LEGISLATURE KICK-OFF: State lawmakers gear up for annual session

By on January 2, 2013

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The 62nd Wyoming Legislature kicks off with the 2013 General Session on January 8 at high noon. An estimated 350 bills will vie for lawmakers’ attention over the span of 40 days. Representatives Keith Gingery, Ruth Ann Petroff, and Marti Halverson, along with Senator Leland Christensen, form our local contingent of lawmakers who will head to Cheyenne in the coming days.
JH Weekly caught up with our state reps and asked them where they stood on a few bills that have been creating an early buzz.

BILLS TO WATCH

HB5 Sponsored by Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee
Bill would allow for the use of silencers and suppressors on hunting rifles. Thunder Beast Arms, a Cheyenne-based manufacturer of silencers, has lobbied hard for the bill. They conducted a shooting demonstration for committee members at a nearby gun range in Cheyenne. Opponents of the proposed legislation, like the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, cite dangers to hikers and other non-hunting forest users who will not hear shots. Some believe it also creates too much advantage for hunters.

HALVERSON: I’ve heard both sides on this one. Outfitters do not favor it and hunters do. I don’t know how I will vote because I haven’t heard all the arguments. Personally, I don’t think it’s very sporting.

HB15 Sponsored by Rep. Gingery
The bill would make mandatory the reporting of violent injuries by doctors and other medical personnel. Detractors say it could stand in the way of doctor-patient confidentiality and may encourage dangerous home remedies and treatments.

GINGERY: This one is more controversial. Most states have some type of law. We are one of four states that have nothing. I’ve heard from doctors that they have no problem reporting gun or knife wounds. But if someone beats the hell out of someone until they are in ICU with every bone in their body broken, they don’t think they should have to report that. When the weapon is the hand, they want to keep that secret.

What happens is law enforcement never knows about abusive situations and the abuser just moves on to the next victim, and we just get into a cycle of violence helped along by the doctors at St. John’s. I sent them a letter stating I was willing to make changes to the wording. I was copying a California law that requires doctors to report injuries of abusive conduct. I asked them, “Is there language that you would be more comfortable with?” I have heard nothing back from them.

HB16 Sponsored by Judiciary Interim Committee
Would require oil and gas extractors to post additional surety bonds when they tremble the earth looking for liquid gold. Wildcatters sometimes bust fissures open with dynamite charges, creating seismic activity. For example, a 320-pound charge in one of these “shot holes” could produce a 1.5 magnitude or greater Richter-scale event.

HB22 Sponsored by Rep. Gingery
Currently, the state defines a serious injury as a permanent injury and that’s important because penalties for the person that did the injuring hinge on how long their victim remains hurt. Gingery’s bill would tweak the definition of serious bodily injury to include loss of consciousness, concussion, bone fracture, or a wound requiring extensive suturing.

GINGERY: The penalties are different depending on what your injuries are. If you recover from your injuries, the penalty is less. So, essentially you are saying if one victim heals better than another, that case carries less punishment. This bill will create more fairness.

HB35 Sponsored by Rep. Gingery
The first part of the bill would provide personal immunity from suit for Search and Rescue volunteers, similar to what volunteer firemen currently enjoy. An attached section (d) is what has received the most attention so far. It would give county sheriffs the power to seek monetary recompense from rescue victims that demonstrated wanton negligence.

GINGERY: As an afterthought I threw in the part that is getting all the attention. Some states put an actual amount in but I wanted to leave it up to the Sheriff’s Office whether or not to pursue or how much to pursue. Look, we are always going to come get people. There will always be strong arguments against the second part of the bill. If that gets taken out that’s fine. What I wanted to do is start the debate. Have we sort of given this blank check to everyone? Maybe it needs to be put in peoples’ minds that sometimes maybe we are not going to come get you.

PETROFF: I’m definitely in favor of making sure Search and Rescue volunteers don’t have liability. As far as charging for rescues, it is a trickier question. Who makes that judgment call? For you and me, it might be a very different line that we draw than say our parents. I think it’s really hard to legislate for judgment calls that people make for themselves. My biggest fear is I would hate for people to wait to call because they are worried about paying until it became too unsafe for everyone. I appreciate Keith bringing up the discussion, though.

HALVERSON: The first part I think is fine. How SAR got overlooked in that government immunity is beyond me, but it’s time to tie them into that. As far as the remuneration aspect, I’m going to have to listen to the debate on that. I understand the frustration of Search and Rescue getting remunerated for the expense of an operation. It’s just like raising co-pays on Medicaid and does that discourage people from getting help in the first place? I can visualize someone getting into trouble in the backcountry and wondering if he should try to crawl out himself if he thought he might be stuck with a bill for $10,000.

HB39 Sponsored by Rep. Gingery
Bill would provide for different classes of misdemeanors with varying penalties. Class A misdemeanors would carry up to a year sentence, $5,000 fine or both. Class B’s would be punishable by up to six months, $2,500 fine or both. Class C violations would call for a max six months imprisonment, $750 fine or both.

GINGERY: Lots of states already have this. You know, if you are pumping gas at Smiths, for example, there is a decal on the pump saying stealing gas is a Class B misdemeanor. Well that doesn’t mean anything in Wyoming. We don’t have classes of misdemeanors. This just creates consistency for legislators.
We also sometimes forget about bills we passed in the past. This should clear some redundancies. For example, there are two different statutes about going around the [closed] sign on Teton Pass. If a person violates the law, they are subject to a $750 fine. For a commercial vehicle, the fine is $100. Whoever wrote the one statute didn’t know about the other or forgot.

PETROFF: Sounds like a no-brainer. I’m not sure what the arguments would be against it.

HALVERSON: The biggest thing is making sure similar misdemeanors are all classified the same. As you know, truckers compare notes at the bottom of the Pass and wonder why one got a bigger fine than the other. I am all for it. Keith put a lot of thought behind it, and I will definitely support it.

HB77 Sponsored by Representatives Dv. Zwonitzer, Blake, Byrd, Madden and Throne; and Senators Emerich and Von Flatern.
Would establish a state lottery board and pave the way for the establishment of an independent state lottery or allow Wyoming to join a national lottery campaign like Powerball. Similar bills have been defeated three times in the last six years. Votes have been close: 33-27 against last time out in 2011. Gingery voted against, Petroff for. Revenue generated would be targeted to roads.

GINGERY: What I have always objected to is not the Powerball part, it’s where the money goes. To make it an easier sell, they always target a specific recipient, and they are always different. The problem is, once you assign that money to a particular agency, that agency doesn’t always come out ahead in the end. They may get their [other funding sources] reduced after legislators learn they are getting lottery money. The money generated by a lottery should go to the General Fund. I might actually change my mind on this one, though. I will seriously consider it.

PETROFF: There are statistics that indicate that our residents spend a lot of money out-of-state on lotteries. It’s more than just a matter of “yes or no.” Really it comes down to: “Does Colorado and Idaho get that money, or do we get it?” If our residents want to play the lottery and they enjoy playing it, the state might as well be the beneficiary of revenue that is going to be spent anyway and could be spent here.

HALVERSON: I am against a lottery in Wyoming in any form. It would create a new government agency, number one. Also, 75 percent of Wyomingites live [very close] to a state line. They have been buying lottery tickets for years in neighboring states like Colorado and Idaho, and it has proven no hardship for these people. They can buy their tickets without much difficulty. I don’t ever want to create a new government agency.

BILLS TO WONDER
HB73 Sponsored by Representatives Cannady, Gay, Halverson, and McKim
Wyoming has a state bird, flower, etc; but we don’t have a state gun. This bill would designate Freedom Arms’ 454 Casull as the official state firearm. Manufactured in Freedom since 1983, the massive handgun has already become sort of an unofficial favorite amongst locals but, in the atmosphere of recent rash of mass shootings, will lawmakers have the stomach to “go there?”

By the way, only three other states have adopted such a bill: Arizona (Colt single action), Indiana (Grouseland rifle), and Utah (M1911 pistol).

HALVERSON: [In light of the recent school shooting] I might talk to Rep. Cannady and see if he wants to wait to bring that up next year. It’s his bill.
HB7 Sponsored by Rep. Gingery

Repeals outdated law requiring theatre owners to provide running water and flush toilets. A nice rider would have been language capping the price of popcorn at something less than a monthly car payment.

GINGERY: The fun thing about [House Bill 39] is you actually get to see every criminal statute in one place. That’s how I found out about this bill I am repealing: the bathrooms in a theatre. I never would have found that if I wasn’t working on [HB39] and saw it and thought, “What is that doing here?”

HB38 Sponsored by Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee
The bill appears to be in direct reaction to Aaron Million’s off-again on-again plans to siphon water from the Green River to quench the thirsty Front Range of Colorado. Not trusting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny his application, some legislators want to grant themselves the power to deny any diversion of water to out-of-state interests.

HB46 Sponsored by Rep. Byrd
The bill would add to the discriminatory and unfair employment practices already outlawed in Wyoming Statute 27-9-105. Employers are not allowed to discriminate in regards to disabilities, age, sex, race, creed, color, and national origin. HB46 would include discrimination based on political affiliation.
Byrd, a Democrat, appears to be coming to the aid of Chris Henrichsen, who intimated in a serries of Tweets in December that his dismissal from Casper College was a result of his campaign for U.S. House on the Democratic ticket.

More budget concerns than usual in 2013
“I expect there to be a lively debate, and I don’t expect it to be quick and easy,” Marti Halverson said regarding budget item discussions she is anticipating beginning next week.

Unlike the Legislature’s Budget Session, occurring in alternating years, the General Session tends to tackle more social issues. Only emergency-related budget concerns are addressed in General Sessions but this time out, given the continued stifling economic climate and cuts proposed by the governor, all things budgetary will still be of huge concern this January.

Ruth Ann Petroff agreed budget talk will dominate the session. “To come in with these kinds of major departmental budget cuts, there will probably be more so than usual regarding the budget,” she said. “The debate will be more vigorous this time and will take more time than it usually takes. That will be to the detriment of the other bills.”

Keith Gingery also thinks the budget will take center stage at times.
“I think we are going to be spending a lot of time on the budget and not just the numbers,” Gingery said. “I bet we are going to spend a lot of time debating the use of the rainy day account. With $3 billion or so in there, a lot will be saying, “Why do we need to make cuts?”

Legislators’ pet projects
Gingery, who usually leads the pack in bill introduction, has already put up 10 proposed new laws or changes to laws. His track record in passing them has been better at the Budget Session but he says it’s not always about making laws the first time around.

“Some will pass, some wont,” Gingery admitted. “A lot of time the ones that don’t pass will get passed later in committee-sponsored bills. My exact same idea will be reintroduced at a future session. So my ideas have a good track record. With the violent injuries, for instance, I am being a little aggressive on it because I didn’t like the response I got from local doctors.”

Petroff expects to be bringing a few bills to the table this year. She is still working on a trio of natural gas incentives that will help grease the skids for compressed natural gas (CNG) use in the state. One bill will provide for a loan program for gas stations that convert to CNG allowing for a two-year payment-free grace period and subsidized rates. Petroff will also try to pass laws exempting from sales tax the cost of converting private vehicles over to CNG and waiving sales tax for fueling stations that spend money on equipment to provide CNG.

“I know we need to be thinking about revenue sources right now but there is no loss of tax money for people who aren’t moving on natural gas anyway,” Petroff said. “And I know some people argue that the private sector should dictate but we need to lead the way and get the ball rolling with these incentives in order to capitalize on the long-term benefits.”

Petroff referred to the chicken-egg standoff occurring right now with users waiting on infrastructure and providers waiting on demand. She also said Wyoming could lead the way with CNG stations – something that would eventually attract a growing segment of eco-tourism to the state and appeal to natural gas vehicle owners looking for a way to plan their trips around fueling stations.

Petroff will also propose extending tax exemptions for renewable energy resource conversion like wind and solar. The 2003 initiative sunsetted last summer.

Halverson is currently drafting a bill that would make it a misdemeanor offense for what she called “pirate propane suppliers” to fill a residential tank that didn’t belong to them.

“It has come to my attention that there are some propane distributors in Sublette and Lincoln and even Teton County, that are undercutting their competitors by doing this. It’s a safety issue and a private property issue. The lessor owns the tank and maintains the tank, and the pirate suppliers don’t really care about that. This bill would make it a misdemeanor offense to knowingly fill a propane tank that does not have your name on it.”

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