THE BUZZ: Budget Lands on Gov’s Desk

By on March 1, 2016

Budget Session scheduled to wrap at the end of the week.

Back where it all began: Wyoming Legislature kicked off Dec. 7, 2015 with the governor’s presentation of the 2017-18 budget request to the Joint Appropriations Committee. (Photo: wyoming legislature)

Back where it all began: Wyoming Legislature kicked off Dec. 7, 2015 with the governor’s presentation of the 2017-18 budget request to the Joint Appropriations Committee. (Photo: wyoming legislature)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – If the 63rd Legislative Session is all about the budget then all eyes are on Governor Matt Mead’s desk, where the proposed 2017-18 budget bill was delivered Monday. The agreement calls for deep cuts including $36 million slashed from K-12 education funding (down from $46 million originally proposed by the Joint Appropriations Committee).

Social services were also hard hit. Lawmakers voted to defund the state’s $8.2 million tax rebate program for elderly or disabled residents and the $3.2 million Wyoming Family Literacy program. Another $2.2 million was trimmed from a program that assists low-income citizens with heating and energy bills.

The budget agreement was approved Monday on a 38-21 vote in the House. Reps. Ruth Ann Petroff and Andy Schwartz voted to approve. Rep. Marti Halverson was on the nay side. The Senate moved the budget along with a 22-8 vote. Sen. Leland Christensen was with the majority vote.

Mead is expected to make his decisions before Friday so the Legislature will have time to react to any of his potential changes. Mead can sign it as is, veto it, or line-item delete certain portions.

New is old again

Medicaid expansion continues to go nowhere in Wyoming. Despite the governor’s change of heart on accepting federal money and expanding Medicaid to an estimated 20,000 low-income citizens, lawmakers have stood in firm opposition. Accusations that legislators are using the politically charged issue to stump party lines have done little to affect voting.

A workaround bill (Senate File 86) died on the State House Monday. Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, proposed the state design its own form of Medicaid under the guidance of the Legislature’s Management Council (LMC). The bill was problematic from the get-go with many lawmakers opposed to a provision that would bar the state from even considering ACA Medicaid for two years while the LMC worked things out.

Mead signed SF46 into law to begin this week. It was the first piece of legislation to make it across his desk successfully. Last year, Mead vetoed the civil assets forfeiture bill that would have reformed state rules that allow police to seize and auction cash, cars and other property of people suspected in drug crimes whether or not they were convicted or even charged in court.

The bill’s sponsor, former law enforcement officer Sen. Leland Christensen said last year he was stunned when the senate file was shot down by Mead. This session’s version was a compromise worked out after the Wyoming Attorney General’s office cooperated with the Judiciary Committee to come up with a bill that would still allow law enforcement agencies to use what they call an effective tool in taking the profits out of the drug trade. Mead has said all along he did not think the current law was abused in Wyoming.

Both sides called the reworked bill an example of “model legislation.”

Other high-profile bills

The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee endorsed a bill that would help Wyoming realize a financial return on state land held within Grand Teton National Park. SF88 sets terms for the sale of two 640-acre parcels for $92 million to the federal government. State and federal officials have bickered over differing land appraisals in recent years.

Currently, Wyoming earns a mere $1,800 a year in grazing fees from the parcels. The bill passed the Senate, 30-0, and was passed to the House Floor on Monday by committee approval, 6-2, with Reps. Petroff and Schwartz leading the way on the Travel Committee vote.

Though the House was gung-ho on the right to carry arms into state or local government meetings, HB86 stalled in the Senate. The bill to repeal restrictions on the state’s concealed carry laws failed to receive any interest from senators and was killed Friday.

A bill that would have made the possession of three ounces of edible marijuana a felony in Wyoming, SF 96, died in the Legislature Monday. Possession of a pot brownie, and other confections that weigh in at three ounces or less, remain a misdemeanor offense after the House Judiciary Committee stripped the bill of its felony provision.

The more obscure

Attempts to tinker with the K-12 statewide assessment program have been moving along. House Bill 19 would make some modifications including a mandate that no more than 1 percent of pupil-teacher contact time be spent on actually taking the test. The bill passed the House, 45-13, with Reps. Petroff and Schwartz for and Rep. Halverson opposed. It faces one more vote in the Senate.

Basketball legend Kenny Sailors will get his due. The Senate gave final approval Monday to a joint resolution recognizing the Wyoming b-baller’s contribution to the game. Sailors died January 30. He is credited by most with “inventing” the modern day jump shot while playing for UW.

The House approved a bill Monday that would allow home brewers to bring their beer or wine to festivals and concerts. The Senate had already approved the measure but now must sign off on amendments made in the House.

After passing the Senate, the governor will now be asked to sign a bill that would waive lifetime small game hunting and fishing fees for Purple Heart recipients. PJH

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