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Legislative session wraps

Posted: Friday, Mar 10th, 2017


Wyoming legislators have returned home from the 2017 session, leaving some bills yet to be signed (or vetoed) by Gov. Matt Mead and the rest of the state to figure out what the new laws mean.

A total of 485 bills were submitted for consideration, but by the end of the session, only 204 were made into enrolled acts for the governorís consideration. Last month, the Herald issued a survey about interest in the legislative session, and 28 respondents expressed highest interest in education funding, energy and business, education requirements, public lands and taxes.

Education funding

Education funding by far brought the most concern from survey respondents, with more than two-thirds wanting to know how the state will change what resources go to schools. The whole session, in fact, was filled with statewide contention about education funding; the two houses were split on how to address the education funding crisis and Gov. Matt Mead appeared adamantly opposed to harsh cuts.

There were 36 education funding related bills in total, addressing both K-12 and college education.

As of Thursday morning, Gov. Matt Mead had signed or was scheduled to sign 11 bills, 20 had failed and five are still on hold (either the legislature did not come to an agreement or the bills are awaiting the governorís decision).

At the beginning of the session, educators seemed to uniformly oppose House Bill 236, the education omnibus bill. However, by the end of the session, the lobbyists were supporting that same bill after seeing the Senateís ideas, which proposed much more stringent cuts. Most of the Senateís bills died, including the SF 114, SF 125 and SF 165.

HB 236 has not yet been signed by the governor; it was so contentious that the two houses very nearly did not agree before closing out the legislative session. The digest alone ó which catalogs all action and amendments to the bill ó is 29 pages. However, the two houses did end up coming to an agreement just before finishing and going home, and the bill now awaits the governorís signature or veto.

Among other things, HB 236 would change the education funding formula, cut some program funds before incorporating them into the general block grant, freeze transportation purchases and leases and establish a committee to recalibrate the funding model.

Other bills that are still on hold include a house bill that would make large appropriations for school facilities construction.

Most UW-related bills tried to change the way the Hathaway scholarship is administered, either expanding it to out-of-state students or changing its requirements; however, all but a handful failed. A few that passed were HB 237, which allows extra funding for some community college capital construction, and SF 136, which appropriates up to $2.8 million for UW energy science graduate stipends and fellowships.

Education requirements

Legislators saw 33 bills about education requirements introduced, but by the end of the session, 17 had failed. As of Thursday morning, seven were signed by the governor and nine were still awaiting final decision or were abandoned by the legislators.

Many of the bills about education requirements tried to make more rules ó such as adding extra requirements for high school students before graduation ó but most failed.

Some did pass, though, including HB 76, which requires an American Indian education program. HB 126, which would repeal the foreign language requirement for K-2 students, was sponsored by Evanston Rep. Garry Piiparinen and is waiting for the governorís approval.

HB 194 will allow school district employees with valid concealed carry permits to carry a concealed firearm on school property and in school facilities. A related bill, HB 126 (campus carry) failed.

Student privacy was a major concern, bringing at least four bills. One protecting college studentsí work and privacy passed; two protecting studentsí digital information privacy failed; one (which would require the state superintendent and other agencies to develop guidelines for student data privacy, security and privacy) awaits the governorís decision.

The governor also signed SF 123, which will pilot a program encouraging more Wyoming meat in school lunches.

Taxes and fees

With the stateís budget crisis, 81 bills addressing taxes and fees were introduced. Most of them proposed increasing taxes and fees, ranging from cigarette and alcohol taxes to game and fish fees to business fees and beyond. As of Thursday morning, 51 had failed, six were on hold and 24 had been signed by the governor.

Most of the passed bills increase fees for things like small claims appearances, state park and site entry, game and fish fees and liquor licenses. The vast majority of tax increase proposals, however, failed. Some of the failed bills included ones that would have doubled the motor vehicle registration and license fees; increased taxes on lodging, cigarettes, alcohol, tobacco and vital records access; and increased business license fees.

The effort to begin reforming taxes to reflect potential industry diversification failed.

Business and energy

Closely intertwined with the taxes and fees category is the business and energy category, which encompasses everything from big businesses like Amazon and Uber to wind and coal energy to Gov. Matt Meadís ENDOW Initiative to small businesses.

More than half of the 66 business- and energy-related bills passed, suggesting that the legislators and the governor agreed more closely about Wyoming business than on taxes/fees, education and public lands. In total, 35 have been signed by the governor, 29 have failed and two are on hold.

Some highlights from the session are that Amazon and other sellers that have more than 200 transactions or $100,000 in sales in Wyoming (from tangible personal property, admissions or services) will be required to collect sales tax. A related bill, HB 80, authorizes transportation network companies and their drivers in the state.

Two linked bills got a split response; HB 84 (providing for discretionary recovery of delinquent workerís compensation payments) is now law, but HB 85 (providing for discretionary recovery of delinquent unemployment compensation) died in House committee.

There were several bills related to the alcohol business, but only three passed. Those bills repeal some restrictions, and SF 155 makes more bar and grill liquor licenses available.

Some extra taxes ó a lodging tax, a coal severance tax, a wind energy production tax and some license fees, including other things ó failed. However, financial incentive programs, including for wind energy and the film industry, also failed.

Veterans will be given hiring preference with the passage of SF 53. There will also be a study on the gender wage gap (with a cost of up to $100,000), if the governor signs it.

Gov. Matt Meadís ENDOW Initiative has also passed, authorizing the state to work on a plan for diversification. That plan includes a $2.5 million appropriation to a new economic diversification account; $1.5 million has to be spent on workforce development.

Public and state lands

The movement to provide for a handoff of federally-managed public lands to the state did not fare well. Five related bills were introduced; four died (including two that proposed the possible sale of state lands), and the one bill still on hold but which is almost certainly dead, SF 119, would have authorized the sale of some state lands in the Grand Teton National Park to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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