Legislative Update - May 17

Hello Sublette County, this is Albert

Sommers reporting from the Legislative Interim.

After a couple months off, the Legislature

is back to work doing interim studies

through its various committees. Management

Council is comprised of the leadership

of both parties and is responsible for operating

the legislature and establishing study

priorities for the interim. Management

Council considered recommendations from

legislative committees for interim work and

then made decisions on each committee’s

study topics and priorities. As legislators

we often submit interim topics to committees

for consideration in an attempt to have

constituent issues studied and hopefully addressed.

Occasionally, Management Council will

not agree with a committee’s priorities, and

will assign it a topic that leadership feels is

important. One of those rare occasions when

Management Council overrode a committee’s

priorities occurred this year when they

assigned the Joint Revenue Committee the

teen-vaping epidemic issue that has hit Wyoming’s

school-age children. The vaping

epidemic was an issue brought to me by

several sources in Sublette County, most

notably the county prevention specialist.

I worked on this issue during session but

the bill I helped create was presented late

in the session and was unsuccessful. As a

member of Management Council, I got the

opportunity to make the case that the vape

epidemic was an important issue. On May

2 in Riverton, the Revenue Committee conducted

its first hearing on vapes. Wyoming

State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist gave

an excellent presentation on how quickly

teen use of vapes has increased and about

negative effects on the developing brain

from nicotine use. Several folks from Sublette

County attended this meeting to support

efforts to curb teen vape use, including

the school resource officers from Sublette

School Districts No. 1 and No. 9. An administrator

and teacher from Sublette No.

1 also testified, as well as the county health

officer and prevention specialist. I also testified

on the need to curb Internet sales of

vapes to underage youth. A big thank you

to all of those from Sublette County who

made the trek to Riverton to testify. Citizen

testimony is very powerful!

The committee asked for several bills

to be drafted for debate. These included a

bill to increase the fine for underage use of

nicotine, a bill to increase the fine for selling

nicotine to an underage teen, a bill to

increase the legal age for purchase of nicotine,

a bill to ban online sales of nicotine

products and a bill to tax vapes. Vapes are

often touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes,

which could be the case when related

to secondhand smoke. Vape products

are new, so long-term studies have not been

completed on them. We do know that nicotine

is not caffeine, and that nicotine has

a proven negative affect on brain development

in youth up to the mid 20s and is

highly addictive. We spent decades decreasing

social acceptance and use of tobacco

products among youth and we are now on

the verge of addicting another generation to

nicotine through the use of vapes.

On May 15, I attended the Joint Transportation

Committee meeting in Gillette to

support an issue I helped place on the committee’s

agenda, which was development/

improvement of wildlife crossings on Wyoming

highways. In 2016, I attended the

Wyoming Wildlife and Roadway Summit

in Pinedale that was sponsored by the Wyoming

Game and Fish Department, Wyoming

Department of Transportation, University

of Wyoming and several nongovernmental

organizations whose missions center around

wildlife. The summit discussed wildlife migration

and the impacts of vehicle collisions

on both wildlife and humans. During this

summit we broke into groups and helped

prioritize stretches of highway that had the

most wildlife collisions or impact to wildlife.

Through this summit and further efforts

by the Wyoming Wildlife Roadway Initiative

Implementation Team, a prioritized list

was created with the intent to put projects

on the ground to minimize wildlife/vehicle

collisions. The prioritization used a combination

of the number of wildlife/vehicle collisions

and the importance of the migration

route that was impacted.

Sublette County’s Trapper’s Point project,

with high fencing, multiple underpasses

and two impressive overpasses, is likely the

best example in Wyoming of a successful

project. Projects like Trapper’s Point can

reduce collisions by as much as 90 percent.

It was mentioned in Gillette that the Trapper’s

Point project could pay for itself in 17

years through reduced collisions. However,

these projects are incredibly expensive up

front, with the top-10 projects estimated to

cost a total of nearly $200 million. There

lies the challenge. Rep. Stan Blake of Green

River brought a bill two years ago to create

a wildlife license plate with the proceeds

going to these projects. So far, the license

plate has generated more than $100,000 in

five months of sales.

Last year, prior to the legislative session,

Sublette County Commissioner Mack Rawhouser

expressed his concern to me about

deer deaths on the Big Piney to LaBarge

stretch of US Highway 189. During the

session, I helped sponsor House Bill 228

to partially fund wildlife crossings projects

and I put the same bill language in the

State Capital Construction bill. Both efforts

passed the House but died in the Senate.

House Bill 228 was designed to utilize a

little state money to leverage dollars from

the Wyoming Game and Fish Department,

Wyoming Department of Transportation

and nongovernmental organizations.

While the bill failed, the idea picked up

steam. In the past few months, the Wyoming

Game and Fish Commission committed

more than $1 million to help support

collision projects, thanks in large part to

Sublette County’s rep on the commission,

Mike Schmid. WYDOT has stepped up

and is applying for a federal build grant

in hopes of building out the Highway 189

project. NGOs are also fundraising for

this effort. On May 18, I attended a Muley

Fanatic fundraiser at the Sublette County

Fairgrounds and the momentum continued

as both Game and Fish and WYDOT spoke

about finding a way to fund the project on

Highway 189 from Big Piney to LaBarge.

At the May 15 meeting, I testified to the

Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee

on the need for more funding for wildlife

crossings. However, the committee was

reluctant to support a bill that committed

General Fund dollars to wildlife crossing

projects, as the motion died by one vote.

However, the committee is looking at a couple

of bills that would give citizens more

options to donate to these worthy projects. I

was pleased with the committee’s work and

will continue seeking dollars for this effort.

It seems that insurance companies would

benefit from fewer collisions, and it would

be nice to see them help with this effort.

I can be reached at [email protected]