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Gray, Bouchard Celebrate Gordon Signing Voter ID Bill Into Law

in elections/News
9816

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two legislators are celebrating Gov. Mark Gordon’s recent signing of a bill that will require Wyoming voters to present some type of identification when voting in person.

On Tuesday, Gordon signed House Bill 75 into law, which will require a person to present “acceptable” identification when going to vote in person.

“Today’s signing of my Voter ID legislation is a victory for the citizens of Wyoming,” bill sponsor Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said on Tuesday. “It is a necessary function of our Republic to provide our citizens with confidence that our elections are secure, fair, and valid. I am proud that we were able to meet this important milestone for Wyoming.”

This bill was a priority for Gray since he has been elected to office in 2016 and has been a law that Wyoming legislators have been working on for nearly 20 years.

Wyoming currently requires identification to register to vote, but not when actually voting in person. The law would not apply for absentee voting.

The law will take effect beginning July 1.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, also touted the bill being signed into law.

“Governor Gordon has just signed into law the photo ID bill I sponsored along with my conservative colleagues in the Senate,” Bouchard said. “So which #woke corporation will attack our state next?”

The bill was amended to allow elderly voters to use a Medicare card as a form of suitable identification, since many of them do not use a photo ID.

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan testified in support of the bill last week during a Senate committee meeting, telling the the legislators how much work his office had done to help write the bill.

“You really have every available type of identification to be used in this case, so no one has to feel like there’s an ID they can’t get,” he said. “One of the important things I emphasized early on this was in no way disenfranchising any voters.”

Buchanan did say there have only been three or four instances of voter fraud in the state over the last couple decades, “but it does occur.”

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Amelia, Olivia, Liam Among Wyoming’s Most Popular Baby Names In 2020

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Wyoming measles-free, but officials urge preventive action
9835

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Some of the most popular baby names in Wyoming last year included Olivia, Amelia and Liam, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

For girls in 2020, Amelia and Olivia were followed by Harper, Paisley and Ella. Amelia, Paisley and Ella were each new to Wyoming’s top five names for girls.

However, longtime favorite name Emma dropped out of the top five last year.

For newborn Wyoming boys, Liam was followed by Oliver and were followed by Wyatt, Logan and Jackson.

Last year, Liam and Oliver tied for first. The other three most popular boy names were not included in 2019’s leading choices.

“Among the many unexpected things we experienced in Wyoming in 2020 were some clear shifts in the names new parents chose for their babies, especially for girls,” said Guy Beaudoin, Vital Statistics Services deputy state registrar with WDH. “Many factors can affect the popularity of names over time such as admired celebrities or family connections, but it comes down to personal choice.”

The number of births among Wyoming residents continued the significant downward trend that has existed for several years with 6,127 in 2020 compared with 6,567 in 2019.

The high over the past decade was in 2015 with 7,716 resident births.

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Wyoming To Vote In 2022 To Allow Local Governments To Invest In Stocks And Equities

in News/Legislature
9827

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By Jackie Mitchell, Ballotpedia via The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would allow the legislature to provide by law for local governments (county, city, township, town, school district, or other political subdivision) to invest funds in stocks and equities.

Legislation establishing or increasing the percentage of funds a local government could invest would require a two-thirds supermajority vote of the state legislature. Currently, the state constitution allows the state legislature to authorize certain state funds to be invested in stocks.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Wyoming State Senate and the Wyoming House of Representatives.

The measure was introduced as House Joint Resolution 9 on March 4, 2021. It was approved in the House on March 23, 2021, by a vote of 43-16. The Senate approved an amended version of the measure on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 25-5, which was sent to the House for concurrence. The House concurred with the Senate’s amendments on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 46-13.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Wyoming State Legislature referred 20 constitutional amendments to the ballot, of which, 12 were approved (60%) and eight (40%) were defeated.

The legislature was set to adjourn the 2021 legislative session on April 7, 2021. The legislature can also refer measures to the 2022 ballot during the 2022 legislative session.

As of April 2, 2021, 15 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2022 ballot in 10 states.

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71 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Tuesday; 398 Active

in News/Coronavirus
9823

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 50 from Monday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 39 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 71 new laboratory-confirmed and 19 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 398 active cases, up 50 from Monday.

Laramie county’s active cases are back up again, to 103, while Sweetwater had 49; Teton 39; Fremont 38; Albany 34; Lincoln 29; Natrona 24; Sublette 18; Uinta 17; Campbell 16; Park seven; Sheridan six; Goshen five; Carbon and Weston three; Converse and Johnson two; Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie had one each, and 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 56,619 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 55,520 have recovered.

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Buffalo Residents Fined, Lose Hunting Privileges In 2019 Poaching Case

in News/Hunting
9821

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Two Buffalo residents have been fined and will lose their hunting privileges for the foreseeable future in connection to a 2019 case where a bull elk was killed illegally, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) said Tuesday.

Christopher Morales and Keisha Filbert have both been convicted of wildlife violations stemming from an anonymous report to the WGFD that claimed Morales killed a bull elk in September 2019, using a hunting license issued to Filbert.

The WGFD charged Morales in 2020 with illegally taking wildlife and Filbert for illegally transferring ownership of a hunting license following an investigation that spanned several months.

Upon receiving the anonymous report, wildlife investigators reportedly conducted an online investigation, which revealed photos of Morales and Filbert posing in camouflage clothing with two bull elk in 2019.

Morales claimed to have taken his own elk with a crossbow Sept. 6, adding that Filbert killed hers likewise Sept. 12, per the WGFD.

He denied shooting the second elk, stating that he had only tagged along during the second hunt, a story reportedly backed up by Filbert.

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The anonymous report, however, stated that Morales was observed leaving the area alone on Sept. 13 with elk antlers on his vehicle, the morning after Filbert’s elk was reportedly killed, according to the WGFD.

Search warrants yielded a video of Morales’ hunt Sept. 6 and cell phone data that did not match the story, the WGFD stated, adding that Filbert’s phone signal did not place her in the area the day of the second hunt.

During her interview, Filbert was reportedly unable to answer questions regarding her hunt. Instead, she described details from a video recording taken by Morales during his hunt on Sept. 6, per the WGFD.

Wildlife investigators reportedly tracked the path taken by Morales the day the second elk was taken using his cell phone data, locating two elk skeletal remains that matched the geographic location of the elk depicted in Morales’ and Filbert’s pictures.

When she was interviewed a second time in August 2020, Filbert allegedly admitted that she did not take the elk and was not with Morales when it was killed.

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The case recently concluded with the approval of plea agreements between the offenders and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office, approved by Circuit Court Judge Shelley Cundiff.

Per the plea agreements, Morales has been ordered to pay $5,000 in fines, $2,000 in restitution, and has forfeited his hunting privileges for three years for taking wildlife without a license.

Filbert lost her hunting privileges for two years and was ordered to pay a $400 fine for illegally transferring a hunting license.

The case displayed a great deal of effort to deceive game wardens during the investigation, Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman remarked, noting how Filbert dressed up in camouflage clothing to pose with the elk as if she had been the hunter.

“Thank you to the concerned sportspersons that started this investigation,” he added. “Many wildlife crimes are never detected because people do not pass information to the (WGFD). Honest sportspersons can make a big difference in protecting Wyoming’s wonderful wildlife resource by reporting violations to the Stop Poaching hotline.”

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Four COVID Variants Found in Wyoming, Cause For “Concern”

in News/Coronavirus
9812

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Four new strains of the coronavirus have been found in Wyoming over the last few months, three of which have been detected in Sublette County, according to health officials.

The Wyoming Public Health Laboratory recently analyzed genetic sequencing from a large batch of positive samples collected from residents across the state since November and found the four variants.

The new analysis, combined with previously reported results, showed at least 40 cases have involved a new version of coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), more than 40 cases involved two California variants (B.1.427 and B.1.429) and one case was diagnosed with a strain first seen in South Africa (B.1.351).

The three variants virus detected in Sublette County were the United Kingdom and California strains.

The county saw 17 new coronavirus cases last week, more than double than cases seen the week prior. As of Tuesday morning, the county had 12 active cases.

At least two cases of the U.K. strain were diagnosed in Sublette County. The strain is 50% more contagious than the original COVID virus and shows an increased severity in symptoms, based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates.

Four cases diagnosed in Sublette County involve the two California strains. Those strains have an estimated 20% higher transmission rate, and may cause a significant reduction in the ability of antibodies to fight the virus, as well as reduced effectiveness of some treatments.

Coronavirus cases are also increasing in counties adjacent to Sublette County, with Teton, Lincoln, and Sweetwater counties being classified in the state’s “red zone” for increased cases, indicating high transmission levels, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

St John’s Health in Jackson began last week with no coronavirus hospital patients, but by Friday, there were six hospitalized coronavirus patients.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state public health officer and epidemiologist with the Department of Health, said it is likely all four of these variants have probably been involved in some of the COVID-19 transmission in Wyoming over the past several months.

“Because this is far from a comprehensive review of all positive patient samples, the true number and geographical spread of variants of concern in Wyoming is likely greater than what has been identified,” Harrist said.

Harrist indicated the variants are “of concern” because they each have been shown to be more contagious, have more serious symptoms and have shown resistance to some COVID-19 treatment options.

“Knowing these variants have been circulating in Wyoming doesn’t change our primary recommendations for the public,” Harrist said. “The best way for people to protect themselves from getting sick is to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which are available to the general public now throughout Wyoming. We still also recommend staying home when you are sick, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks in most public settings.

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time.

Multiple variants of the virus that causes the coronavirus have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that so far, vaccinations create antibodies that will help against the variants. Researchers are continuing to track this.

“Because the variants can affect the success of certain treatment options, we have shared updated information with healthcare providers across the state to help them help their patients,” Harrist said.

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Grizzlies Recommended For Threatened Listing, Wyoming Officials Disagree

in News/Grizzly Bears
9814

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming officials are disagreeing with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendation to leave grizzly bears on the threatened wildlife list for at least five more years.

Last week, the agency recommended that no change be made to the to the grizzlies’ status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act for at least five years, which will allow for a status review.

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

“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 traditional range has expanded beyond what is considered biological and socially suitable habitats by 7,738 square miles. Yet, it remains listed because of endless federal lawsuits litigated in courts outside of Wyoming and disengagement from what is happening on-the-ground in our state.”

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-reviews 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.

Nesvik said the decision to continue to list the bears as threatened ignores the progress that has been made in their recovery.

“By all federally mandated criteria and scientific measures, the grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has reached and exceeded recovery status for more than 20 years,” he said. “Over the last 40 years, Wyoming has contributed over $50 million to meet the high-bar required for delisting. These contributions have come largely from hunters and anglers.”

Gov. Mark Gordon agreed with Nesvik’s sentiments and is backing a proposal by the state’s congressional delegation to remove the bears from the endangered species list.

“The governor is supportive of the legislation introduced by our (congressional) delegation that would de-list grizzly bears,” Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “Wyoming’s grizzly bears have been biologically recovered for more than a decade, and therefore the state should be managing the species.”

U.S. Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso have joined U.S. senators from Idaho and Montana in introducing legislation to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list.

In late February, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney reintroduced a bill to Congress that would remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list and prevent them from being considered threatened or endangered wildlife in the future.

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Gordon Lets Ag-Related COVID Bill Become Law Without Signature

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus/Legislature
USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares
9815

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is warning Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers to think carefully before taking advantage of a new law that would let them collect coronavirus relief funds.

Gordon, in a letter to state Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, explained why he allowed Senate File 50 to become law with out his signature, saying he is worried agriculture producers might be forced to repay the grants they receive under the law.

“I understand that some producers might want to get a chance at the federal one-armed bandit, and therefore will let the bill pass into law without my signature,” he wrote. “In my view, caveat emptor should be the watchword of the program: if producers are willing to take advantage of this program, they should be prepared to possibly have to pay back the grants — a decision that could cripple additional Wyoming industries.”

The bill would allow ranchers and farmers to seek federal coronavirus relief grants given to the state if they claim a loss incurred due to COVID-19.However, Gordon said he is not sure the program will meet federal requirements for the money to be used to compensate businesses for losses caused by COVID-19 or restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness.“

Rather than reimburse individuals or businesses for impacts related to an emergency, the program created in this legislation seems to seek some way to give money to agricultural producers simply because they are producers,” he wrote. “I remain concerned about what an unfriendly administration that appears to be preparing for war could do to Wyoming’s key industries, including agriculture.”

Gordon urged legislators to clarify and strengthen the program in the future and to investigate whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to offer a coronavirus relief program.

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Gordon Calls UW Water Bill Best Outcome Of Poor Options

in News/Mark Gordon/University of Wyoming
9811

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill allowing the University of Wyoming to develop its own water system without regulation by the city of Laramie is a poor solution to the ongoing dispute between the university and the city, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Although he signed the bill into law on Monday, Gordon said he had many reservations about it.

“My decision to sign this bill into law is simply an outgrowth of selecting the best outcome out of a suite of poor options,” he wrote in a letter to House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette.

The bill stems from a years-long debate over water used to irrigate the Jacoby Golf Course.

According to testimony during committee reviews of the bill, while Laramie allowed the university to use its water to irrigate the course for more than 50 years, the city started charging for the water in 2007 and the university is now paying almost $200,000 a year for the water.

The university developed two wells on land adjoining the golf course, but was prevented from using it to irrigate the course by a Laramie ordinance that banned water from being imported into the city’s boundaries without city approval.

The bill, House Bill 198, would allow the university to develop and use its own water without restrictions by the city.

But Gordon said the bill amounted to using legislation to address a local issue, a practice state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, referred to as “litigating through legislation.”

“I agree that compelling legal arguments were made on both sides in committee and on the floor,” he wrote. “But this matter also involved the state engineer and some authority of an executive branch entity. Broadly, I am disappointed that this is the outcome in front of me today.”

He added the bill provides a solution only for the university, not other private property owners whose rights to use their water may be affected by Laramie’s ordinance.

In addition, the bill did not address the issue of whether Laramie can regulate water use within its boundaries, a responsibility he said state law gives to the state engineer, Gordon said.

“These and other questions will have to go unanswered for the time being,” he said. “I hope you will continue to look into this situation and offer solutions.”

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74 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Monday; 348 Active

in News/Coronavirus
9805

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases decreased by 104 from Friday, bringing the state’s total to less than 400.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 186 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 74 new laboratory-confirmed and five new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 348 active cases, down 104 from Friday.

Laramie County’s active cases fell dramatically from Friday to total 80, while Sweetwater had 45; Freemont 39; Teton 37; Albany and Natrona had 23; Uinta 21; Lincoln 20; Campbell 15; Sublette 14; Park eight; Sheridan seven; Goshen and Weston four; Johnson three; Converse two; Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie had one case each and Carbon, Crook, Niobrara and Platte had the least, with 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 56,529 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 55,481 have recovered.

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