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In the Platte Valley, ice fishing derby a community affair

in Recreation/Uncategorized
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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

in News/Uncategorized
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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

in Uncategorized
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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

in Uncategorized
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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

in Uncategorized
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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

in Uncategorized
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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

in Uncategorized
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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.

Tight schedules, priorities sometimes keep bills from becoming law

in Uncategorized
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Wyoming Legislative Gavel

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With Wyoming’s Legislature working under a tight schedule, the life or death of some bills often comes down to a matter of timing and priorities.

Each session, a handful of bills fail to gain introduction and die before they are heard. Later in the process, bills die while waiting for review on what is called the “General File.” This is a list of bills that have been introduced, reviewed and approved by committees and sent back to the House or Senate for an in-depth review and discussion by the full body.

In 2017, the Legislature’s last general session, of the almost 500 bills proposed, 12 failed to be introduced and about 25 died while awaiting review on the General File.

Secretary of State Ed Buchanan served in the House of Representatives before winning his current office. There he served as both House speaker (2011-2012) and House majority floor leader (2009-2010), the person responsible for the flow of legislation.

Buchanan said the issue is largely one of timing. For the Legislature to complete its work within 40 days, certain deadlines must be met — such as the first in-depth review of bills before their originating chambers. That first review is required before the bill goes on to its second and third reading — and then across the Capitol to the other chamber for further review.

“There are only so many days, so much time in each day,” he said. “Early in the session, the majority floor leader will not have more than 15 or 20 bills stacked up (on the General File) and yours goes in the queue and you’ll get it heard in the Committee of the Whole in a day or two,” he added. “But as time goes on, that list gets to be longer and pretty soon … you might have 60 to 75 bills or more stacked up and you’re getting close to the day that it has to get reported out of, say, the House to third reading.”

This year, the deadline for “Committee of the Whole” in both the House and Senate is Feb. 4, the 19th day of the Legislature’s session.

As the deadline approaches and the number of bills on the General File grows, the majority floor leader must figure how to get as many bills through Committee of the Whole as possible, Buchanan said.

“The majority floor leader has to really prioritize and say ‘This bill is more important and deals with more substantive issues or is an issue that is very timely,’” he said. “There are so many factors that go into that decision.”

The decision to put one bill ahead of another is a personal one for the majority floor leader, but not necessarily based on whether he or she agrees with the topic of the legislation.

“It’s a personal opinion, an evaluation on a single bill that determines its priority and can ultimately determine its success or demise,” he said. “Never because you are personally opposed to a legislator’s ideas.”

Assisting in the process, Buchanan said, is the fact that as they approach the deadline for Committee of the Whole, legislators appear to become more selective in the bills they hear.

“The body becomes less patient and they become even more discerning,” he said. “As the General File gets into those last days, you’ll see some things die even though they made it up for debate on Committee of the Whole. People just start killing some bills.”

Legislature wraps up its first week of work

in Uncategorized
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Legislature wrapped up its first week of business Friday with the initial review of a number of bills.

Both the Senate and House had already given their final approval to several bills by the end of their third full day of work.

Among the bills to win final approval in one chamber Friday was HB 38, which would boost the amount paid legislators to cover their expenses from $109 to $149 per day. The bill now heads to the Senate for its review.

On the Senate side, a bill that would expand the eligibility for Hathaway Scholarships was approved in its second reading Friday. SF 43, which would make Hathaway Scholarships available to career technical students, will receive its final Senate review Monday.

Winning preliminary approval in the Senate was a bill designed to restrict the prescription of opioids. SF 46 was approved by the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and was then approved by the “Committee of the Whole” on Friday.

The bill would limit opioid prescriptions to 14 days for patients who have not been on the drug for 45 days. Exemptions are built in for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as cancer.

Ceballos describes himself as ‘generalist’

in Uncategorized
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By Cowboy State Daily

The next director of the state’s Health Department describes himself as a “generalist” who relies on the experts around him to get things done.

Mike Ceballos, former president of Qwest in Wyoming, was named Thursday to head the state Health Department, succeeding Tom Forslund, who is leaving the post after the Legislature wraps up its session in February.

Ceballos said he will rely heavily on the experts in the Health Department to keep it operating smoothly.

“There’s lots of great specialists,” he said Friday. “So what you have to do is build confidence in those folks to say ‘You’re going to have to help me make decisions. That means you’ll have to tell me the good things that are going on, the things that aren’t working so well and then we’ll work together to set the policy and pace.’”

Ceballos was one of three people named to leadership positions Thursday in the administration of Gov. Mark Gordon.

Lynn Budd was tapped to head the state’s Department of Homeland Security and former state Sen. Leland Christensen was named Budd’s deputy.

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