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President Trump Asks Congress to Pass Sen. Barrasso’s Highway Bill

in News/politics

President Donald Trump recognized U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) on Tuesday night during his State of the Union address.

Trump urged Congress to pass Barrasso’s Highway Infrastructure legislation.

“We must also rebuild America’s infrastructure,” Trump said to a bipartisan standing ovation.

“I ask you to pass Senator John Barrasso’s highway bill to invest in new roads, bridges, and tunnels all across our land,” he said.

Barrasso’s bill would authorize $287 billion over five years for highways, a figure that is a 27% increase over the current authorizations.

“The president spoke loud and clear tonight about putting partisan politics aside to pass a monumental American infrastructure plan,” Barrasso said following the State of the Union. “This is our moment. We passed a bipartisan bill out of my committee. It’s the largest highway infrastructure bill in our history to rebuild our roads, highways, and bridges. Even more important, it cuts red tape so we can build better, smarter, faster, and cheaper.

“Impeachment has been a costly distraction. We should answer the president’s call and the call of American workers, to put the partisan fights behind us, and get this done now.”

Mark Gordon: U.S. to Buy Wyoming Uranium

in News/politics

By Bill Sniffin

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday morning in Lander that President Donald Trump placed $150 million in his upcoming budget for the purchase of domestic uranium to replenish military supplies. 

Gordon said he spoke with Larry Kudlow, an economic advisor of the president, who said that working with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the purchase was included in the budget. 

“I’m excited,” Gordon said. “Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Larry Kudlow. He let us know that in the president’s budget there will be $150 million item to buy uranium for the strategic weapon reserve.”

“This is a real boon for our uranium industry and for the miners,” he said.

Wyoming is the largest producer of uranium of any state.

Uranium prices have plummeted in recent years because of foreign countries dumping uranium at below market rates. 

“We had asked if he would consider a tariff on uranium that is coming from Kazakhstan,” Gordon said. “For those of you who don’t know, Kazakhstan mines with sulfuric acid, no reclamation, and no real standards for the workforce. They have environmental disaster after environmental disaster but it keeps their prices low.”

Gov. Gordon was in Lander and Fremont County meeting with the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes and talking to the Lander and Riverton Rotary Clubs. 

Wyoming Legislator Says Bill Prohibiting Gun Buyback Programs is “Goofy”

in News/politics

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

A bill submitted to the Wyoming Legislature would prevent cities, towns, counties and state agencies from initiating gun and ammunition buyback programs.

There hasn’t been a gun or ammo buyback program in Wyoming in recent memory, if ever.

But House Bill 28 comes at a time when buyback programs have been discussed and tried in other parts of the United States. Gun rights enthusiasts became concerned when Beto O’Rourke, the one-time Democratic presidential candidate, proposed a buyback of high-powered rifles.

“It’s not really a concern right now, but if it is ever a concern where organizations such as government — whether it’s local or state — are starting to do this in Wyoming, I want to make it as painful as possible to be able to peel back our pro-gun legislation,” said sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said he agreed to co-sponsor the bill because he wants to protect the Second Amendment.

“My thinking on it, when I read the bill, is it’s a gun rights thing for me,” he said. “I don’t think government should get involved in going in and confiscating someone’s firearms under the Second Amendment.”

However, Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, called the bill “goofy.”

She noted that the 2020 legislative session will be focused on the budget, and lawmakers are staring at diminishing revenues this year.

Non-budget legislation will need a vote of two-thirds of either the House or Senate before it can even be sent to a committee, a protocol designed to defeat many bills to keep the lawmakers focused on the two-year budget bill.

“I think our budget is in crisis,” Burlingame said. “We’re going into a budget session that’s meant to be all-hands-on-deck to deal with it. I would never question the motives of my colleagues who are sponsoring this, but I just don’t see the urgency for spending time in a budget year for a hypothetical crisis that seems very unlikely to occur.”

The legislative session begins Feb. 10.

Wisconsin High Schooler Asks Legislators: “Does Wyoming Exist?”

in News/politics

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The email sent to the 60 members of the state Legislature could have been ironic, maybe even a little condescending — coming from a Wisconsin high school senior who claimed his Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics teacher had asked him and his classmates to prove that Wyoming does not exist. 

“If you, as a State Assembly Member, could confirm that the State of Wyoming does not exist, this would be extremely helpful in our endeavor,” the teenager wrote. 

The wisecracks get old – about Wyoming not existing on the map, Wyoming having more horse than car parking, Wyoming having a higher population driving along Interstate 80 to exit the state than people who call it home. 

Transcending the impulse to hit the delete key, Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, turned the question back at the Wisconsinite: “How can we know any of us exist?” she replied.

“In the great state of Wyoming our AP students have been exposed to Plato and his concept of the Great Plane of Being,” she continued. “I don’t mean to cast aspersions on your fine school but I can’t assume that you’re familiar, as you would be had you attended a school whose state consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally.”

Ultimately, the point of Burlingame’s four-paragraph argument was that it’s impossible for people to prove with certainty that they exist. And if someone were to take the argument to its logical conclusion, the Wisconsin high school student is off the hook for his assignment. 

“If none of us really exists, then why does he have to do his homework?” Burlingame later said. “He doesn’t.”

Burlingame described the all-too-common feeling of defensiveness of her beloved home, and the angst when other people try to describe it. 

The director of Wyoming Equality, Burlingame has been asked if she’s been to “Brokeback, Wyoming.”

“This is probably true about most Wyomingites,” she said. “I have a little chip on my shoulder about, ‘Don’t feel bad about your state, you could be in Wyoming.’ Or, ‘Is there anything there?’ What teacher thought this was a good idea for a school kid to be snotty about a small, rural state?”

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chose a reply that was not extremely helpful to the Wisconsin student’s endeavor. 

“It’s actually true,” he said. “We’re a government conspiracy. I’m in a bunker outside the D.C. area. Just don’t tell anyone.”

Zwonitzer then attached a video from the “Garfield” cartoon

“There’s no such place as Wyoming,” the orange cat says, pointing to a map of the state. “Think about it: Have you ever met anyone from Wyoming?”

Burlingame chose to end her reply on a serious note — with a Wyoming plug. 

“PS- You should check out the University of Wyoming – it’s a solid school, highly ranked and our constitution mandates that it be as close to free as possible.” 

Governor Gordon Will Support New Lodging Tax to Promote Tourism

in News/politics/Tourism
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal
Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“I can support it,” Governor Mark Gordon said when asked if he can get behind the concept of a statewide lodging tax to fund the future of tourism.

Gordon was addressing the members of the Wyoming Press Association during that group’s annual meeting in Casper.

“This is an important step for the tourism industry, and I support that industry,” he said.

Tourism is the state’s second largest industry behind energy production and has more employees, 33,000, than any other industry.

Photo by Walter Sprague, Newcastle Newsletter Journal

The new lodging tax proposal contains the following items:

• New title- Wyoming Tourism Account Funding.
• Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored bill
• Imposes a 5% statewide lodging tax (3% dedicated to tourism 2% guaranteed and replaces existing 2% local option lodging tax)
• Up to additional 2% local option lodging tax can be renewed every 4 years but would be vote of governing local government (city council or county commissioners depending if city or county wide tax) instead of vote of the electorate.
• State parks overnight camping would be subject to the tax (except annual resident camping passes, state fair campgrounds and county fair campgrounds- they would all be exempt)
• 80% of the 3% that is dedicated to tourism would be deposited into the newly created tourism account and shall be spent on Wyoming Office of Tourism/Wyoming Tourism Board (subject to legislative approval before spending every year)
• Remaining 20% would be deposited into newly created tourism reserve account. (Subject to legislative approval before spending every year) No more “tipping point”
• Local option lodging tax permissible expenditures amended to include “digital content, social media, staging of events, educational materials and other tourism related objectives including those identified as likely to facilitate tourism or enhance the visitor experience”
• The Bill, if passed, effective January 1, 2021
• Thresholds for when lodging tax shifts from 90/10 to 60/30/10 updated to 2020 dollar values (nothing changes, the thresholds have always been tied to the cost of living index and so thresholds are simply updated to what they are in 2020-they remain tied to index moving forward)
• All existing local option lodging taxes stay in place until their next scheduled election.

Wyoming Attorney General Declines to Sign Letter Condemning Impeachment

in News/politics

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill did not sign a letter condemning President Donald Trump’s impeachment because she wants to remain impartial in her role as an appointed public servant, she said.

“As an appointed, not elected, attorney general, it is important to me that I remain impartial in matters that may be viewed as political or having a political component,” Hill wrote in an email. “My position is not elected and is not based on a political campaign.”

Republican attorneys general from 21 states signed a letter sent to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, which said the impeachment process “threatens all future elections and establishes a dangerous historical precedent.”

The new precedent set by the impeachment could erode the separation of powers between the nation’s legislative and executive branches, the letter opined.

Hill wrote that her duties as attorney general are to focus on legal matters alone, so she would not to join what may be seen as a politically motivated rebuke.

“In addition to actually remaining impartial, it is important that I maintain an appearance of impartiality so that the citizens of Wyoming know that my decisions are based on legal factors alone and not my personal political views,” Hill wrote.  “In this instance, the letter in question was only from Republican attorneys general and thus had the potential to create the appearance that it had a political component to it.”

Hill wrote her decision not to sign the letter is not a personal statement, nor an indicator of her stance on the impeachment.

“Nor should my not signing the letter be viewed as agreement or disagreement with the contents and legal points in the letter,” Hill wrote. “My decision was based solely on the potential for this letter to be viewed as me making a political statement, which as an appointed attorney general I refrain from making.”

Hill was joined by four other Republican attorneys general, who did not sign the letter from Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Attorneys General who signed the letter:
Alan Wilson, South Carolina
Jeff Landry, Louisiana
Sean Reyes, Utah
Steve Marshall, Alabama
Curtis Hill, Indiana
Kevin Clarkson, Alaska
Derek Schmidt, Kansas
Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas
Daniel Cameron, Kentucky
Ashley Moody, Florida
Douglas Peterson, Nebraska
Christopher M. Carr, Georgia
Lynn Fitch, Mississippi
Eric Schmitt, Missouri
Jason Ravsborg, South Dakota
Tim Fox, Montana
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Tennessee
Dave Yost, Ohio
Ken Paxton, Texas
Mike Hunter, Oklahoma
Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia

Wyoming Law Enforcement Not Likely to Enforce Fed Tobacco Law

in News/politics

By Ellen Fike

Cowboy State Daily

The end of the year is ordinarily a hectic time with the rush to complete holiday shopping and preparing for the new year. People usually scramble to complete their work in time for a relaxing few days off from work.

But lawmakers in Washington D.C. were unusually busy passing one piece of legislation in the closing days of the year: a spending bill that also increased the national smoking age to 21 from 18. 

It can take months to implement new laws, but on Dec. 20, the age increase went into effect immediately, putting a strain on retailers selling cigarettes and other tobacco-related products (such as vapes, chewing tobacco and more).

However, in Wyoming, law enforcement officers enforce state laws, not federal ones, creating some confusion over how to handle the new age for tobacco use.

Crook County Sheriff Jeff Hodge said that the smoke has begun to clear over what it means to enforce a state law vs. a federal law. 

“When the Federal Drug Administration passed the law, it was more for retailers to enforce rather than police,” Hodge said. “We definitely got a lot of calls about it, so I ended up writing a press release to clear up some of the confusion. Ultimately, we’re going to keep marching on as we always have.” 

Legally, no one under the age of 21 can buy cigarettes or other tobacco products anywhere in the country, as it’s a federal crime. 

However until the Wyoming Legislature passes a new state statute reflecting the federal law, officers won’t do much, if anything, regarding possession of tobacco products by those under 21. 

A person between the ages of 18 and 20 can possess any tobacco products in the state of Wyoming and won’t be penalized for it, at least for the time being. 

“For example, if an 18-year-old is involved in a traffic stop and they have tobacco in the car, the officer isn’t going to do or say anything about it at this point,” said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police. “Really, it’s state law that someone between 18 and 20 can have tobacco. Federally, they just can’t purchase it for themselves.” 

Federal agents could run compliance checks at retailers that sell tobacco, so if anyone is caught selling to a person under 21, hefty fines could be in place for the seller and the business, Oedekoven said. 

While 19 states already had laws on their books stating that no one under 21 could purchase tobacco products, the law passed in December made it apply nationally. 

The change is intended to discourage teens from smoking, as vaping nicotine has surged in popularity among young people in the last few years. In March 2015, the National Academy of Medicine published information that showed by raising the smoking age to 21, more than 223,000 deaths could be prevented among people born between 2000 to 2019. It would also reduce lung cancer deaths by 50,000.

The Legislature could approve a statute mirroring the federal law during its upcoming budget session. But it could either go into effect immediately or not until July 1. 

Once the state law passes to ban those under 21 from possessing tobacco, anyone between 18 and 20 who is caught with tobacco or tobacco products could receive a possession citation, although Oedekoven noted that it’s up to the discretion of law enforcement and prosecutors to go forward with pursuing that type of charge. It would also be up to the court’s discretion on how much to fine someone possessing tobacco. 

“I think it would be fair to say that if you ended up in court with a smoking citation, there were lots of other things you were doing besides just have cigarettes on you,” Oedekoven said. “It’s an interesting dilemma you have here, but this isn’t the only federal law that isn’t enforced in Wyoming.” 

While Oedekoven and Hodge understand why the age was increased from 18 to 21, they both felt as if Congress was a little hasty passing the legislation as quickly as it did. 

“I think maybe the feds are overreaching a bit,” Hodge said. “There are a lot of opinions out there about the increase, like how you can go to war, but you can’t buy cigarettes now. I know vaping is a bigger issue than smoking or chewing, but I just think that this was a haste law that wasn’t very well thought out.”

Legislature Brings $1.25 Million Impact to Cheyenne

in News/politics

By Ellen Fike

Cowboy State Daily

It’s not hard to spot a legislator downtown during the legislative session. Any Cheyenne resident who’s lived in the town for more than a year or two can attest to being behind a representative at Mort’s Bagels or seeing a group of senators walking toward the closest parking garage. 

On Feb. 10, 75 legislators from all over the state (excluding the 15 that live in Laramie County) will descend on Cheyenne for the 2020 budget session, which is tentatively scheduled to run for four weeks. 

This year will also be the first time in four years the legislators will meet at the Capitol, meaning that they’ll definitely be frequenting the downtown area. But it won’t be just legislators; this influx of visitors to downtown Cheyenne will include lobbyists, constituents traveling for various committee meetings and other individuals.

Estimates for the 20-day session put its direct economic impact at more than $500,000.

Darren Rudloff, chief executive officer for Visit Cheyenne, said the visiting legislators generate about $1.25 million in direct spending during a typical 40-day session. Direct spending means that this is what the legislators (or their spouses or staff members) spend in Cheyenne, whether it’s for meals, lodging, transportation and business services. 

As for indirect spending, Rudloff said the legislators will add another $1.9 million to the economy in 40 days. Indirect spending is expansive, almost like a ripple effect, where businesses will buy more inventory or bring in more staff to take care of their guests. 

“So indirect spending is something like if you went to The Metropolitan downtown and wiped them out of broccoli and tequila,” Rudloff said. “This means they need to restock their supply of broccoli and tequila. This is also going to mean things like a hotel bringing in more cleaning staff to ready the legislators’ rooms or something along those lines.” 

As for local taxes, Rudloff said Cheyenne receives around $37,000 during a 40-day session. 

While it’s not quite the same impact that Cheyenne Frontier Days brings every year, Rudloff did note that potential hotel developers often ask why there’s such an increase in traffic every February. This annual increase helps developers decide whether or not to put a new hotel in the city.  

“It definitely makes a difference, their being here every year,” he said. “It’s a nice shot in the arm to the economy. Constituents usually worry when there’s a special session, but for the local economy, it’s great.”

Little America Hotel and Resort general manager Tony O’Brien said that while the hotel definitely brings in its share of legislators every year, he’s noticed a shift toward the lawmakers choosing rental properties when they come for a month-long stay. 

AirBnB’s website boasted more than 300 listings in the Cheyenne area that would be available during this year’s session, ranging in price from $600 to $1,400 for a one-month stay in not only guest rooms but entire apartments and houses.

O’Brien and Rudloff mentioned occasions when lawmakers would rent an AirBnB house or an apartment and split the cost.

“We haven’t seen a decrease in legislators staying with us, but I’ve talked with some of them during receptions and other events and I’ve noticed the younger legislators using an AirBnB instead of a hotel,” O’Brien said. “I think sometimes when you’re staying here for a long time, you want to be able to have that home away from home experience.” 

The legislators aren’t just coming to the hotel for overnight stays, though. There are also a number of receptions held throughout the session that are hosted at Little America. 

But O’Brien is quick to point out that the legislators’ leisure activities affect all of Cheyenne, not just his hotel. 

“There has been some quality space added to Cheyenne in the last few years,” he said. “Cheyenne just offers a great product for visitors, not just the legislators. Obviously, we at Little America want to provide quality service for all of our guests, including the legislators, but the city and county have just incredible services as a whole.” 

Bill Would Prohibit ‘Gun Buyback’ Programs in Wyoming

in News/politics

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would prohibit governmental entities from running “gun buyback” programs has been filed for consideration by the Legislature during its upcoming session.

House Bill 28 would prohibit any Wyoming government body, including the University of Wyoming, from buying firearms from citizens.

The programs have been used in some large cities around the country in an effort to reduce the number of firearms on the street, however, no such program has been staged in Wyoming.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, said he wants to make sure it is difficult in the future to launch a “buyback” in Wyoming.

“It’s not really a concern right now,” he said. “But if it is ever a concern, where organizations such as governments, whether local or state, are starting to do this … I want to make it as painful as possible for them to be able to peel back our … legislation.”

The measure has supporters among firearms retailers such as Ryan Allen of Cheyenne’s Frontier Arms.

Allen said in such programs, governments often end up paying far more for firearms than they are worth.

“The broken firearms, the inert, the $20 to $35 firearms … they’re paying four to five times what they’re worth,” he said.

Lindholm agreed.

“There will be some people who take advantage of the incompetency of government and bring in grandpa’s old over-and-under (shotgun) that’s been broken for the last 30 years and get $500 for it,” he said.

Both agreed that the more important issue is that of preserving Second Amendment rights.

“In regards to gun violence, the answer’s pretty clear at that point, you should let people defend themselves, let them practice their own God-given right,” Lindholm said.

“Firearms and gun ownership is part of our culture here in Wyoming,” Allen said. “So hopefully that doesn’t change.”

The Legislature’s budget session begins Feb. 10. Because Lindholm’s bill is not related to the budget, it would have to win support from two-thirds of the House to even be considered.

CREG: Latest Wyoming Revenue Estimate Shows $48 Million Drop

in Government spending/News/politics

By Bob Geha

Wyoming legislators will have $48 million less to spend over the next two years than originally believed, according to a report issued Friday.

The state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) submitted a report to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee that showed revenues for the state over the next biennium, running from July of 2020 through June of 2022, will drop below levels predicted in October.

The CREG told JAC members the decline was largely due to drops in natural gas prices.

The JAC is meeting to prepare its budget for the biennium for presentation to the Legislature, which opens its budget session on Feb. 10. After all of the state’s agencies are funded, officials believe lawmakers will only have about $20 million to $25 million to finance other projects.

Although the state has reserve funds it can use to pay some operations, those reserves will not last forever and lawmakers will have to take that into account, said JAC member Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper.

“There’s going to be multiple legislators that have great ideas coming from their neck of the woods and we’ll just have to see how those work out,” he said. “Wyoming is in a good position as we do have some reserves that can be used, but those reserves won’t last forever, so we have to make some hard choices for certain.”

Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, another JAC member, said he believes the Legislature will have to be careful with programs that put an ongoing drain on state coffers.

“Those ongoing expenses of government that we have, we need to be careful where we inflate those and where the needs are, because I really do worry about revenues going into the future,” he said.

As the state adjusts to lower revenues from its energy industry, it might turn more to the tourism and outdoor recreation sectors to make up for declining income, said committee member Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson.

“It really puts the attributes that this state loves and the things that we love about living here and puts it right out front,” he said. “We want to display that to the world. That’s the way we can get people to come, to visit, to spend money, which creates money for the state. It’s a good bet for the state.”

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