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House Speaker Steve Harshman

Wyoming Virtual Currency Plan Clears House

in News/Legislature
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to make Wyoming the first state with its own virtual currency won final approval from the House on Thursday.

Senate File 106, allowing the state to create and sell “Wyoming stable tokens,” was approved on a vote of 48-10.

A “stable token” is a form of virtual currency whose value is backed by solid assets. Its value is much more stable than that of other virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. Stable tokens allow people to trade in the digital realm without experiencing rapid fluctuations in the value of their digital currency.

Under SF106, the state would sell, in virtual realms, Wyoming stable tokens for $1 each. The money used to buy the tokens would be invested in treasury bills and the state would keep the interest.

Discussion on the bill Thursday focused on a proposed change in the way the interest income would be used.

The bill originally proposed dividing the income between the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund and the common school account.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, successfully offered an amendment to split the income three ways and add in the state’s school foundation account.

Harshman said while he likes the idea of putting the income into two “savings accounts,” he would also like to use some of the money to help schools immediately.

“(The amendment) says we’re going to take a third of this and spend it on today’s kids,” he said.

The amendment was adopted despite arguments that if it is rejected by the Senate, the state’s adoption of the token program could be delayed.

“I think this is a discussion we can wait and have at a later date,” said Rep. Mark Baker, R-Green River. “If we put this off, we really have missed the opportunity and we won’t be leading the way, we’ll be following.”

Backers of the bill had said earlier that as the first state selling stable tokens, Wyoming could become the nation’s leader in the field.

Representatives voted for Harshman’s amendment after Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said he did not believe the amendment would slow adoption of a program and added he agreed that some of the earnings from the program should be put to immediate use.

“I do think the way the bill was structured, we were sending everything into savings,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with forecasting some of those dollars now to work on deficit issues we’ve been concerned about.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to get this bill across the finish line. I do think the way the bill was structured, we were sending everything into savings. There’s nothing wrong with forecasting some oft hose dolalrs now to work on deficit issues we’ve been concerned about. 

I think this is a discussion we can wait and have at a later date when we see th eamount of revenue that could be potetnailly created withy something like this. 

The time factor in this is imperative. If we don’t move now, if we put this off, we really have missed the oportruity and we won’t be leading the way, we’ll be following.

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Harshman Won’t Be Censured For Dropping F-Bomb & Swearing At Colleague On Hot Mic

in News/Legislature
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A representative from Gillette has decided to not to seek the censure of one of his colleagues for breach of conduct, he confirmed to Cowboy State Daily.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues on Friday that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body this week, but he said Tuesday he had changed his mind.

“I simply evaluated what would lead to the best result as far as maintaining decorum as we go forward with technology like video conferencing,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily late Tuesday.

“The public nature of censure and the potential divisiveness of the debate would not improve the legislature’s reputation nor our decorum, so I chose a more private path of petitioning leadership to change the consequences to something more appropriate and more likely to reduce further breeches of decorum,” he said.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

A censure, a formal expression of disapproval with no binding effect, must be approved by a majority of those in the House. Had representatives voted to support it, Harshman would have been the first legislator in recent history to be censured.

Bear had said last week he would bring a motion to censure Harshman and one possibly one other unidentified House member when representatives returned to the Capitol to resume the special session Wednesday.

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Rep. Harshman Apologizes For Cursing At Rep. Gray During Session; Has Remote Privileges Revoked

in News/Legislature
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative apologized to fellow representatives on Friday morning after he was caught on a live microphone cursing one of his House colleagues and was punished by losing his privileges to participate in the Legislature’s special session remotely.

During a debate on Thursday, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, was participating in the Legislature’s special session remotely via Zoom when he was heard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

He appeared in person at the beginning of the fourth day of the session to apologize to the body and Gray in particular.

“What happened yesterday was a breach of conduct on the floor of this house and it’s not acceptable and I come here to apologize for that,” Harshman said. “We’ve all worked very hard to keep that decorum, so I apologize for that. It’s wrong and I know better than that.”

Harshman apologized for creating a distraction, particularly during the special session.

Speaker of the House Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

“Your conduct was unbecoming, so I want to condemn it, clearly,” Barlow said.

Due to these breaches, Harshman had his remote privileges revoked, meaning he would have to attend the rest of the session, which will last until at least Wednesday, in person.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body on Monday. One is likely Harshman, but he did not clarify who the second was, saying he wanted to speak with them privately first.

“I don’t come to you with this lightly,” Bear said. “We should have already been on our best behavior, but that’s not what happened at the end of the debate.”

He asked the legislators to fast over the weekend, so they could be focused in prayer because their votes on Monday could be “pivotal.”

Bear said the incident reaffirmed his belief that allowing legislators to take part in sessions remotely would hurt the decorum of the Legislature.

“Being in a room like this, (decorum) has to be elevated so high in our hears and minds,” he said. “I feared at the time that Zoom would lighten that up.”

Carbon County Republican Chair Joey Correnti said people should have the same outrage over Rep. Harshman’s language that they did over a GOP precinct committeeman’s obscene email to a state senator “if they wanted to be looked at as relevant and legitimate.”

“Whether he did it remotely or not does not matter,” Correnti said. “As an elected member of that body his voice went out over the floor of that chamber and in that action the former Speaker of the House Representative Steve Harshman desecrated that chamber by speaking those words on its floor.”

Gray did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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As Capitol nears completion, lawmakers say the project is on time, on budget

in Government spending/News
Wyoming Capitol Square Project nears completion
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CHEYENNE – The nearly $300 million Wyoming Capitol Square Project is wrapping up and government agencies are making their way into their new digs after years in temporary office space around Cheyenne.

Consultants and project managers met with the Legislature’s Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group on Wednesday to give their final reports on the four-year construction project.

The Oversight Group itself was meeting for the last time before the opening of the Capitol on Wyoming Statehood Day, July 10. Gov. Mark Gordon, who chaired the meeting, said he was pleased the project was nearly done and there had been no major cost overruns.

Work on the project involved the restoration of the Capitol, the adjacent Herschler Building and the space between the two buildings.

Mike O’Donnell, project coordinator, said the Capitol will be much more open and accessible by the public than it has been in the past.

“We have returned large spaces inside the Capitol back to the public,” he said. “There are fewer offices in the Capitol and there’s also a lot more what’s called ‘core,’ which is restrooms, electrical, mechanical, elevators … that was office space or meeting space previously.”

House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said there is much to the project that visitor’s won’t notice on first glance.

“They’ll be walking on top of it when they’re on the garden level,” he said. “It’s really all the new foundation and utilities.”

The new working environment may improve the work of the Legislature, said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie.

“Doing the public’s work and doing it as well as possible is motivated in part by the physical space that we’re in,” she said.

The Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group met for a final time Wednesday to tie a bow on the project ahead of the grand reopening of the State Capitol on Wyoming’s Statehood Day, July 10th.

University of Wyoming’s Historic Cooper House Evades Demolition

in News/Education
Cooper House at the University of Wyoming
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An outside consultant’s recommendation to tear down the historic Cooper House on the University of Wyoming campus caused quite a kerfuffle around the state.

More than 100 people attended a hearing of the UW Housing Taskforce to oppose the demolition of the home that sits just catty-corner from Coe Library on UW’s campus.

The Cooper House was built nearly 100 years ago for the family of Frank Cooper, an English cattle baron who struck oil on his Wyoming mineral holdings. The house was purchased from the Cooper family in 1980 and currently houses the Department of American Studies.

The unique “Mission Revival” style of the house makes it an easily recognizable feature of campus with a terra cotta tile roof and mix of cream colored stucco and brick facade.

Senate prepares for worst-case budget scenario that leaders doubt will occur

in News
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Although Wyoming’s Senate is preparing for a worst-case scenario with the state’s supplemental budget, the leaders of both of the Legislature’s chambers are predicting their members will reach a compromise on the spending bill.

The Senate on Wednesday changed its rules to allow the late introduction of three bills proposing spending of about $45 million to support air transportation, education and the departments of Health and Family Services.

The appropriations are already contained in the supplemental budget bill making its way through both chambers, but Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, said the Senate wanted to address the issues in separate bills should the supplemental budget die.

“If we can’t come to an agreement on the supplemental budget, we’ve got a backup,” he said. “There’s about four things that absolutely have to happen this session because they were uncompleted issues from the biennium budget last year.”

But House Speaker Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said he believes that a deal on the budget will be worked out and that the Senate’s backup plan is unnecessary.

“I told my secretary ‘Please don’t bring (the bills) into my office even if they do make it over because I’m not going to walk away from the process,’” he said. “It’s been here long before I was even born, it will be here a long time after I’m dead and gone and I’m not going to be part of trying to muck things up.”

The issue arose as the House and Senate looked at each other’s versions of the supplemental budget, which proposes spending needed between the even-numbered years when the Legislature sets a two-year budget.

As sent to both chambers by the Joint Appropriations Committee, the bill proposes spending of about $206 million, including $119 million from the state’s main bank account, called the “General Fund.”

By some counts, the House and Senate are $70 million apart in their versions, although both Perkins and Harshman set the difference at closer to $40 million.

The main differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill stem from beliefs in the Senate that the state should save its money, given uncertainties in the future of oil and gas prices, Perkins said, along with the idea the supplemental budget should only be used for emergency needs.

“The Senate views the supplemental budget as a supplemental budget, which by definition should be unanticipated needs or emergency needs,” he said. “A lot of those issues, we don’t believe, fall into those categories. The other side, too, is as we look at what we’re going to need next year, the Senate feels pretty strongly we ought to be saving money to cover what we’re going to see as a deficit in the school foundation program next year.”

That uncertainty prompted the Senate to kill a bill providing more than $50 million for various construction programs around the state, including repairs and upgrades at several community colleges and roof repairs for the State Penitentiary, Perkins said.

“We’re just trying to know where we can fill the gaps next year,” he said. “If I knew I was going to be short on my household income next year and I had some extra money this year, I’d set it aside because I’m thinking I’m going to need it next year — and that’s kind of where the Senate is.”

Harshman said many of the remaining disputes over the budget center on when spending might be necessary. He pointed as an example a proposed upgrade of the state Revenue Department’s excise tax computer system, which is based on an old computer language.

“It needs to be upgraded,” he said. “This was really a question of when. I think some senators thought maybe they don’t need this money for another 12 months and we can do it (in the biennium budget) net year. If that’s the case, fine.”

Both men said differences between the House and Senate on the budget are common and both predicted the supplemental budget bill would survive the session.

“We’ve still got plenty of time to resolve these things and get them moved forward and bring this in for a landing before the session’s over,” Perkins said.

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