Category archive

politics - page 6

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

in News/politics
Tyler Lindholm
3122

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.

Bob Geha: Bill To Increase Per Diem for Wyo Legislators Clears First Hurdle

in Government spending/News/politics
3108

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A proposal to increase the amount paid to legislators to cover their expenses while working for the state is moving forward in the state House.

House Bill 227 would increase the daily “per diem” of legislators from $109 to $151. The per diem covers expenses such as lodging and food and is paid in addition to the legislative salary of $150 per day.

Supporters of the bill argued that the increase is needed to interest more people in serving in the Legislature.

“If it’s working class Wyomingites who we want to see serving in the Legislature, who we want to see going to these commissions and boards and everything else, then we just pay a wage that they can afford to do it,” said Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne.

But opponents such as Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, argued the per diem increase is just a salary boost for lawmakers.

“It’s labeled a per diem increase,” he said. “At least let’s call this what it really is. It’s an attempt to raise salary and in this environment of deficits … time is being wasted on this and it’s … inconsistent with our values.”

The measure was introduced in the House on Friday by a vote of 41-16 and is awaiting review in the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.

Bob Geha: Statewide Lodging Tax Wins House Approval

in News/politics/Tourism
3098

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would impose a statewide 5 percent lodging tax on the cost of hotel and motel rooms won final approval Monday from the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 134 won approval in its final reading from the House on a vote of 39-19, sending it to the Senate for its review.

The bill would impose a 5 percent tax statewide, with 3 percent — about $13 million a year — going to the state Tourism Department for use in promoting Wyoming tourism.

Income from the remaining 2 percent would go to the state’s counties and another 2 percent tax could be imposed at the county level with voter approval.

Chris Brown of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association said the bill’s approval is a victory for tourism in Wyoming.

“By putting the state’s second largest (income) generator and the promoting arm of Wyoming on a more competitive footing, this is a win for outdoor recreation, it’s a win for tourism, it’s a win for the state,” he said.

Opponents argued voters might be hesitant to approve the extra 2 percent tax with the statewide tax in place.

“My Sublette County people were afraid of that,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. “They’re afraid that this bill could cause the voter to have a backlash and they may not be able to get their remaining 2 percent that’s (approved by) a vote of the people.”

A similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

Wyoming House Kills Child-Marriage Bill

in News/politics
Wyoming Legislature
3082

A proposal to raise the legal age for marriage in Wyoming to 18 died Friday in the state House.

Representatives voted not to introduce HB 67, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey. D-Laramie.

Pelkey, who unsuccessfully offered a similar bill during the Legislature’s general session last year, said people who marry under the age of 18 face legal limits on what they can do. He also noted domestic violence and divorce rates are often higher among those who marry before the age of 18.

The bill was part of a wider effort seen around the world, Pelkey said.

“What I’m trying to do in Wyoming is to be part of a global effort to put a cap on the age of marriage at at least age 18,” he said. “Even Saudi Arabia right now is trying to take steps to eliminate child marriage.”

But Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said there are often many factors involved when people marry young that the proposal did not take into account.

“I think that reality and life get in the way of what would otherwise, one would hope, be a straightforward, direct situation,” he said. “It’s a more complex set of circumstances, often.”

People in Wyoming can now get married at the age of 16 or younger with court permission.

Bob Geha: Wyoming Legislature Week in Review

in News/politics
Bob Geha
3073

Wyoming’s Legislature ended the first week of its budget session Friday with a deadline for the introduction of bills to be considered during the budget session.

During a budget session, a non-budget bill needs to collect the votes of two-thirds of the House or Senate to be considered. Any bill not introduced by Friday will not be considered this year.

Among the bills making their way through the process:

HB 28, which would prevent government entities at any level from using public money to conduct “gun buybacks.”

HB 44, the bill that would put Wyoming on Standard Time throughout the year if the federal government approved the change and four surrounding states did the same.

HB 134, imposing a statewide lodging tax of 5 percent.

SF 42, 50 and 52, which bring Wyoming into compliance with new federal rules banning the sale of tobacco to those under 21.

A number of high-profile bills also failed to gain introduction in the Legislature’s first week. 

Among those bills: 

HB 75, which would have extended Medicaid coverage in the state to an estimated additional 19,000 people at a cost to the state of about $18 million in the first two years.

SF 6, a proposed toll on travelers on Interstate 80. Money raised would be used on highway maintenance.

SF 80, proposing a three-day waiting period between the time a person buys a handgun and the time he or she can take possession of it.

SF 88 would have repealed all of Wyoming’s gun-free zones.

HB 66 proposed an end to Wyoming’s death penalty.

HB 63 proposed a 3-cent per gallon increase in taxes on gasoline, bringing the total state taxes to 27 cents per gallon.

Several bills that promised to generate considerable discussion were not voted on for introduction, including bills proposing a personal income tax and a corporate income tax.

House kills ‘Defend the Guard Act’

in News/politics
3076

A measure designed to ban the deployment of Wyoming National Guard members without a formal declaration of war failed to clear introduction in the House on Friday.

House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, would have prohibited the deployment of Wyoming guard members into active duty unless Congress had declared war.

The measure was the subject of a news conference Friday during which U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, spoke in support of the bill.

The bill, dubbed the “Defend the Guard Act,” was defeated in a vote of 22-35.

Bob Geha: Wyoming Bill Would Boost Minimum Wage to $7.25

in News/politics
Bob Geha
3066

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A proposed increase in the state’s minimum wage is awaiting action in the state House of Representatives.

HB 144 would require all businesses in the state to pay their employees at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Wyoming’s minimum wage is now set at $5.15 an hour, but the bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, would see the state’s minimum wage replaced by the federal wage.

The bill would also allow county commissioners to establish minimum wages within their counties that are higher than the federal minimum wages.

Yin said many employers in Wyoming already pay more than the minimum wage because the cost of living in Wyoming is rising.

The bill must receive the support of 40 representatives to be introduced.

Bob Geha: Taxpayer Bill of Rights Legislation Introduced

in News/politics/Taxes
Bob Geha
3059

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s voters would have to approve tax increases and higher debt levels under a measure introduced in Wyoming’s House.

House Joint Resolution 2 proposes an amendment to the state’s Constitution that would require voters to approve tax increases by any governmental entity in the state.

The measure, referred to as the “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” was proposed by state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“This tax increase narrative keeps coming back, it’s the wrong move for our state,” he said. “The other thing this bill does is to put a cap on state expenditures … so that we stop these boom and bust cycles in terms of expenditures. We save more during the boom so we have more in savings during the bust and that means we don’t need the tax increases.”

Gray said if the amendment had been in place years ago, Wyoming would have more than twice in savings what it does now.

To be considered during the budget session, the bill must win the support of 40 representatives. If the bill is approved, a constitutional amendment would be submitted to voters during the general election in November.

Bob Geha: Wyoming State Income Tax Proposed

in Government spending/News/politics
Bob Geha
3050

By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose Wyoming’s first income tax has been proposed for consideration by the Legislature.

Sponsored by House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, House Bill 147 would impose a four percent tax on gross income of more than $200,000 a year.

The measure is necessary to continue paying for public services in the state, said Connolly, D-Laramie.

“We have to think about what we need in order to get the revenue we need for the state,” she said. “And it’s not extra money. It’s services that all of us use and at this point, they’ve been paid for by the extractive industries. We need to come up with different revenue streams and this is one of them.”

Connolly said the tax would raise about $115 million a year to be used for funding public education.

The tax would affect only two percent to three percent of Wyoming’s taxpayers, she added.

The bill is awaiting introduction in the House. As a non-budget bill, the measure will need the support of at least 40 representatives to be introduced for consideration.

Go to Top