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WyGO Calls Biden a “Tyrant,” “Gun Grabber” For Latest Executive Orders

in News/Legislature

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Gun Owners group had strong words for President Joe Biden on Thursday with the announcement of new firearm-related executive orders.

Biden’s executive orders included steps to restrict weapons known as “ghost guns,” which can be built with parts and instructions found online and which do not carry a serial number, according to CNN.

WyGO, however, did not think any of Biden’s orders were a good idea, calling the president both a “tyrant” and “gun grabber” in posts made to their social media account on Thursday.

“Joe Biden just launched his massive attack against freedom!” the group wrote Thursday, detailing multiple issues Biden was tackling with the orders. “His handlers decided he will…stop the sale of ‘ghost guns’ and force their sale records to be processed through the government gun owner database.”

The ”ghost gun” ban was one of the seven issues the group tackled in its post. WyGO also encouraged its followers to tell Congress “F No” to red flag gun confiscation.

Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.

Biden has pushed the Justice Department to prepare a template for red flag laws that could be used by states wanting to adopt such restrictions.

Biden’s executive orders come just weeks after a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that left multiple people dead, including a police officer.

The president also announced he is nominating gun control advocate David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which hasn’t had a permanent director in place since 2015.

WyGO also encouraged its followers to reach out to Wyoming legislators about adopting a “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which was actually proposed during this legislative session by WyGO founder Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne.

Bouchard’s bill originally would have allowed the state to declare invalid any federal law or rule that was seen as a violation of constitutional Second Amendment rights.

Senators voted 24-6 in favor of Senate File 81, the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” only after it was heavily amended to create a legal process by which the state could refuse to enforce certain federal gun rules.

Bouchard ultimately voted against the bill, saying its amendments destroyed its original intent.

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Wyoming Likely to Receive More Than $1B In COVID Relief

in News/Mark Gordon/Economy

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming is likely to receive more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds later this year, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced Thursday.

Gordon has appointed a diverse group of stakeholders to develop a blueprint for using and distributing the funds provided to the state through the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s stimulus bill.

Current estimates show the state will receive $1.1 billion in addition to the millions of other dollars being distributed to citizens through tax rebates and to local governments and other entities from the federal government.

Gordon said he wants to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” Gordon said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments. Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued in May, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

Reviews into each focus area will be led by a member of the executive branch in collaboration with the governor’s office.

Gordon stressed the importance of using these one-time funds for one-time expenses.

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Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming Thanks Wyo Legislature For Passing Skill Games Legislation

in News/Cowboy Skill Games

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Cowboy Skill of Wyoming on Thursday thanked the Wyoming State Legislature and Governor Mark Gordon for supporting Wyoming small business with the passage of legislation that allows skill-based amusement games to continue to operate legally in Wyoming bars, restaurants, fraternal organizations, and truck stops.

The legislation formally recognizes that legal games of skill depend primarily on a player’s level of strategy and skill to win, not on chance.

Pace-O-Matic, the company that creates and distributes Cowboy Skill games, said the legislation in Wyoming was a great victory for many Wyoming small businesses which depended on legal games of skill to survive a tumultuous 2020.

“This past year was very difficult for the restaurant and bar industry,” Pace-O-Matic CEO Paul Goldean said. “We are so thankful to Wyoming state legislators for recognizing that skill-based amusement games are unique from a legal sense. We are excited about the future of the legal skill game industry in Wyoming.”

The legislation specifically removed a sunset date that was placed on skill games in 2020 that, in effect, allowed for a testing period to see how these games benefitted the aforementioned organizations and the State of Wyoming.

In under a year, and with just 232 locations in the state, Cowboy Skill games generated more than $2 million in tax revenues for counties, cities, and Wyoming’s education fund.

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said without these legal games of skill many bars and restaurants wouldn’t have been able to survive this past year.

“These legal skill games proved to be a financial lifeline for these 300+ small businesses, without of which some, no doubt, would have closed their doors,” he said.

Travis Sutton, owner of Sutton’s Tavern in Sheridan, Wyoming, said Cowboy Skill games were critical to keeping his business operating during the pandemic.

“I’m just grateful I had them,” Sutton said. “There are a lot of bars and restaurants in the state which had to close down and they’re not coming back. Cowboy Skill games provided my establishment income to keep my workers employed and allowed me to keep paying bills.”

That sentiment was echoed by members of the organization “Cowboy Skill of Wyoming” which was formed by Wyoming-based vending companies who came together and organized to promote legal skill games.

Bobby Jenkins, owner of Jenkins Music and Vending in Rock Springs, said he’s received dozens of phone calls and text messages from bar owners following passage of the legislation.

“If you go talk to the Eagle Bar in LaBarge, the Boulder Bar & Grill in Boulder, the Green River Bar in Daniel, or the Corral Bar in Pinedale, you’ll get a sense for how important Cowboy Skill games are to these small businesses,” Jenkins said.

“These are the bars and restaurants where the community comes together,” he said. “And you have to credit members of the Wyoming State Legislature who listened to their constituents. It’s a great day for Wyoming small business.”

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Cheyenne Frontier Days Is Back; 125th Anniversary Event Will Be Open at Full Capacity

in News/cheyenne frontier days

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

People who lived in Cheyenne 45 years ago may remember the old Cheyenne Frontier Days theme song playing on the radio: “Cheyenne Frontier Days, here we go again. A big Wyoming showdown where the cowboy is the king.”

You could say the event is even more special now because the largest outdoor rodeo in the world was canceled for the first time in 124 years in 2020 due to the pandemic.  But it’s roaring back in 2021 for its 125th anniversary.

Gov. Mark Gordon made the announcement on Wednesday alongside Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins and Frontier Days CEO Tom Hirsig that the “Daddy of ‘Em All” is not only back, but at 100% capacity.

“Our big message that we want people to hear loud and clear today is that Wyoming is back and we are open for business,” Gordon said.

“It’s just good to see it back,” he said. “It’s just back stronger than ever. It feels like Wyoming is coming back to life.”

The 10-day event scheduled from July 23 to August 1 is a bucket list item for rodeo fans across the world and it appears as though the upcoming celebration will be pretty close to normal.

Hirsig said there would be some modifications in the interest of safety, but there will be no required face mask use, which is a significant announcement in itself. 

He said the organizations that contribute to Cheyenne Frontier Days, from night shows to the carnival to the rodeo itself, have all agreed to “vigorous” safety protocols.

“All of our events of Cheyenne Frontier Days take place on our 83-acre park in the clean, fresh air of Wyoming. Some days fresher than other days,” he said. “Cheyenne Frontier Days [will be a] very safe outdoor event,” he said.

“We are excited to get back to fulfilling our mission of economic impact to the community, and we look forward to safely welcoming our fans back to Frontier Park this summer,” Hirsig said.

The sizable bump to Cheyenne’s economy from the return of the rodeo was not lost on Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins who during last year’s mayoral campaign pledged to work closely with the organization.

“We are proud to welcome rodeo fans and visitors back to Cheyenne this July,” Collins said. “Our businesses look forward to hosting guests and locals alike as we work together to support our summer season.”

CFD officials said details about ticket sales and concert performers will be revealed Thursday evening, April 8.

Cheyenne Frontier Days takes place each summer during the last full week in July and features the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, drawing top professionals competing for more than $1 million in cash and prizes.

In addition to the daily rodeo action, fans can also enjoy Frontier Nights concerts featuring the biggest names in country music, the Native American Village, the old frontier town, free pancake breakfasts, an art show, a carnival midway, professional bull riding shows and downtown parades featuring antique carriages and automobiles. 

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Grizzly Attack Victim Says Grizzlies Are “Apex Killing Machines” & Need to be Delisted

in News/Grizzly Bear Attacks

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Shanun Rammell and his wife had chased the grizzly off of their property twice in a yearlong span before the attack.

And after the attack, Rammell is convinced the bears don’t need the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act.

“You get a lot of people who think these are cute, cuddly teddy bears, but they’re apex killing machines,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

“This is a problem and (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) are here to protect the bears at all costs,” he continued. “This isn’t a grizzly’s habitat anymore.”

The Montana native lives in a secluded area of Choteau, Montana. When he got a tip from a neighbor last summer that the bear was back on his land a third time, he went looking for it.

He confronted the bear in an abandoned shed on his property, and thankfully lived to tell the tale, something not every person who encounters a grizzly can attest to.

The bear threw him around like a ragdoll, all while his wife and one of his 10 children were watching.

His wife, Jamie Rammell, tried to run over the bear with their vehicle, but it ran off when it heard the engine turn over.

Nine days later, the bear returned, coming close to attacking one of Rammell’s daughters.

“I was in a Fish and Game truck after the bear attacked my daughter and they wouldn’t kill the bear,” Rammell said. “He’s still out, wandering around. I haven’t seen him, but one of my neighbors saw him around Thanksgiving.”

The attack on Rammell was one of the few bear attacks to take place in far-eastern Montana in more than 100 years.

For nearly a year, Rammell has been working with Montana legislators to help get the grizzly bear taken off the endangered species list, noting how the species is no longer threatened and is actually found in abundance in the region.

“There’s just way too many of them,” he said. “When they’re cruising 50 miles away in the prairie, there’s a problem. All they do now is kill cattle and sheep and tear barn doors off to get to grains.”

Many Wyoming officials agree with Rammell about delisting grizzlies, but they probably haven’t been as close to a grizzly’s claws as he has.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that no change be made to the to the grizzlies’ status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act for at least five years.

But Wyoming officials maintain the recommendation is not based in the reality of what is happening with the bears in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem bear population is booming, growing from as few as 136 bears during early recovery periods to potentially more than 1,000 in the ecosystem today,” said Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s recommendation to leave the bears on the list came after a thorough review of the best available science, the agency said in a statement, which was informed by an independently peer-review species status assessment.

The recommendation did confirm that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems are biologically recovered. However, the five-year status review would allow for assessment of the species as a whole across the 48 contiguous states.

The assessment will evaluate the species’ current needs, conditions and threats, as well as modeling future scenarios. The remaining challenges with their threatened status include limited habitat connectivity, management of access by motorized vehicles, human-caused mortality and uncertainty surrounding future conservation efforts in some ecosystems, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Grizzlies were originally listed as threatened in 1975 and then removed from the endangered species list in 2017 by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which cited a significant increase in bear populations.

However, in 2018, a federal court reversed the agency’s decision.

Rammell called the decision to keep the grizzlies on the endangered species list “all politics.”

He has seen the damage that has been done to the species by trying to keep them on the threatened list (such as overpopulation and a lack of food), and believes states need to manage the bear population.

“It’s all about who you know,” he said. “My daughter is still having nightmares about the attack.”

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54 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 476 Active

in News/Coronavirus

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 78 from Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of three new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 54 new laboratory-confirmed and 27 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 476 active cases, up 78 from Tuesday.

Laramie County’s active cases are up again to 123, while Sweetwater had 53; Albany 50; Fremont 41; Teton 37; Natrona 32; Lincoln 31; Campbell 28; Uinta 22; Sublette 19; Park 10; Weston seven; Carbon, Goshen and Sheridan had five; Converse three; Johnson two, and Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie had one each. Crook, Niobrara and Platte counties had zero active cases. 

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 56,700 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 55,523 have recovered.

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Former Tribal Judge Disbarred By Wyoming Supreme Court After Drug Charge Plea

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A former tribal judge for the Wind River Indian Reservation has been disbarred from practicing law by the Wyoming Supreme Court after pleading guilty to drug distribution charges.

The court on Wednesday disbarred Terri Virginia Smith, following the recommendation of the state’s Board of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the hearing body for disciplinary actions involving attorneys.

Smith served as the judge for the Wind River Tribal Court from 2017 until May 2019. While serving as the judge in March 2019, she was the subject of a federal indictment that alleged she conspired to deliver Oxycodone and engaged in the distribution of cocaine, both felonies.

An investigation by a federal probation officer said there was no evidence that Smith used her position as a judge to “facilitate the commission or concealment of the offense.”

Smith stepped down as the tribal judge and stopped practicing law in May 2019 and pleaded guilty to the charges in August 2019.

She was sentenced in October 2020 to six months in prison and six months of home confinement, to be followed by three years of supervised release.

The BPR’s report on Smith’s disbarment noted that her sentence was “a significant downward departure” from federal sentencing guidelines due to her cooperation with law enforcement investigators and her willingness to undergo treatment for substance abuse.

Smith’s cooperation was “critical” to securing other drug charges and arrests, the BPR’s report said, calling her decision to work with authorities a mitigating factor in her sentencing and the BPR’s own disciplinary hearing.

“The many persons who face charges or have been convicted as a result of (Smith’s) cooperation and assistance to the government have friends and families all over the reservation,” the report said. “Families are inter-related. Loyalties run deep. The parties agree that (Smith’s) cooperation with prosecutors in the face of such a threat merits consideration as a mitigating factor in this disciplinary hearing as it did in her criminal sentencing.”

Under Wyoming law, Smith can seek reinstatement to practice law five years after her official disbarment date, which was set as May 24, 2019.

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Gordon Vetoes Bill On State Land Leases

in News/Legislature

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill dictating that the state give preference in awarding leases on state lands to people who own or lease adjoining lands has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon, in a letter to Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, said Senate File 114 creates new requirements for leasing stand land would limit the state’s ability to determine which bids for state land would most benefit the state’s schools.

“As written and set before me, this legislation now requires the (State Board of Land Commissioners) to award leases based less on return to the schools and almost solely on how proximate a bidder is to the state land in question,” he wrote. “These changes potentially upset a carefully crafted and historic balance between the two competing interests that is recognized elsewhere in (state law).”

The SBLC is constitutionally required to award leases or sell state lands so “as to realize the largest possible proceeds” for the state’s schools. SF 114 was drafted to resolve a conflict in how state law that describes how SBLC should give preference to competing bids in awarding leases to state lands should be interpreted.

Gordon said he asked the Legislature to address the issue and the result was SF 114, which he said resolved the conflict.

However, Gordon said amendments added to the bill during the Legislature’s general session would limit how the SBLC decides which bids for leases would most benefit the state’s schools.

“In effect, this bill instructs the SBLC to ignore all other criteria except adjacency, which the SBLC would normally consider when determining an optimal solution that would best insure to the greatest benefit of the state’s trust beneficiaries,” he wrote. “Preemptively restricting competitive bidding from the process to lease state trust lands, thereby depressing the potential revenue derived from that activity, seems to stand in contrast with the constitutional obligation (of the SBLC).”

Gordon asked legislators to look at the issue again during the interim.

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Wyoming Gun Owners Praises Passage of Concealed Carry Bill

in News/Legislature

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Gun Owners organization is celebrating the recent signing of a bill to let visitors to the state carry concealed weapons without a permit.

House Bill 116 was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday. The bill removes extends to all law-abiding American citizens Wyoming’s privilege to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

WYGO posted about the bill’s signing on Tuesday, praising two particular legislators for their work on it.

“BOOOM!!! Moments ago, House Bill 116 was signed into law meaning that Wyoming’s Constitutional Carry laws (one of the oldest in the country) now applies to ALL law abiding gun owners!!!” the organization wrote on its Facebook page. “MAJOR SHOUT OUT to Rep. Bob Wharff and Senator Anthony Bouchard for leading this fight on the inside and a massive shout out to the members of WYGO for hammering this bill into law!!!!! WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wharff, R-Evanston, was the sponsor of the bill. Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, along with six other Wyoming senators (including Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne) co-sponsored the legislation.

More than a dozen state representatives co-sponsored the bill, including Bouchard’s primary election opponent in his effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

Bouchard is the founder of WYGO, although he is no longer involved in any management positions due to his work as a senator.

The group posted a second time on Tuesday about Wharff and Bouchard, praising their work in the Legislature.

“HUGE SHOUT OUT TO Rep. Bob Wharf and Sen. Anthony Bouchard, the House and Senate sponsors of HB 116, which passed today!!!” WYGO wrote. “No one fights harder for you on the inside!”

This was not the only firearm-related legislation Bouchard worked on this legislative session. He originally sponsored Senate File 81, which would give the state the authority to find certain federal gun regulations invalid.

However, he ultimately voted against the bill after it was amended, saying it no longer had the intent of the original legislation.

As originally written, the bill said the state could declare as invalid any federal law that infringed on Second Amendment rights, including taxes on firearms and ammunition, registration of firearms and laws forbidding the ownership, use or possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.

The bill would also have forbidden law enforcement officers from seizing weapons in response to federal laws and would have allowed officers and their local governments to be sued over such seizures.

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Wyoming Real Estate Market On Fire; Coloradoans & Californians Moving In

in Wyoming real estate/News

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

The heat wave that Wyoming experienced last weekend was one for the record books. But Wyoming’s real estate market is even hotter.

Not only were single-family home prices up 8.4% in 2020’s fourth quarter over the previous year but new construction prices are up a whopping 21.5% according to the Wyoming Economic Summary report.

The surge in pricing — and many local realtors are saying that 2021’s prices are even higher — is due to high demand and a lack of inventory. 

Dominic Valdez, a real estate agent in Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily that competition for homes in many parts of the state is “intense.”

He said as of Wednesday there are 66 homes for sale in Cheyenne. The average is usually between 400 and 500.

“It’s ridiculous and it’s not just Wyoming. It’s all across the country,” Valdez said.  “High demand and low inventory is really pushing prices up.”

Valdez said many of the new buyers are from outside of Wyoming, coming from areas including Colorado, California, and New York.

At many price points, he said, new construction is the route buyers are taking, but it can take 10 to 12 months to complete a home.

“The builders are going as fast and as hard as they can,” he said.  “But there is a shortage of skilled laborers — plumbers, electricians, roofers, framers, and sheet rockers.”

Valdez said the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors credits the economic downturn a decade ago for the lack of inventory.

“The recession put so many builders out of business and the builders that survived cut back on their production considerably,” Valdez said.

“The whole time we were trying to recover [from the recession], kids were graduating from college and entering the workforce. The buyers were still being produced but the inventory was not,” he said.

Valdez said prospective buyers should try to qualify for the highest price point they can, as prices won’t be going down.

“It’s still a good time to buy as interest rates are still historically low,” he said.  “It’s tough on buyers but if you can get it, the way we are appreciating, you will end up ahead of the game in two, three, five years down the road.”

Buyers should expect to get beat out on offers as the demand is high, but Valdez said not to get discouraged and “keep on trying.”

Max Minnick, president of Wyoming Realtors, told The Center Square that the real estate market is affecting all areas of Wyoming.

“We have a lot of people coming in from out of state right now, getting away from the bigger cities and into the Wyoming way of life,” Minnick said.

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