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Wyoming LWV 2016 Wyoming Legislative Report
Roundup Report #6 March. 6, 2016
LWV Lobbyist Marguerite Herman
marguerite.herman@gmail.com, 307-630-8095

Gov. Mead signed the $3 billion budget bill to finance Wyoming government for fiscal 2017-2018 and then vetoed several footnotes he said improperly restrict the way executive agencies can propose their budgets next time. He used his line-item veto on 16 other features of the budget. The House and Senate mustered a two-thirds vote to override many of those vetoes.

And that ended the 20-day 2016 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature late Friday, March 4. Everyone acknowledged the need for belt-tightening in light of declining oil, gas and coal revenues, but there was much argument about spending priorities, how much had to be cut right now and how much should be withdrawn from savings accounts. Although several non-budget bills were considered this session, the focus was on writing a budget with an expected revenue decline of $477 million over the next two years. The budget takes $221 million from the $1.8 billion rainy day account.

The governor’s veto message is attached to this report and is expected to be available later on his Web page. You can listen to the override debates and votes by the House and Senate, through a link on the Legislative Service Office Website, http://legisweb.state.wy.us. Go to http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2016/audio/audiomenu/audiomenu.aspx and listen to the Friday afternoon sessions.

Background on the budget process:

Wyoming state government runs on a biennial budget that is written in even-numbered years, directing state and federal funds spending for the next two fiscal years. First, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) forecasts revenue for the period. Then the governor sends a proposed budget to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC), which holds executive agency and judiciary hearings and makes its own adjustments. That version is worked separately by the House and Senate. They work out a compromise that is sent to the governor, who uses his line item veto and then signs the bill. On alternate years, the Legislature passes a “supplementary” budget bill to make necessary adjustments (mostly additions).
Non-budget bills must receive a 2/3 vote to be introduced.

Some Budget Issues:

An $8 million appropriation to match money raised by boosters to support University of Wyoming athletes – no big deal in past budgets – stirred many complaints in light of sacrifices elsewhere in the budget. Those sacrifices included cutting an $8.2 million program for property tax rebates for the elderly and disabled and $3.2 million for the community colleges’ family literacy program. The Legislature imposed a so-called “penny plan” to take a 1 percent budget cut in 2017 and again in 2018 from executive branch agencies, it eliminated most vacant positions and it forbade agencies from writing certain expenditures into their standard budgets.

School districts must figure out how to cut $37 million from their budgets, in addition to lower funding because of declining enrollment. The JAC cut schools’ External Cost Adjustment by $45 million, so $37 was the compromise: 1 percent cut fiscal 2017 and 1.5 percent cut fiscal 2018.

One of the biggest disappointments was the Legislature’s failure to restore Medicaid expansion to the Wyoming Department of Health’s budget. That was the governor’s recommendation. Then JAC removed it before sending the budget to the House and Senate. Expansion would have freed up $33 million to ease cuts elsewhere in the budget and bring $268 million in federal health care dollars to Wyoming over the next two years. Expansion would have let about 20,000 low-income adults without dependent children apply for Medicaid. With failure of expansion in the Senate 10-19, the House didn’t even try. Gov. Mead has been increasingly vocal in support of expansion, but a provision inserted into statutes three years ago requires legislative approval.

You can read the 73-page budget for the biennium starting June 1, 2016, on the list of bills on the LSO Web site. It’s Senate Enrolled Act 19,  http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2016/Enroll/SF0001.pdf .

Some Non-Budget Issues:

Some bills were hard fought right up to the end. Two that didn’t make it were SF14 – Student Data Privacy and Transparency and SF96 – Marihuana Edibles. SF14 contained a controversial protection of students’ private digital information from school administrators, without permission of parents. In cases of emergencies, law enforcement could use its search and seizure powers. SF14 also included a provision that student names be removed from data being reported from districts to the State Department of Education. Both provisions died when a late House-Senate conference committee couldn’t reach a compromise. SF96 had struggled through the Senate and was stranded on the House General File on the last day for it to be debated. It would have clarified how law enforcement would charge someone for possession of an edible with THC.

SF37 – Board and Commissions (Senate Enrolled Act 50) faced dismayingly little opposition was one to decrease political diversity on dozens of state boards and commissions. The governor’s office reported difficulty meeting all the required qualifications in its appointments. Those requirements can include political party affiliation, profession and certain appointment districts. Joint Corporations – and then the Legislature -- responded by enlarging the concentration of members from one political party and left the others alone. On a handful of boards, all political diversity was removed. Wyoming LWV and other groups argued in vain that diversity enhances debate and decisions and that a more deliberate approach to the appointment “problem” would have considered easing the district requirements. Read the bill for details. http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2016/Enroll/SF0037.pdf

A topic that nips at the ankles of leadership is the $300 renovation of the State Capitol and Herschler State Office Building to upgrade, restore and increase public access. The Liberty Group said the plans were too grand, reminding them of the “Taj Mahal.” Funding and planning remained intact despite the critique. However, Casper Rep. Gerald Gay and Evanston resident Karl Allred ended the session with a lawsuit filed in Laramie County District Court against legislative leaders, the governor and attorney general, accusing them of favoritism in selection of contractors for the Capitol project.

At the end of the session, the Select Committee on Legislative Technology asked for suggestions, and Wyoming LWV and the Equality State Policy Center offered these comments:

  • The LSO Web updates on conference committees were slow or non-existent. Rumor was more useful.
  • The Senate and House should keep an updated list of bills on General File – in order of consideration – on the LSO Website. The House publishes a list but doesn’t update it. The Senate uses a hand-written list on a white board in the Senate chamber.
  • Similarly, the House and Senate should post and update lists of non-budget bill introduction votes.
  • The House did a good job at posting failed committee votes. The Senate should do it, too.
  • The House and Senate were efficient at posting amendments and roll call votes.
  • The LSO Web site should include a glossary of terms and acronyms that are used freely in debate but are a mystery to people new to the process (e.g., LSRA – Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account).
  • The Legislature should record interim committee meetings and post the mp3 files online immediately. (A bill by Casper Rep. Loucks to do exactly that failed introduction.)

As usual, the 10 standing committees took interim work wish lists to the Management Council (leaders of the House and Senate) on the final day of the session and were told which topics they could study, how many days they could meet and how much money they could spend. The idea behind Wyoming’s alternating 20-day and 40-day sessions is that committees study topics and prepare bills in the interim. LSO Director Dave Gruver warned the Management Council that the number of meeting days and information requests were stretching the LSO staff thin – in addition to costing quite a bit. As the Management Council approved interim topics, it told committee chairmen to be prudent with money and to screen all member requests for LSO work.

Follow this interim work through a link on the left side of the LSO Website “Interim Committee Activities.” You can get information about topics and meetings and read study materials.

First Year at Jonah

The Legislature spent the first of an expected 3-4 years in temporary quarters of the Jonah Financial Center, 3001 E. Pershing Blvd., in Cheyenne, while the Capitol and Herschler building are being renovated. The LSO has a handy guide (complete with maps and seating charts), available as a PDF at a link at the top of the LSO home page. Signage is very basic.  The amount of space seemed adequate, although it was difficult for the public to watch proceedings and count standing legislators during “division votes,” sitting in a glassed in area reminiscent of a “cry room.” There is no space for a quick private conversation with a legislator. Parking was fine.

Committee meeting rooms have about the same seating as in the Capitol, but there are fewer of them, so meetings are carefully choreographed. The Senate uses a bizarre system of sending notes in to legislators through one door and waiting at another for them to come out. Lobbies are very small.