Legislative Update – Jan. 30, Feb. 1 and 2
From Rep. Albert Sommers, House District #20
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne, after the first week of the virtual segment of the 2021 General Session. Each day’s session can be viewed on YouTube, and yesterday’s session can be viewed by going to the calendar on the legislative website at https://www.wyoleg.gov/ and then clicking on a day and the video link for either the House or Senate.
The House passed several bills on third reading that I supported, including HB0048, Community Juvenile Services Block Grant Program, which is a bill brought forward as a part of the governor’s recommended budget cuts. This bill simply states that we will fund the community juvenile services block grant program, if money is available. The Department of Family Services was mandated in statute to fund this program, regardless of whether the state had the money. This doesn’t eliminate the program but does eliminate the mandate to fund it.
Other bills that passed the House in third reading that I supported included HB0013, Alcoholic Beverage Regulation, which allows wine club members to buy more bottles of wine through the internet; HB0042, Chancery Court Vacancy Amendments, which pushes out the date for filling vacancies in Wyoming’s newly created Chancery Court in an effort to save money; HB0044, Omnibus Water Bill – Construction, which utilizes severance tax dollars to fund water projects around the state; HB0066, 2021 Large Projects Funding, which utilizes investment income from the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund and some recently appropriated General Fund dollars to help fund wildlife projects around the state, including the Dry Piney mule deer crossings project in Sublette County; and HJ0001, Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Treatments, a resolution requesting that our federal Congressional delegation enact legislation that would allow hyperbaric oxygen treatment or other important therapies and counseling to be utilized for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The House passed a handful of bills through Second Reading today, including HB0035, Theft Statute – Amendment. This bill seemed like a simple cleanup of an error made in recent changes to these statutes. However, it generated a lot of debate between the various attorneys in the House because of the word “knowingly.” A standing committee amendment struck one instance of the word “knowingly” from a portion of the theft statutes. A debate ensued as to whether the “knowingly” in the governing subsection was sufficient, without adding it a second time. In the end, the body, including me, agreed that the second “knowingly” was superfluous. Even though this seems like a minor point, the great debate in the body by very good attorneys proved the old adage that words matter.
HB0030, Public Utility Assessment, passed second reading. This bill would allow the Public Service Commission to increase rates to ratepayers to cover the increased costs of hearings that have become increasingly more complex. The PSC regulates the public utilities that provide services to consumers in the state. The three main industries it regulates are electricity, natural gas and telephone. The general duties and functions of the PSC include regulation of monopoly utilities to ensure safe, adequate and reliable service at just and reasonable rates; certification of utility service territory; resolution of complaints lodged against utilities; electric and natural gas utility securities and financing; authorizing major utility construction projects, utility mergers and reorganizations and a few other minor duties. This quasi-judicial agency is critical to ensuring rate-paying businesses and citizens are not taken advantage of by large monopolies.
By the way, do not worry, HB37 – Road Usage Charge will not gain any traction this legislative session. Many constituents have asked me about this bill. The Joint Transportation Committee brought several bills forward to fund roads and highways in Wyoming, but HB37 has virtually no support.
Today the House had standing committees working in the morning and at noon. During the floor session, the House heard seven bills on third and final reading. All of these bills passed the House, and I supported all of them. HB0053, Invasive Plant Species, puts in statute the duties of the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council. This council would be made up of members from each county weed and pest board around the state. The bill requires the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council to develop supportive data systems, to coordinate with the University of Wyoming and the community colleges for applied research, to work to break down barriers with federal partners and to encourage landscape projects that move across multi-jurisdictional ownerships. The bill also eliminates a current restriction in statute of how many invasive weeds a district can fight at one time. I supported this bill, because invasive species impose a tremendous cost on landowners, wildlife and wildlife habitats.
HB0030, Public Utility Assessment, slightly increases rates to ratepayers of public utilities, like electricity. The workload of the Public Service Commission (PSC) has expanded and become more complex, which has resulted in a need for more support. Without the PSC gatekeeping these big utility monopolies, we the consumers would be outgunned. I supported this bill.
Our agenda today also included adopting rules. We chose to extend our temporary rules until March 3, because the Senate wanted to work with the House on a joint rule to address concerns it has about membership on committees. We also passed a clean-up rule that fixed some misspellings, allows for approval of a bill without a signature and put in rule our practice for bill-drafting deadlines. Rules are incredibly important, because they dictate how we engage with each other, how the House engages with the Senate and how we make decisions.
Today in the House we passed four bills through second reading, none of which were controversial. The House debated nine bills in Committee of the Whole today, including these which passed COW and which I supported. SF0029, Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Act, which updates the laws for Notaries; SF0054, Statewide Health Information Exchange – Codification, which codifies the existing statewide health information exchange and allows the Department of Health to charge fees to maintain this information platform and SF0057, School Finance – Dates for Fund Transfers, which is intended to fix a timing conflict created by the bill last session that moved mineral property tax payments to a monthly schedule. This bill ensures that the county treasurer makes a second payment to school districts in June between the second Monday of the month and June 20, for all monies in the county treasury that belong to school districts. This would ensure that any mineral ad valorem taxes and any other revenues belonging to school districts are paid out on time and don’t create a cash flow issue for school districts. Also, HB0049, Agency Fee Revisions, increases fees in the Department of Health and Department of Ag that have not been increased in years. These agencies are responsible for ensuring that facilities and businesses protect the consumer from health-related problems and those entities should pay for these inspections.
For details on the bills discussed here and all other 2021 bills, visit https://www.wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2021.
I can be reached at [email protected] with questions or comments.