After the swearing-in of all legislators, new and old, during the week of Jan. 4, it was decided to hold a hybrid session, beginning with an eight-day Zoom session, hopefully to be followed by an in-person session starting March 1. This decision was made by leadership due to the prevalence of COVID-19. These safety measures ensure that business could continue without the risk of a super spreader event, which might interrupt the session if many members began to fall ill or be required to quarantine.
This session began Wednesday, Jan. 27. The purpose of this session was to tackle immediate business issues and bills that addressed them. Most of the bills that were addressed during this eight-day session had already been worked extensively in committee and therefore were ready to go. With this accelerated schedule, several bills made it through both houses and are awaiting the governor’s signature.
Over 200 bills have begun their journey through the legislative process. An unforeseen benefit of the virtual session was that more members of the public participated and attended these sessions at a rate higher than would have happened at an in-person session.
A few bills that were important to me, my committees and my district were the two omnibus water bills – one for construction and one for planning – that passed. These bills have projects allocated for Lincoln, Sublette and Teton counties. House Bill 066, which passed, provides funding for wildlife crossings and invasive species reduction. SF060, which also passed, addresses the ad valorum tax payment schedule (property tax) from payments every 18 months to once every month.
This is important because it ensures the counties get paid in a timely manner, and it keeps counties from losing millions on declared bankruptcies. This is the result of four years of work. HB054 is of interest to my district because it incentivizes local agricultural producers to package and distribute their own products both nationally and internationally and provides them with USDA or Wyoming Department of Agriculture inspections – this bill is moving on.
HB026 will generate revenue with a 9-cent-per-gallon fuel tax. This money will provide for road maintenance and snow plowing so our commuters can get to work – this bill is moving on. HB062, suicide prevention in the schools, failed in a close vote.
February will be a time for committee meetings and bills to be worked in order to be brought forward in March.
New bills and bills that may require more investigation, discussion and a lengthier vetting process will be addressed in March. The ultimate decision on whether the session in March will be in person or virtual depends upon the vaccination rate, and the presence of the new and more contagious variants of this virus.
Some issues that I have not yet mentioned, which I want to keep abreast of, are the attempts to change the current net metering system for residential solar and wind producers. This would have a negative effect on residential solar and wind production. High on my list are the bills that address revenue. In my opinion, this is the key issue the legislature must face with $225-million shortfall in the budget, combined with a $310-million shortfall in K-12 education. If we do not address this key issue, vital sectors of Wyoming’s infrastructure – such as public health, education and law enforcement – will suffer greatly. These sectors have already been substantially cut.
Next week, I will attend both Revenue and Corporations committee meetings and am scheduled to have my second COVID vaccination – thank you science and medicine for your tireless work in this area. Look for a summary next week on those meetings. I will be attending several meetings before the March session.
As always, you can check the wyoleg.gov website for more detailed information on all bills currently in process.
Jim Roscoe, HD22