Legislative Update – Jan. 25-31
Legislative Update – Jan. 25-31
From House Rep. Albert Sommers, District #20
Hello Sublette County and LaBarge, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you on Jan. 25. We are midway through the third week of the 2023 General Session of the 67th Legislature. New bills are getting filed daily, and I encourage the public to go to the Wyoming Legislative website to view the bills at https://wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2023.
Today, the House continued the debate on HB0034 - School finance-mental health services. As I mentioned on Jan. 22, there is a critical need in our Wyoming communities to help our students with access to mental health resources. The grant program outlined in this bill would allow school districts to apply for grants to assist students with mental health needs.
Three amendments were brought on the Second Reading of the bill. The first amendment would have reduced the funding available for each district from $120,000 to $30,000, plus $44.35 for each student enrolled in the program. This amendment failed.
The second amendment requires school districts to consult and collaborate with a broader stakeholder base before a proposal is submitted. Working with all stakeholders is a good idea, and I supported this amendment. This amendment passed. The third amendment would have moved the grant administration from the Department of Education to the Department of Health. This amendment failed. The bill moves on to Third Reading with my support.
We spent the afternoon working bills in the Committee of the Whole. I will highlight two:
- HB0104 - Hunting of predatory animals-amendments. Currently, predatory animals may be taken with the aid of an artificial light or lighting device. This bill adds the ability to include thermal or infrared imaging or other light imaging as specified by Game and Fish Commission rules. This bill moves on to Second Reading.
- HB0111 - Endangering children-fentanyl is a simple but important bill that would add fentanyl to the list of controlled substances that qualify as a child endangerment offense. We heard testimony that fentanyl is increasing in use across the state, including accidental overdoses. I support this bill, and the bill moved on to Second Reading.
Hello Sublette County and LaBarge, this is the 12th day of the 2023 General Session of the 67th Legislature. Bills continue to move through the House. Today we had 15 bills on Third Reading; I will highlight two:
- HB0051 - Legislator constituent service allowance. Each legislative member is entitled to a constituent service allowance. It is intended to defray expenses incurred by providing services to, and on behalf of, one’s constituents. This allowance is in addition to attending legislative sessions and interim committee meetings, which is already covered by salary, per diem and mileage.
The bill increases the quarterly legislator constituent service allowance from $750 to $1,000 per quarter. The last time there was an adjustment to this allowance was in 2002, and the effective date for this increase would be in 2025, after the next election cycle. This bill narrowly passed the House on Third Reading with my support.
- HB0134 - Alcohol sales to licensees. This bill allows a licensee to purchase one case per week directly from a distiller instead of purchasing through the State Liquor Division. It addresses an efficiency issue and does not require the distiller to ship the product to Cheyenne for it then to be sent back to the licensee. The bill passed the House on Third Reading with my support.
We also heard debate on bills in Committee of a Whole. I will highlight HB0066 - Prohibiting mask, vaccine and testing discrimination. This bill would prohibit businesses, medical facilities and schools from requiring face masks and COVID-19 vaccinations. Much of the discussion centered on the rights of businesses, employees and individuals. There was passionate and respectful debate on both sides of the issue. While I believe the COVID-19 vaccine should not be mandated, I do have some concerns about the mask provision in the bill.
During the floor debate, I shared my interpretation that this bill would not allow medical professionals, like a doctor, to require a nurse to wear a mask when in the operating room. This could infringe on the health and rights of the person being operated on. Passing this bill may have unintended consequences, and the bill needs clarified before I can support it. This bill passed the Committee of the Whole and moved on to Second Reading.
Hello Sublette County and LaBarge, this is Albert Sommers wrapping up the third week of the General Session of the 67th Legislature.
As of Friday afternoon, a total of 453 bills were filed in the House and Senate. A total of 22 bills are no longer moving forward this session, including 11 in the House. Next week, I look forward to the floor debate on HB0001, the budget bill. On Monday, Jan. 30, HB001 will be presented in the Committee of the Whole.
Today, HB0034 was heard and passed on Third Reading with 35 aye votes. This bill would fund a one-time grant to school districts for assistance with mental health resources for their students. This bill saw robust debate on each reading. Today we heard and passed an amendment that would not allow grant money to be spent on therapist recommendations for certain procedures. In my opinion, the amendment was simply an effort to kill the bill, and was unnecessary. As I stated at the beginning of the week, mental health services are an ongoing and growing need in our community. This bill gives school districts much-needed help. I strongly supported this bill and was pleased to see it pass the House.
- HB0074 - Wyoming outdoor recreation trust fund also passed the House on Third Reading. Two amendments today concerned at what level to fund the trust, but both amendments failed. Funding will be placed into the trust over time until the total corpus hits $50 million. The trust fund model of funding is a forward-thinking way to continue to support the good work for outdoor recreation projects in Wyoming. I supported this bill.
- HB30 Wyoming’s tomorrow scholarship program passed the Committee of the Whole today. This endowment fund program was established during the 66th Legislature to provide scholarships for nontraditional students. The concept is widely supported by industries in Wyoming, as the bill promotes workforce development. We heard testimony on the floor that this bill is already working and assisting with training, especially in parts of the state that have mining industries. This bill updates some of the market value calculations and modifies the transfer of funds. I believe the Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship could be transformational for workforce development, by helping adults move to other careers or move up the ladder. I support this bill.
Hello Sublette County and LaBarge, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you on Jan. 30, the start of the fourth week of the General Session of the 67th Legislature. A lot is happening this week. We will hear and work on the budget bill throughout the week, and tomorrow − Tuesday, Jan. 31 − is the last day for House Bills to be introduced.
- HB0066 failed today on Third Reading. In its original form, this bill would have prohibited businesses, medical facilities and schools from requiring face masks and vaccinations. However, this bill runs counter to the position the State of Wyoming has already taken on this issue. In 2021, Wyoming joined 11 other states in a lawsuit against the federal government to protect the rights of businesses to maintain control over how they operate their businesses. We won that portion of the lawsuit and I do not support changing directions and taking this right away from businesses as this bill would have done.
During the same timeframe, Wyoming also joined 24 states to reject the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) vaccine mandate for health-care workers. The Supreme Court eventually upheld CMS’s authority to require COVID-19 vaccinations to beneficiaries of federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars.
The decision requires health-care providers receiving federal health-care dollars in Wyoming to ensure their staff have been vaccinated. In order to continue to remain in compliance with these CMS requirements and continue to receive the federal health-care funding, workers at medical facilities must follow CMS rules. Hospitals, nursing homes and the state cannot afford that cost, which is at least $800 million a year. I believe the courts have already settled both of the underlying topics of this bill, and for this reason, I voted no on HB66.
- HB0083 - Tribal agreements to hunt and fish passedthe House on Third Reading today. This bill authorizes the governor to negotiate and enter into agreements with the tribes concerning hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights claims in the state. The bill was drafted in response to the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Herrera v. Wyoming, which determined that tribal hunting rights outlined in federal treaties were not extinguished when Wyoming became a state. This is an important bill and I supported it.
- Today we also heard HB001, the budget bill, in Committee of the Whole. Members of the House Appropriations Committee took turns walking House members through different sections of the budget, including operating expenses for all executive, legislative and judicial branch agencies, including the University of Wyoming, community colleges and K-12 education. Throughout the week, representatives will have the opportunity to debate the budget and offer amendments. A mirror process is taking place in the Senate. Look for more specifics on the budget in my updates throughout the week.
Hello Sublette County and LaBarge, this is the 15th day of the General Session of the 67th Legislature. This morning, we finished hearing the budget bill in Committee of the Whole and will start working through amendments on Second Reading tomorrow.
We spent the afternoon hearing bills in the Committee of the Whole. I will highlight three bills.
- HB0128 - Voyeurism within enclosed spaces. This bill was heard and passed the Committee of the Whole. This is a clean-up bill. Currently, a voyeur can only be charged if they are looking into an area where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This bill adds the language “or within” an area. We heard testimony that an example where the new language could be helpful is in places like locker rooms. This bill idea was brought by the Sublette County Attorney, and I drafted and voted for this bill.
- HB0121 - Property tax deferral program-amendments. I have heard the concern over rising property taxes. This bill would provide relief for some who are struggling with paying their property taxes. This bill amends a current property tax deferral program that counties can administer, but to date, only Teton County has adopted rules to use the program. This bill would move program administration to the Department of Revenue, open it up for taxpayers in all 23 counties and the state would then hold the lien, instead of the county. A taxpayer would qualify for the deferment program if they demonstrate any one of the following conditions: a limited income that is at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty line; over the age of 62; has a disability as determined by the Social Security administration; purchased the property at least 10 years before the beginning of the tax year or is a disabled veteran. While this program does not solve the property tax problem alone, it is another tool taxpayers have to access relief, and I lean toward supporting this bill.
- HB0099 - Property tax refund program. This bill would provide a tax refund to a homeowner whose income does not exceed 125 percent of the median gross household income for the applicant's county of residence or the state. This bill broadens an existing property tax refund program for low-income homeowners. It provides very limited property tax relief, but I supported it, because it is a piece of the puzzle. I believe more property tax relief bills will be heard soon.
I can be reached at [email protected] with questions or comments. Thank you.