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politics

Barrasso: Violence and Looting Must Stop Now

in News/politics
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The peaceful protests mourning the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd have been hijacked by criminals and the resulting violence must stop, Sen. John Barrasso said Tuesday.

Barrasso, appearing on FOX News, said he was “heartbroken” after watching the video of Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

But that doesn’t excuse the violence and looting happening all across the nation, he said.

“These violent criminals responsible for the wanton destruction, the rioting, and the looting have no respect for the law,” he said. “These are people who are trying to undermine the nation.”

Barrasso said the violent actions must stop and there should be no tolerance for the behavior.

When asked if he thought the people of Wyoming would support their taxpayer dollars going toward fixing the damage in Minneapolis, New York, or in other cities, Barrasso said he felt there would be more support for jailing the offenders.

“If the president needs to help to make sure that the mayors and the governors have what they need in terms of national guard or military support to put this violent element off the streets, then the people of Wyoming are prepared to pay for that,” he said.

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Statewide Lodging Tax Becomes Law

in News/politics
3263

A bill creating a statewide lodging tax was signed into law Friday by Gov. Mark Gordon, clearing the way for the tax to take effect Jan. 1.

House Bill 134 will impose a statewide 5 percent tax on the cost of hotel and motel rooms, with money raised by 3 percent of the tax, about $13 million a year, to be used by the state Office of Tourism to promote tourism in Wyoming.

Income from the remaining 2 percent will go to the state’s counties, where an additional 2 percent lodging tax could be imposed with voter approval.

Also signed into law on Friday was House Bill 5, which authorizes digital driver’s licenses.

The bills were signed as lawmakers wrapped up the fourth week of their budget session. The session is expected to end next week.

Bob Geha: Two-Person Train Crew Bill Clears House

in News/politics
3224

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would require that the crews on trains crossing Wyoming consist of at least two people has won final approval from Wyoming’s House.

Representatives voted 37-22 on Thursday to approve House Bill 79 in its third and final House reading, sending the bill to the Senate for its review.

The bill would require that all train crews in Wyoming consist of at least two people. It would also forbid railroads from proposing 1-person crews in their contract negotiations with unions.

Bill sponsor Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, said 2-person crews are a necessary safety measures on trains.

“When trains roll through Laramie at 50 mph, Rock Springs, they don’t stop, Evanston, they don’t stop,” he said. “Three-mile trains hauling unbelievable hazardous material … It’s scary what’s rolling through our towns.”

The measure was approved despite objections from some representative who said the state should not be getting involved with the operation of private businesses.

“I don’t think it’s government’s role to tell them what to do,” said Rep Bunky Loucks, R-Casper.

Bob Geha: 48-Hour Waiting Period for Abortions Approved in House

in Health care/News/politics
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a 48-hour waiting period on women seeking an abortion won final approval from the House on Friday.

HB 197 was approved on the House floor on its third and final reading by a vote of 39-17.

The bill was amended to reduce a proposed sentence of 10 years for doctors who do not observe the waiting period to one year, a $1,000 fine or both.

The change was supported by Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, who said the penalty originally proposed in the bill was too strict.

“To apply a 10-year felony provision to that when we don’t apply the same standard to a rapist is absurd,” he said.

However, other amendments that would have reimbursed women for temporary housing, meals and other expenses while waiting the 48 hours was rejected.

Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, said the amendment would have provided much needed support for women who are poor.

“I am trusting this body to say if we’re gonig to ask women to do this, we will set aside the money,” she said. “Not for all women. If you have means and you can go to Jackson, you’re on your own. But if you’re poor, then the state acknowledges your right to medical care … “

The vote sends the bill to the Senate for its review.

Grand Teton Culls 3 Dozen Mountain Goats, Stops After Governor, Feds Object

in News/politics
Mountain goats
3191

By Nicole Blanchard, Cowboy State Daily

Aerial sharpshooters at Grand Teton National Park partially eradicated a herd of invasive mountain goats last weekend as Wyoming and federal officials asked the National Park Service to halt its plans.

In an email on Tuesday, park spokeswoman Denise Germann said 36 animals were killed in a helicopter operation Friday. There were approximately 100 mountain goats in the park herd. Germann said there are no additional operations planned.

Later Friday evening, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt reportedly ordered the National Park Service to “stand down” on the mountain goat cull.

In a Monday news release from Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, officials said Bernhardt halted the operation after reading a “strongly worded” letter Gordon had sent Friday to acting Grand Teton superintendent Gopaul Noojibail.

“I appreciate the excellent working relationship we have with Secretary Bernhardt and that he is willing to discuss this issue in more detail without the pressure of ongoing aerial hunting,” Gordon said in the release. “I look forward to a more fruitful conversation about better ways to address this issue in a more cooperative manner.”

Germann said Noojibail and Gordon met Tuesday to “discuss efforts to protect the native Teton Range bighorn sheep herd from going extinct.” The mountain goat cull is meant to remove the invasive species, which Germann said could potentially transmit fatal pathogens to the native bighorn sheep or compete with the sheep for territory and resources. 

“It was a productive meeting and we greatly appreciate the governor’s time and interest,” Germann said.

The aerial hunt, which was carried out by contractors, has been the subject of controversy for some time. Last month, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission passed a resolution condemning the National Park Service’s plan. At the time, agency director Brian Nesvik said Game and Fish had “communicated several times, in multiple ways” to the National Park Service that it disagreed with the plan.

Nesvik again criticized the aerial cull on Friday in a call to Grand Teton’s Noojibail. Rather than killing the mountain goats by aerial sharpshooter, Nesvik and the agency proposed allowing hunters on the ground to remove the invasive species. Last year, Game and Fish helped thin the mountain goat herd with a hunt outside park boundaries.

On Tuesday, Nesvik said his agency would be willing to collaborate with the National Park Service moving forward.

“We remain prepared to work with Grand Teton to meet their management objectives using methods that align with the value Wyoming people have for wildlife,” Nesvik said through a spokeswoman.

Germann, the Grand Teton spokeswoman, said hunters may have a chance to further thin the herd as soon as this year.

“The National Park Service is continuing to develop a skilled volunteer culling program that could be implemented as early as this fall,” she said. “This culling program will utilize trained volunteers to remove non-native mountain goats via ground-based methods.”

Grand Teton initially planned to remove the goats in January but had to delay the operation due to snow and high winds.

Bob Geha: Construction Coalition Pushing for Trade Legislation

in News/politics
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges are contributing to the effort to get more young residents involved in the building trades, according to the head of the Wyoming Construction Coalition.

Heidi Peterson, whose organization hosted a lunch for legislators on Monday, praised the work done to prepare students for jobs in construction.

“The university started their construction program this year, we have 62 students in it for the first year,” she said. “Then … all of the junior colleges have different programs You can go to Torrington for welding, for example, for a skills trade.”

The coalition is watching three bills making their way through the Legislature that would make some changes in the way government entities hire and pay contractors and those providing professional services, such as architects.

Bob Geha: Daylight Saving Time Bill Awaits House Review

in News/politics
Cheyenne Depot
3162

A measure that would allow Wyoming to stay on daylight saving time year-round has won initial approval from the state House.

House Bill 44 was approved last week by the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee and was approved in its first full review in the House on Monday.

The bill would allow Wyoming to apply to the federal government to remain on daylight savings time throughout the year, but only if Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Montana approve the same change.

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, said the bill would eliminate the need to change time twice a year, which he said poses a safety threat.

“It just affects you when you’re getting up in the morning at a different time,” he said. “It just really hurts you, I think.”

Laursen said 12 other states are looking at the same issue, as is Congress.

The bill must win initial approval on the House floor by Tuesday to be considered for further action.

Group Forms to Represent Emergency Medical Service Workers

in News/politics
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A new organization is giving emergency medical services personnel a unified voice in the Legislature.

The Wyoming Association for Emergency Medical Services represents paramedics and emergency medical technicians, giving them a way to influence policies that affect them.

Sharla Allen, the organization’s executive director, said there are more than 4,500 emergency medical service providers working for 72 different organizations in Wyoming, including both public and private entities. 

Allen’s organization is in the middle of a membership drive.

Allen said the group will provide a way for those workers, including some volunteers, to reach out to policy makers in an organized way.

“There is no single, solitary, united voice for EMS providers such as here at the Legislature,” she said. “And also the organization is pulling together so they can provide excellence in advocacy and education.”

Bob Geha: Bill Prohibiting ‘Gun Buybacks’ Wins House Approval

in News/politics
Tyler Lindholm
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill aimed at prohibiting “gun buybacks” using public money won final approval in the House on Wednesday.

Representatives voted 55-4 to approve House Bill 28, which would prevent any Wyoming government entity from running a “buyback program,” where entities buy weapons to keep them from being used in violent crime.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said such programs are usually a waste of taxpayer money.

“At the end of the day, it’s somebody with a junk shotgun that they’ll never use, never have any intent of using,” he said. “So it’s just a waste of taxpayer dollars to say that’s somehow taking guns off the street because that gun was never on the street to begin with.”

Lindholm said such programs have not worked well in other states.

“Often times, we as the government, politicians, we like to pretend that everything we create is flowery and it’s all working wonderfully,” he said. “In situations like this, it’s clearly not. In places that do have gun buybacks, they haven’t seen the expected results.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for review.

Cat Urbigkit: Quickly and in Darkness, Wyo Gov’t Works to Buy 1 Million Acres

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Government spending/News/politics
Wyoming
3103

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

I listened attentively to Governor Mark Gordon’s live-streamed State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 10. There was no mention of a proposal for our state government to purchase 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming in that address.

Two days later, on Feb. 12, two polished bills were filed in the Wyoming Legislature that would allow our state’s top officials to negotiate an undisclosed land deal, for an unknown price. 

Governor Gordon and our legislative leaders held a press conference on Monday, Feb. 17 in Cheyenne to announce the proposal – a full week after that live-streamed State of the State address.

Fortunately Casper Star-Tribune reporter Nick Reynolds was able to attend the press conference, because his breaking news article announcing the proposal is all we have to go on.

According to the article, the deal involves 1 million acres of private land and 4 million acres of mineral rights along the I-80 corridor that is held by Occidental Petroleum in an area of checkerboard land ownership.

This deal “would be part of an effort to improve public land access and generate revenues from its sale.”

Our state leaders called this a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity “to improve the state’s ability to raise revenues” according to the article.

For some, the thought of 1 million acres of private land being gobbled up by government – in a state that is already majority-owned by government – is a hard pill to swallow. Perhaps that’s why the legislation proposes to establish “payment in lieu of taxes” to local governments for loss of private lands from the tax rolls.

The proposed legislation also says “all state laws governing the management of state lands shall be applicable to assets purchased” so at least we know that the land could be subject to multiple uses. 

Another bill, House Bill 37, would expedite the process for the exchange of state lands for the purpose of public access to state lands, and this is also part of the legislative bundle to enable this land deal.

Reynold’s article also tells us that yet another bill, House Bill 222 would exempt members of the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) from provisions of the state’s public meetings law “which could be used to investigate details of the purchase prior to pursuing it.”

I’m glad Reynolds noted that because I had no idea that was the purpose when I read the bill itself. All the proposed bill says is that the SLIB board is exempt from the public meetings law “when meeting solely for the purpose of receiving education or training provided that the board shall take no action regarding public business during the meeting.”

Although this proposal has been worked on for months, according to Reynold’s article, the public became aware of it only yesterday.

The proposal, and the legislation enabling it, are being fast-tracked during this 20-day legislative session so that the deal can be negotiated this summer and perhaps completed by the end of the year. The Governor’s office has promised to issue a press release about the proposal later today.

I looked at the records on land parcels in Carbon and Sweetwater counties and when I searched for Occidental, got no results. Then I remembered that Occidental now owns Anadarko and that’s how the county GIS data lists the parcels.

Since we know very little about this whole deal, we can only assume it’s some of the parcels we’ve included in the screen captures accompanying this column. If you want a closer look, go to the GIS systems of Sweetwater County, and Carbon County and type “Anadarko” into the search engine.

It appears that some of the land in the deal is located in Colorado and Utah, and legislation allows for the sale of those parcels.

House Bill 249 would allow investment of unknown but substantial amounts of state funds for the deal, and Senate File 138 does the same. The fiscal notes for both bills are identical:

“The fiscal or personnel impact is not determinable due to insufficient time to complete the fiscal note process.

“This bill authorizes real property purchases from the following sources:

 The Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA)

The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund

The Common School Permanent Land Fund and 

Other unobligated unencumbered funds to the State Loan and Investment Board or to the Board of Land Commissioners.

There is appropriated funds necessary from the State Building Commission Contingency Account.

There is appropriated funds necessary from the LSRA.”

I know that there needs to be some level of confidentiality in land purchases. But the State of Wyoming’s cavalier attitude that we the public should just trust our state leaders isn’t enough when it comes to this big of a deal. 

Let’s shine some light on our government. If the State wants us to go along on this land deal, then sell it to us.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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