Roscoe: Legislative Update – Fall 2021

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The Joint Corporations Committee, which is focusing on redistricting and voting processes, has met numerous times. We met Aug. 16 (which was a reschedule due to Sen. Enzi’s memorial) in Casper, Sept. 2 in Sheridan and Oct. 6 in Douglas. In the first meeting, we were introduced to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software, which we will use to assist in redistricting. It was also decided to divide the state into 10 regions so that local legislators could meet and begin the process as well as eliminate problems within their own regions. We established seven guiding principles, summarized in short:

  • Election districts should be contiguous, compact and reflect a community of interest.
  • The population of election districts should be substantially equal not to exceed 10-percent deviation.
  • To the greatest extent possible, county boundaries and census blocks should be followed.
  • The plan should avoid diluting voting power of minorities.
  • The House shall have 60 seats and the Senate 30 seats.
  • Consideration should be given to two contiguous House districts within each Senate district.
  • Significant geographic features should also be considered (the exact principles can be viewed online at wyoleg.gov).

The second meeting focused on possible voting processes, such as open primaries, ranked choice voting and run-off elections. The committee decided not to move any of these ideas forward at this time.

Another important topic reviewed was a presentation by the county clerks about the careful handling of absentee ballots and how tamper-proof this system is. The destination of each ballot is a voting machine, which is not connected to outside power or Internet – therefore, outside hacking of these votes is not possible.

Region 10 currently includes Teton County, Lincoln County, Sublette County and Uinta County. Teton and Lincoln counties, according to the census, gained population; Sublette and Uinta counties lost population. In our regional meetings, it was discussed that Region 10 needs to increase its population by 1,500 to 2,000 citizens (to fit the model).

Region 10 is constricted in the north by state lines, mountain ranges and national parks. Therefore, the only place to gain population is to the south in Sweetwater County. This is one problem that Region 10 must bring back to the committee; we are now working on that problem. The latest meeting was just a reporting out of the findings of the regional meetings, with the setting of a timeline for regions to reach a solution.

On Sept. 29 and 30, the Joint Revenue Committee met in Casper. We discussed workforce protection – giving precedence to Wyoming workers on government projects. We also discussed the modernization of sales tax through the potential sunset of exemptions and the taxation of services, not just products. The creation of industrial revenue bonds, which other states use to help fund large energy projects, was presented as an idea, but no action happened at this time.

At the end of the day there was vigorous discussion on corporate income/gross receipts tax efforts. We did decide to look further into this at our next meeting and possibly draft some legislation.

The next day we had a presentation on energy and public utility taxes and we finished out with county and municipality revenue options. Because local governments are the primary beneficiaries of sales tax, the subject of a food tax was brought up. This used to be a major source of revenue for towns and counties but was discontinued in 2006, during the gas boom, when Wyoming was flush with revenue.

We also discussed the agricultural exemption on property tax. Currently a property is deemed agricultural if it earns $500 or more on agricultural goods. It was suggested that this should be changed. One suggestion was $3,000 or more, and another suggestion was $5,000 or more.

On Aug. 23, the Natural Resources Funding Committee met in Buffalo with the Wildlife Trust Board. We received an invasive species update, reviewed migration corridor issues, greater sage-grouse issues and we talked about the 2022 large project bill which we will present to the legislature during the budget session. We are going to attempt to get the Legislature to completely fund the Wildlife Trust.

Besides my standing and select committees, I did attend the Treasurer’s Investment Conference in beautiful Saratoga on Aug. 29 and the next day took a tour of Chokecherry Wind Energy Project, south of Sinclair. This is potentially the largest wind farm in North America. I followed that by attending Wildlife Task Force meeting on Sept. 1 in Casper on my way to Sheridan. Scattered amongst these were Land Trust meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, a regional Cowboy Hall of Fame program at the Sommers’ Homestead and a memorial service for a local fallen Marine.

It’s been busy, and I have seen a lot of Wyoming from my car. I will continue to meet with my Region 10 legislators for redistricting; the next Joint Corporations meeting is in November. The next Joint Revenue meeting is tentatively scheduled for December.

Stay well and stay safe! Tune into wyoleg.gov – many of these meetings are now live, and you can see them in real time.

Jim Roscoe, HD22