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

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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

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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

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Emergency rooom sign, ALT=Health care

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

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Calendar with date circled, ALT=meeting schedule

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

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Anthony Bouchard being interviewed on camera

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

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

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

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

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

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