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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.

Tight schedules, priorities sometimes keep bills from becoming law

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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

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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’

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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.

Speaker pleased with tone of Gordon’s ‘State of the State’

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By Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon’s first “State-of-the-State” address showed that the new Republican governor is ready to get right to work on the state’s problems, said House Speaker Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper.

Harshman, speaking after Gordon’s 45-minute address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday, said he was pleased with the tone of the speech.

“I appreciate his willingness now to really go to work, because that’s what we’re here for is to fix things and accomplish things and solve problems for our people,” he said.

Harshman said he also thought the governor addressed issues important to the state during his speech.“They never really go away,” he said. “Our predecessors debated those and 100 years from now we’ll still be talking about transportation and health and education and all those things. He touched on most of those.”

The House and Senate entered their first full day of work Thursday, introducing bills and referring them to committee for review.

So far, more than 200 pieces of legislation have been filed for review during the 2019 general session.

Ceballos tapped to head Health Department, Budd to head Homeland Security

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By The Cowboy State Daily

A former Cheyenne business executive was named to helm the state’s Health Department on Thursday as Gov. Mark Gordon continues to build his administration.

Mike Ceballos, former president of Qwest Communications in Wyoming, was one of three people whose names were announced to take leadership positions in Gordon’s administration.

Also named to leadership spots during a news conference with Gordon were Cheyenne resident Lynn Budd, who will head the state’s Department of Homeland Security, and former state Sen. Leland Christensen, who will act as Budd’s deputy director.

Ceballos, a Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction in 2014, will succeed current Health Department Director Tom Forslund, who is to step down at the end of the legislative session.

On other issues during the news conference, Gordon said he would like to see a better return on the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” a reserve fund that can be tapped to make up for funding shortfalls.

Gordon said the fund, which contains almost $1.8 billion, is generating 2 percent in interest, while the state’s Permanent Minerals Trust Fund investments yield a return of 4 percent to 5 percent.

He said it might be smart to invest part of the Rainy Day Fund money in such a way as to boost its earnings, perhaps in stocks.

“We are trying to say let’s take little bit of this, if we’re saving it for the future … and get a little bit better return,” he said.

Gordon urges ‘steady as she goes’ approach to finances in first address

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By The Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon used his first “State-of-the-State” address on Wednesday to urge Wyoming’s lawmakers to adopt a “steady as she goes” philosophy to state finances.

Gordon, speaking to a joint session of Wyoming’s Legislature, noted that projections for state revenues have dropped significantly in the last three months due to declines in oil and gas prices.

While the state has been good about putting money back to guard against such declines, lawmakers must avoid dipping too deeply into those reserves and must put money back into those accounts when possible, Gordon said.

“It is true that Wyoming has been responsible in putting together savings that can help stabilize the downturns,” he said. “If we are to chart our own future, we must also be disciplined and refill and even augment those savings in good times.”

To avoid borrowing from reserves, such as the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” the state must continue its work to contain spending, Gordon said.

“That means we will first have to do our best to contain expenditures,” he said. “A lot of that work is underway already, but I believe we must look both more broadly and deeply at finding better ways of delivering services and finding savings.”

Gordon also urged legislators to support efforts to improve safety in Wyoming’s schools and provide a steady, stable funding source for education.

“Over the next several years we must work towards a more stable and predictable way to fund education from our rural schools in places like Bill to our larger schools in Cheyenne, Casper or Rock Springs,” he said.

Gordon also said he was offering a series of proposals aimed at allowing high school students and adults to pursue technical education that would help them find jobs.

“Today, more than ever we need to provide the educational opportunities to enable a nimble workforce to find a job with companies right here in Wyoming,” he said.

The state must also continue to support its mineral industries, Gordon said, which will continue to be a mainstay of its economy.

“We must continue to advocate for all of these industries, including fighting for level playing fields internationally,” he said.

Wyoming will also continue to support coal extraction, even as it continues research into new technologies for its use, the governor said.

“Here in Wyoming, we will continue to seek innovative solutions that support coal, address climate change, and grow our economy,” he said.

Despite projected declines in the state’s revenues, Gordon said he supports former Gov. Matt Mead’s proposed $148 million supplemental budget, which includes raises for state employees.

On other issues, Gordon said he wants to make sure the state provides local communities with the resources they need to thrive, conduct a thorough review of the state’s economic development programs and work with the Legislature to develop solutions to the state’s health care problems.

Primer: How a bill moves through the Legislature

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By the Cowboy State Daily

The journey of a bill through Wyoming’s Legislature involves several reviews by both the Senate and House, along with reviews by committees, after it is filed with the Legislative Service Office. It will be sent to the governor for his approval to become law only if approved at each step. Here are the steps for a bill to become law:

1. Introduction — The first review or “First Reading” of a bill in its originating chamber. If approved by a majority of the chamber’s members, the bill is sent to a committee for review.

2. Committee review — The members of the committee review and vote on whether the bill should move forward. They can also recommend changes or “amendments” to the bill.

3. Committee of the Whole — After committee approval, the bill is discussed in front of all members of the chamber in what is called the “Committee of the Whole.” Legislators then decide whether to proceed with the bill, kill it or amend it.

4. Second Reading — After being approved by the Committee of the Whole, legislators decide during the Second Reading whether the bill should proceed to a third and final reading.

5. Third Reading — The final review of a bill in either the House or Senate. The bill can be amended, killed or passed.When a bill is approved in its third reading in one chamber, it is sent to the other and the review process begins again.After its review in the second chamber, the bill must clear several more steps:

Concurrence — When a bill has cleared its second chamber, it is sent back to its originating chamber for review. Any changes made in the second chamber must be approved by members of the first. If no changes have been made or if the changes are approved, the bill is sent to the governor for his signature, when it becomes law.

Conference Committee — If changes made by the second chamber are rejected, a Conference Committee — made up of three senators and three representatives — can be formed to iron out any differences. Each chamber is then asked to approve the Conference Committee’s report. If the report is rejected, another conference committee can formed. If accepted, the bill is sent to the governor for his signature.

Veto and Override — If the governor vetoes a bill, the veto can be “overridden” by a two-thirds vote of each chamber, meaning the bill will become law without the governor’s signature.

Case says all education funding options must be reviewed

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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposed statewide property tax increase to raise money for the state’s schools must be one option reviewed by the Legislature as it tries to figure out the best way to fund education, according to the head of the Senate’s Revenue Committee.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said Tuesday that all options, including the property tax increase proposed in House Bill 68, should be on the table as the Legislature works to solve problems with education funding.

The bill proposes raising property taxes by 9 mills, or $9 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value, for use in funding education. The increase would take place over three years, with 3 mills being added every year in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The tax increase could raise $70 million for schools, Case said, the same that might also be generated by boosting taxes on wind energy generated in Wyoming, an option he said might be more palatable to Wyoming’s residents.

“(If you) shift 90 percent of that tax to people in other states, that’s the win,” he said after the Legislature opened its 65th general session Tuesday.However, another veteran legislator, Sen. Hank Coe, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he does not see much support for the property tax measure.

“Because property tax hits home through local ad valorem taxes and the mineral industry takes a hit there,” he said. “They also pay severance taxes to the state. So it’s a double hit for the mineral industry.”

HB 68 is one of almost 170 pieces of legislation awaiting action as the Legislature opens the first week of its session.

The House and Senate introduced about 30 bills during their first day of work and referred them to committees for further review.

The introduction of bills will continue Wednesday after Gov. Mark Gordon gives his first state-of-the-state address.

Important dates for legislative action

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By Cowboy State Daily

Even though the 2019 legislative session, with an allowable span of 40 business days, is a “long session,” Wyoming’s Legislature is under a relatively tight deadline to complete its work.

The Legislature opened its session on Tuesday and is scheduled to wrap up its work on Wednesday, Feb. 27. If that deadline is met, the session will have actually lasted only 35 days. The five extra days could be used, if necessary, to extend the length of the Legislature’s budget session in 2020, which is scheduled to run 20 days.

To keep on schedule, the Legislature’s leadership creates a calendar with deadlines for certain business to be completed.

Here is the 2019 session schedule:

  • Jan. 24: Final date for the filing of bills to be introduced in the Senate.
  • Jan. 29: Final date for the filing of bills to be introduced in the House.
  • Feb. 1: Last day for bills to be reviewed by committees in the chamber of origin.
  • Feb. 4: Last day for “Committee of the Whole.”
  • Feb. 6: Last day for third and final reading of bills in their chamber of origin.
  • Feb. 20: Last day for bills to be reviewed by committees in the second chamber.
  • Feb 21: Last day for “Committee of the Whole” on bills in the second chamber.
  • Feb. 25: Last day for third and final reading of bills in the second chamber.
  • Feb. 27: Last day for conference committee reports and tentatively scheduled adjournment.
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