Legislative session is underway

What are your representatives working on?

Amanda Manchester, Herald Reporter
Posted 2/14/24

EVANSTON — Heading into this week’s state legislative budget session, which began Monday in Cheyenne, the Herald recently interviewed local legislators Sen. Wendy Schuler (SD-15), Reps. Ryan Berger (HD-49), Jon Conrad (HD-19) and Scott Heiner (HD-18) about the bills they’ve authored, co-sponsored and issues they feel passionately about.

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Legislative session is underway

What are your representatives working on?


EVANSTON — Heading into this week’s state legislative budget session, which began Monday in Cheyenne, the Herald recently interviewed local legislators Sen. Wendy Schuler (SD-15), Reps. Ryan Berger (HD-49), Jon Conrad (HD-19) and Scott Heiner (HD-18) about the bills they’ve authored, co-sponsored and issues they feel passionately about.

Property tax relief initiatives and education seemed to unanimously top their lists. 

Schuler, Berger and Conrad have co-sponsored House Bill (HB) 45, a property tax cap bill, which proposes a 5% annual cap on residential property taxes. According to the bill’s author, Johnson and Sheridan county Rep. Barry Crago (HD-40), “This will put a stop to the sky-rocketing property taxes for all homeowners in Wyoming. You will never again face a surprise bill and your taxes will not increase simply because your neighbor overpaid for a house.”

In addition to HB 45, the three also co-sponsored Senate File (SF) 63, a property tax exemption on single-family residential structures based on the prior year’s assessed value.

Schuler and Berger both support homestead exemption HB 52 for those who are 65 or older and have paid their property taxes for 30 years or more. 

“I believe the property tax refund bill amendments will help more people become eligible for tax relief [and] are some of the best options to help targeted groups with their property taxes,” Schuler said. “I hope that residents will support [this 2024] legislative ballot initiative to separate the residential property tax from the commercial and agricultural tax percentages. These are the best options to help our constituents without giving the billionaires and multi-millionaires in Teton County a huge tax cut.”

Conrad threw his support behind House Bills 3 and 4; the former which allows property tax exemptions for long-term homeowners; the latter amends both the qualifications for the property tax refund program and the maximum refund issued.

Regarding education, retired teacher Schuler, said, “The one bill that I have currently sponsored is changing the compulsory age for school age kids from 7 to 6. This was a request from one of our school superintendents. It puts some of the kids a bit behind when they wait until 7 to start school.”

Schuler explained that some of the highest-performing states require 6 years old as a starting age. Conversely, states with a minimum-starting age of 7 years old have some of the lowest-performing scores. 

“This bill doesn’t affect parental choice because, if a parent doesn’t believe their son or daughter is ready by age 6 to enroll in public school, then they can choose to home-school, attend a private or charter school, or take advantage of a virtual option,” Schuler said. “Most parents in Wyoming send their kids to school by age 5 or 6, depending on their birthdate anyway, so this will probably not affect many students, but it will give them a ‘leg up’ to get started with their education a bit earlier.”

Berger, a current educator at Evanston High School and member of the state’s education committee, co-sponsored HB 102 along with Heiner, which requires a school board of trustees to “submit a written statement explaining the reasons the board did not adopt rules to allow possession of firearms by school district employees,” and “authorizing funds to be expended for a statewide marketing campaign to promote the school districts’ authority to allow possession of firearms by school district employees as provided by law.”

An act relating to parental rights in education, SF 9, is likely to garner a lot of attention on the legislative floor, according to Conrad. Its proposal states that it will “specify procedures and requirements for school districts to provide parents and guardians notice of information regarding students and the rights of parents and guardians to make decisions regarding their children.”

It further specifies that school districts cannot prohibit parental involvement or decision-making. If passed, it would require full transparency from school districts to parents and guardians.

HB 85, co-sponsored by both Schuler and Berger, seeks to promote parental guidance regulating social media usage for minors.

Mental health initiatives are imperative to both Conrad and Berger, the representatives told the Herald. Berger is co-sponsoring HB 119, requesting access to school-financed mental health service grants and providing additional school counselors, while Conrad said he feels passionately about promoting the use of 988, the Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

“Of over 5,000 calls made [to the hotline] in 2022, only 2% required de-escalation or engagement [from law enforcement or medical professionals],” Conrad said. Ninety-eight percent of issues were resolved through the hotline.”

Conrad and Schuler are co-sponsoring HB 48, which seeks to rename the “deaf, dumb and blind account” to the “hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired account.”

Schuler continues to back the new Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Fund.

“We will use the success of the Wyoming Wildlife Trust Fund as the model to use for administering this fund,” she said. “Tourism is No. 2 in Wyoming, and this fund will help communities to put forth projects that will enhance recreation, tourism and economic activity.” 

Schuler is further co-sponsoring and supporting an increase in the Hathaway Scholarship to keep up with inflation, as well as a bill that will address teaching shortages by incentivizing education students if they choose to stay and teach in Wyoming. 

“Our Judiciary Committee is also sponsoring a rural practice bill that will be a pilot program to help incentivize more attorneys to work in our rural areas because of shortages,” Schuler added.

Schuler also supports a bill to help protect healthcare workers from violence and assaults.

“Our healthcare workers need to know that they will be safe while performing their duties and that there will be consequences if their safety isn’t protected,” she said.

Conrad’s many and various co-sponsorships, in addition to those mentioned above, include: delegating a specified date for school finance fund transfers (HB 80); a tax credit incentive geared toward the improvement of abandoned and nuisance buildings in cities and towns (HB 82); an amendment to agricultural livestock brucellosis testing  (HB 87); limitations set on hemp production and controlled substances, prohibiting the addition of synthetic substances (HB 106); a bill authorizing interactive gaming, fee imposition, collection and distribution, rulemaking and regulations by the Wyoming Gaming Commission (HB 120); an act relating adult protective services, providing civil cause for the exploitation of vulnerable adults (SF 45); an act creating a hearing aid program for hearing-impaired adults (SF 57); and a concealed firearms-permit eligibility act amending the permitting requirements (SF 73).

Heiner, who represents parts of Uinta, Sweetwater and Lincoln counties, told the Herald, “We need the legislature to exhibit fiscal responsibility as we differentiate ‘needs’ from ‘wants.’ During the upcoming session, I hope that we can limit the growth of state government and reduce government regulations that hamper business success.”

“There are a few important issues that were unresolved from the last session that are still important to the citizens of Wyoming,” Heiner continued. “These include property tax reform, parental rights in education, and protecting our youth from sexual exploitation. Hopefully, the legislative body will take these topics seriously and find solutions without again ‘kicking the can down the road.’”

According to the wyoleg.gov website, Heiner has sponsored two bills. HB 93 requests amendment to the current agriculture animal reimbursement program, “increasing the amount the Wyoming livestock board may reimburse for any single quarantine of livestock.”

Heiner also co-sponsored HB 94 concerning net metering. The act relates to electric utilities and increasing the maximum generation capacity for net metering systems.