Wyoming Farm Bureau reviews status of bills
Cheyenne – “As I reflect on the bills sponsored, and those we’ve worked on and even some that have failed, this session has been a call to freedom,” said Representative Mark Semlek, House Ag Committee Chair, in his comments at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB) Legislative Meeting Feb. 22-23 in Cheyenne.
He noted the 10th Amendment sovereignty bills, the concealed weapons discussion and the Wyoming Food Freedom Act as just a few bills limiting government control.
WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton added the 2010 Budget Session has a “mad at the feds” tone.
“I think this year we have a response to federal policies that have mobilized the grassroots in a lot of areas,” said Semlek. “It’s good the people who are busy doing their work and their jobs have taken the time to recognize we need to be mindful of our freedoms.”
Of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, HB 54, Semlek said the issue came to a head in Summer 2009 when state health inspectors arrived at church gatherings in Fremont County. He said the bill provides the opportunity for ag producers or processors to conduct arm’s-length transactions between themselves and their customers on a direct sale basis.
“As we move the bill through the legislative process this year we need to be mindful of the concerns, allowing ag producers to market their products, but not set up a fatal flaw that would ruin the whole opportunity to market through roadside stands and cottage industries,” said Semlek.
“What this does is take away inspection requirements if food is going directly from the producer to the end consumer,” said Hamilton, adding that includes community events like brandings, church bazaars, bake sales and farmers markets.
Semlek noted a one-year moratorium on eminent domain for collector systems for wind energy was moving through the legislative process. “We’ve done some work on eminent domain, and I think it’s better than it was,” he said.
Regarding the taxation of wind energy, Semlek said the issue encountered a big debate in the House Revenue Committee.
“The proposal started out in a draft bill with a three-dollar-per-megawatt tax, and after the committee took a look and heard a lot of testimony it hit the floor with a placeholder tax of one dollar,” said Semlek, adding provisions in the bill won’t let it take effect for several years, and that he advocated for a lower 25-cent placeholder tax.
“I was a ‘no’ vote on that,” he stated. “When I look at a wind generation tax in Wyoming, I look at it differently than a severance tax. We kept regulations and taxation low on coal development, and as a result we mine about 450 million tons per year in Wyoming. Montana took the opposite position, regulating and taxing, and they mine 40 million tons per year.”
“As you look at the excise tax on wind, the stakeholders involved are the landowners who have the opportunity to get some royalty from having wind towers on their land,” continued Semlek, adding the concern that local governments wouldn’t get enough revenue without a tax is “misplaced.”
“We have to be mindful of the stakeholders and their interests because it’s not like we have a finite amount of wind,” he said.
Hamilton explained HB 79, which deals with the eminent domain power of wind power collector lines. “This wants to put a one-year moratorium on the ability of companies to use eminent domain,” he said. “It’s not concerned about the people with the wind towers, but the neighbor that didn’t want towers that might end up crisscrossed with collector lines.”
He added he hopes the Legislature will take a year to study the topic and come up with a “better situation that would give the landowners a little better power.”
Hamilton said HB 47 is asking the Governor to spend more money from the Federal Natural Resources Policy Account to initiate legal action against the federal government in issues relating to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“NEPA and the ESA are two things in Wyoming we always have problems with. I consider this bill the Legislature’s message to the Governor that they know he has the account, and asking him to look at using it to challenge the federal government,” said Hamilton.
Of HB 18, which deals with aquatic invasive species, specifically the zebra and quagga mussel threat, Hamilton said the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has worked to educate the public and has brought a bill that would set up a process for checking boats at Wyoming bodies of water. He added those in agriculture should make sure they completely dry out any gated pipe brought in from Colorado and Utah, which have the mussels already, before it’s put into use.
SF 7, Rangeland Heath Assessments, is still moving through the legislative process. “This bill has the goal of helping Wyoming producers maintain their grazing rights and the integrity of ranches,” said WyFB Director of Public and Government Affairs Brett Moline.
Senate Ag Committee Chair Gerald “Gerry” Geis was also present to speak to WyFB members, and he added the Economic Analysis bill, SF 13, was “a tough one.”
“Senator Eli Bebout worked hard on that bill, and we got it passed today 16-14,” said Geis. “Now there’s hard lobbying needed on the House side. I think it’s a good bill, and if we get it passed it’ll do more good for counties and local entities, including agriculture.”
He continued, “If we can get that information compiled in the state, then when the outsiders think they know more about Wyoming than we do, we can go head to head with them.”
Of the Omnibus Water Planning Bills, Moline said they’re divided into two parts – planning and construction – and both are made up of millions of dollars.
HB 114 has to do with partition fences, and splitting the cost of fencing with the neighbor. The bills says, if the conflict ends in court, the other party has to pay half the fence cost, plus the legal fees associated with the court case.
HB 122, Disposal of Livestock, would allow the Wyoming Livestock Board to dispose with as well as sell livestock. Moline said that bill was moving forward.
Cease and desist
“HJ 2 says Congress should cease and desist enacting mandates beyond the scope of their powers,” said Hamilton of the joint resolution. “It’s in the Senate Judiciary now, and has gone through the house.”
HJ 8 asks Congress not to pass House Resolution 980, or the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, while HJ 9 asks them to amend the 10th amendment and the interstate commerce clause. HJ 10 reaffirms the primacy of Wyoming’s water rights.