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Wyo Legislature’s Management Council doles out interim assignments

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By Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council, a committee made up of legislative leadership from both parties, met in Cheyenne on Thursday and Friday to assign interim topics to the body’s standing committees. Among the prioritized topics are taxes, education, modernizing oil and gas regulation, and sage grouse mitigation.

Our Robert Geha attended the meeting and spoke with House Speaker Pro Tempore Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) about why taxes remain a legislative focus for the 2020 Budget Session when no tax legislation reached the Governor’s desk during the 2019 General Session.

“Keeping the momentum of educating the public and educating members on how our economy is changing and how we need to change our revenues as our economy changes,” said Sommers of the rationale for continuing the tax discussion in the interim.

The 2020 Wyoming Legislative Budget session will convene February 10th in the renovated Wyoming Capitol.

For more coverage of Wyoming government plus local stories that impact you, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

#TravelTuesday: Get a long little dogie — and head for the dachshund races at the Wyoming State Winter Fair

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Wyoming Dachsund
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By Cowboy State Daily

A race between long little dogies will highlight this weekend’s activities at the Wyoming State Winter Fair in Lander.

Wiener Dog Races — where organizers promise there will be “no losers … only wieners,” will top the morning’s activities at the Lander Rodeo Grounds on Saturday.

The race is the first of its kind for the 52-year-old State Winter Fair, said Yvette Broadhead, the fair’s president.

“The Fremont County Fair in Riverton is putting it on for us,” Broadhead said. “They called us and said it would be a fun event and we just jumped on board because we thought it was excellent. We’re all excited for it.”

Races featuring 10 dachshunds will be held until the field for a championship race is filled. Broadhead said organizers hope competitors will come from across Wyoming to take part.

Another major event of the weekend will be a miniature bull riding competition.The Ultimate Miniature Bullriding event, put on by Howl Rodeo Bulls, features young athletes — under the age of 15 — competing on bulls that are smaller than those usually seen in rodeos.

Ultimate Miniature Bullriding is a national program designed to help young aspiring bull riders learn more about the sport by giving them a chance to compete.

The competition has been a feature at the winter fair for some years, Broadhead said.

“Those kids are so good,” she said. “The whole crowd just loves them.”

The weekend begins with team roping on Friday and will wrap up Sunday with a horse show at the rodeo grounds arena.

The State Winter Fair was created in 1967 as a way to give people something to do during the long winter months, Broadhead said. The year’s fair had to be held over two weekends because of scheduling issues at various venues. Activities held on Feb. 23 included a duct tape fashion show, live music and a talent show.

For more information, visit the Wyoming State Winter Fair website at WyomingStateWinterFair.org.

Abortion waiting period bill dies in committee

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would impose a 48-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions will not be reviewed by Wyoming’s Senate.

HB 140 will not receive a hearing in the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee this session, committee Chair Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, said Thursday.

Scott said the committee has a number of major bills to deal with before Wednesday, the last day for committees to send bills they have reviewed to the floor. He added he does not think the waiting period is a significant issue in Wyoming because most women seeking abortions go to other states.

Under existing Wyoming law, a doctor must give a woman seeking an abortion the chance to see an ultrasound of the fetus and hear a recording of its heartbeat. HB 140 would have required the doctor to wait 48 hours after extending that invitation to perform the procedure.

The bill was approved in the House on Feb. 1 by a vote of 36-22. Without a committee hearing, the bill will die before being reviewed by the full Senate.

In the Platte Valley, ice fishing derby a community affair

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Video courtesy of Mike McCrimmon.

Ice anglers from several states are on Saratoga Lake this weekend for the annual Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby. The weekend, always the third in January, includes a special Small Fry Derby for children under age 14.

Last weekend Platte Valley kids took to Treasure Island Pond on the Silver Spur Ranch to learn all the basics. And catch fish. Our report is from Cowboy State Daily videographer Mike McCrimmon.

Convention of States seeks constitutional convention

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A former legislator is heading the effort in Wyoming to hold a constitutional convention to consider amendments to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government and impose term limits on members of Congress.

Nathan Winters tells Cowboy State Daily’s Bob Geha that the Convention of States is a national effort started five years ago to convince 34 states to call for a constitutional convention.

House committee kills hemp extract bill

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Man carrying hemp oil product.

By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would have allowed adults to possess and use hemp extract was killed Tuesday by a House committee.

The House Judiciary Committee, in a 4-4 tie vote, defeated HB 100, which would have legalized the use of hemp extract by adults.

Under state law, hemp extract can now be used medicinally. HB 100 would have removed the restrictions on its use, including one that people who are prescribed hemp extract or “hemp oil” by a doctor obtain a registration card.

Death penalty repeal bill introduced in House

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By Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would repeal Wyoming’s death penalty was introduced in the House on Tuesday and is headed for review by a legislative committee.

HB 145, sponsored by 18 legislators from both parties, would make the most severe penalty that could be handed down in murder cases life without parole.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the measure enjoys bipartisan support in part because of the cost involved with pursuing the death penalty.

“The majority of folks coming at it right now are worried about the cost,” he said. “Because we have budgetary issues, they’re worried about what that might look like in the future, knowing that it’s ineffective. It’s a waste of $1 million a year.”

The last person executed in Wyoming was Mark Hopkinson in 1992.

However, opponents argue the repeal of Wyoming’s death penalty would take away a bargaining chip for prosecutors.

Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, also said a repeal would amount to overlooking murder victims.

“I think they’re forgetting the victim in this case and that’s where I look at this bill as they’re not looking back at the circumstances of the crime,” he said.

The bill has been assigned to the House’s Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.

Statewide lodging tax bill gets committee nod

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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would create a new statewide lodging tax to pay for the promotion of Wyoming’s tourism industry was approved by a House committee on Monday and is headed for its first full review in the House.

HB 66 won unanimous approval from the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, sending it to the House floor for its first full review before the entire chamber.

The bill would impose a new statewide lodging tax of 5 percent to be paid by people staying in hotels and motels. 

Revenues from 3 percent of the tax, estimated at $19 million per year, would be used to pay for the operations of the Wyoming Tourism Division. The division is now funded from the state’s main bank account, also called its “General Fund.”

Revenues from the other 2 percent of the tax would be divvied up among the state’s counties for use in promoting their own tourism industries.

The bill would also reduce the maximum lodging tax imposed at the county level from 4 percent to 2 percent.

The statewide tax would guarantee counties a tourism promotion income and give them the option of voting on whether to impose the extra 2 percent tax at the county level, said Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“So when the time period that was currently voted on expires this (statewide) 2 percent would kick in and be guaranteed at the local level,” he said. “The beauty of that is for places like Laramie County, where there’s a 4 percent lodging tax. Now there’s 2 percent guaranteed and when their vote comes back up here every four years, they can still vote on the additional (local) 2 percent.

In other action at the Legislature, representatives approved a bill that would boost the expense payments provided legislators when they are at work on legislative business by $40, to $149 a day. HB 38 now heads to the Senate for its review.

Animal cruelty measure passes committee, heads for Senate

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By Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at making Wyoming’s penalties for animal abuse tougher won approval Monday from a Senate Committee, but committee members first reduced the penalties proposed.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 3-1, with one member excused, to approve SF 33, a bill that would raise the penalty for someone found guilty of cruelty to animals. 

The bill had originally called for a $2,500 fine for a first-time offense, however, the committee recommended the amount be reduced to $1,500. The penalty for animal cruelty now stands at $750.

In the case of a second violation of the law, a person would be fined up to $7,500, compared to current penalties of $5,000. The bill had originally called for a penalty of $10,000. 

A felony conviction, in which a person is convicted of abusing an animal knowing it could cause injury or death, would also be punished by a $7,500 penalty, up two years in prison or both.

The bill now moves to the Senate floor for its first review by all members of the Senate.

Records sought from auditor to be made available

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By Cowboy State Daily

Public records sought from the state auditor’s office for several years will be released online and available for public review within two weeks, according to the founder of a website that posts public documents.

Adam Andrzejewski, founder of “OpenTheBooks.com” said during a meeting with legislative leaders on Friday that an item-by-item list of state spending will be released by his organization soon, capping a legal battle that begain in 2015.

Andrzejewski’s group, which focuses on releasing documents having to do with government financing, asked state Auditor Cynthia Cloud for the information in 2015, but she denied the document request. Cloud said the compilation of the information would make it impossible for her office to do its job properly.

In 2018, Cloud said she would release the documents for a fee of $8,000.

Andrzejewski told the legislative leaders that the information should be available on his website in one to two weeks. 

He added he believes Cloud resisted the group’s requests because the documents contained embarrassing information.

“So in about 10 days, it’s going to be very interesting for the people of Wyoming to take a look at exactly where their tax dollars went and where they were spent by state government,” he said.

Andrzejewski’s appearance in Cheyenne was sponsored by Foster Friess, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in last year’s election. In the interest of full disclosure, it is being noted that Friess is an investor in the Cowboy State Daily.

OpenTheBooks.com has often given Wyoming failing records for transparency because of the number of government agencies at the state and local level that have declined to provide requested documents.

Concerns over government transparency have prompted the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee to propose changes to Wyoming’s Public Documents Act.

Changes recommended by the committee in SF 57 include setting a deadline for government officials to release public documents in response to a request and setting criminal penalties for officials who knowingly or intentionally withhold public documents.

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