: NASA/Rami Daud

A telescope is not needed to see the lunar eclipse, Kobulnicky said, but observers might use binoculars to get a closer look.

“The moon is so bright and so big, that a telescope is overkill,” he explained. “Just the eyes is a perfect tool.”

While the moon’s proximity to the Earth could mean bigger tides on the coast, Kobulnicky said the Super Moon would not affect the state in any discernible way.

“I don’t think there’s many tide affects going on in Wyoming,” Kobulnicky said, smiling. “There’s just not enough beachfront property here.”

Wyoming businesses come to furloughed federal workers aid

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Across the state, locals are stepping up to help those affected by shutdown

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming businesses and organizations are coming together in support of federal employees who have been furloughed because of the record-breaking federal government shutdown.

Throughout the state, locals are offering discounts and interest-free lines of credit to help federal employees, who missed their first paycheck of the year between Jan. 11-17 — depending on their department. If the shutdown continues, furloughed employees could miss a second paycheck between Jan. 25-31. 

While the Washington Post reported President Donald Trump approved legislation Wednesday granting furloughed employees back pay once the government is reopened, Wyomingites are stepping up to help their neighbors in the meantime.

Teton County

Jackson Whole Grocer owner Jeff Rice kept a weather eye on the news prior to the shutdown, and when it became apparent federal employees could be in for a hard winter, Rice said he met with his employees to devise a plan to help.

“Clearly this was going to be a little longer and have a greater impact on folks,” he said. “A few days before the shutdown happened, it occurred to me that we should do what we can to help people out.”

With Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Shoshone National Forest nearby, several federal employees live in the Jackson area.

“I pulled my team together and we brainstormed what we could do,” Rice said. “We decided to offer (furloughed) federal workers essentially a line of credit, about $200 a week up to a max of $1000.”

The credit is interest free, and participants will have up to 60 days to pay back the loan after the government reopens, he said. Additionally, the store is offering furloughed employees a 10 percent discount.

“Our guiding principals include community support and being an active part of our community,” Rice explained. “This is the kind of stuff we do.”

As of Wednesday, he said about 20 people had taken advantage of the credit.

Laramie County

Colleen Zemelka and her husband, Charles, are no strangers to federal pay gaps. A recently retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class, Charles Zemelka said while he’s not personally affected by the shutdown yet, many of his friends are furloughed. 

“When the government shutdowns occur, the spouses of your lower enlisted personnel, who tend to work on the base for government entities, get hit pretty hard, creating a double jeopardy situation,” he said. “During a previous shutdown — I believe it was during (former President Bill) Clinton — it ran over a military payday, so we’ve seen what can happen.”

Colleen Zemelka, an independent hair stylist working out of New Wave Salon in Cheyenne, said she is offering furloughed employees and their families free haircuts and 50 percent off chemical treatments such as hair coloring and perms.

“Being from a family that is military, we’ve experienced a month or two when paychecks didn’t come through,” she said. “We’re not sure if at the end of the month my husband will get his retirement check, but either way, I believe helping the community is better than worrying about ourselves.”

The hair stylist said while no one had taken her up on the offer as of Thursday, she’d received some inquiries for openings during the weekend.

Converse County

Without pay, furloughed employees could struggle to pay essential bills — rent, heating, water — during the shutdown, so Converse County Bank is offering payday advances for those affected.

“At Converse County Bank, we truly believe that everyone is a friend and a neighbor,” said Breck Wagstaff, Converse County Bank’s community development officer. “We’ve reached out to our customer base and let them know if they are an active federal employee affected by the shutdown, we’ll loan them their next paycheck interest free.”

The offer started Jan. 8, and Wagstaff said the bank has already helped several furloughed employees — customers and non-customers alike. “It’s not about Converse County Bank, it’s about helping out people in need,” he explained. “We don’t have a great deal of federal employees in Douglas, but we’re happy to help where we can.”

Albany County

When the paychecks stop rolling in, some people might just want to sit back, have a drink and enjoy a burger — the Crowbar & Grill in Laramie is there to help. 

“We’re offering 20 percent off our entire menu to furloughed workers and their families,” Crowbar owner Andy Glines said. “I had seen other businesses were offering discounts, and we wanted to ease the burden on the people affected by the shutdown.”

The offer began Jan. 10, and though Glines said he wasn’t aware of any takers, it will stand throughout the duration of the shutdown.

“We understand the community makes us successful,” he said. “And we’d like to give back to that.”

Statewide

According to the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies, about one in eight Wyoming residents experienced food insecurity in 2018, but the shutdown could significantly increase that number, a food bank spokesperson said.

“Food is the last thing these people need to worry about,” said Shanna Harris, Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies director. “We’re not sure how long this will go on, because hopefully the federal employees will go back to work, but our pantries have a really solid base.”

In addition to the food bank’s regular visits throughout the state, Harris said the Evansville-based organization was conducting “emergency pantry” visits.

On Monday, it distributed approximately 30,000 meals in Jackson. Tuesday, its staff members visited Buffalo, distributing about 12,000 meals. And the organization plans to visit Medicine Bow in southeast Wyoming on Friday, followed by another delivery to Laramie next week.

“It’s not just federal workers, but the shutdown has a ripple effect for people who do contract work for the federal government,” Harris said. “If someone is hungry, then we respond. It’s our goal to make sure people who are food insecure have their next meal, and we’re very good at mobilizing.”

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