Legislative session positive for agWritten by Jennifer Womack
“Overall for ag,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Executive Vice President Bryce Reece, “it was a positive session. We had a lot of new legislators coming into this session and a lot of them aren’t from agriculture.” The change proved positive, says Reece. “All in all we came out with a good session.”
For Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, legislation including a cap on conflicted state leases and a new program to enhance rangeland monitoring marked the session highlights. “We weren’t asking for a lot from the legislature, but we certainly got those things we deemed important,” says Magagna. “We got the most critical items including an additional field veterinarian for the Wyoming Livestock Board.” Magagna says that agency also has the funds to begin assessing their long-term information technology needs.
“Having the state hold tough on the wolf issue was probably the highlight of the session for us,” says Reece of one of his group’s main priorities heading into the session.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton was pleased to see legislation pass changing the manner in which areas are designated as “rare or uncommon.” Hamilton says, “We started out working with Representative Mark Semlek and the bill was going to take that designation process away from the Environmental Quality Council and move it to the legislative body.” As it ended, Hamilton says pending the Governor’s signature, the legislation will move authority to the State Land Board, a group comprised of the state’s five elected officials.
With designation of 180,000 acres at Adobe Town in southwest Wyoming, Hamilton says the BLM began heightening consideration of its management classifications for the area. “The environmental community would like that area designated as wilderness and wilderness areas in Wyoming have caused significant problems for ag producers,” says Hamilton. By moving the decision-making authority to the five elected officials he says elected individuals will make the designation decisions.
The WSGA led the charge to see new legislation to support rangeland monitoring, supported by a $500,000 appropriation, clear the legislature. As of press time the Governor hadn’t yet taken action on the measure.
Beyond the WSGA leadership on the effort, Wyoming’s agricultural organizations pulled together in support of the measure. “It would get money to the conservation districts so they can do some range monitoring with the benefits being two-fold,” says Hamilton. He says it would help get good information to the Bureau of Land Management, especially for their work on NEPA reviews of federal grazing permits, and it would also help in situations where Western Watersheds Project challenges a lease and information on the quality of range is needed.
“It can be a tremendous tool,” says Reece. “Half a million is a lot of money this session. For this bill to hold a half a million when everything else is getting cut, and make it through two tough appropriations committees, shows the case was made and the need articulated.”
While Magagna says the original funding request was larger, the legislation provides an opportunity to start the program and bring a success story back for future sessions.
Hamilton was pleased to see legislation that would have changed the way Wyoming agriculturalists qualify for their gas tax exemption fall by the wayside. Despite that, he says it’s an area that may need to be revisited. “When you look at the law,” he says, “it seems clear to me that once you qualify as an ag producer with $10,000 in agricultural sales you automatically get that. But I keep hearing from producers who’ve had a lot of questioning done by the Wyoming Department of Transportation.”
Reece says he remains disappointed that legislation that would have allowed non-veterinarians to charge for pregnancy checking services failed. Next session, however, he says similar legislation will return to Cheyenne for further discussion.
Magagna was pleased to see $25 million in the final budget for construction of a new Biosecurity Level 3 laboratory. Also approved, he says, was $100,000 to allow “the college of ag to develop a protocol for undertaking a major brucellosis research program. This will give Dean Galey a chance to develop a structure with researchers from anywhere and everywhere.” Magagna says research will focus on new vaccines for both livestock and wildlife.
As the session came to an end early March, legislators began discussing priorities for the 2010 Budget Session. Members of the Joint Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee will discuss, among other things, animal diseases including brucellosis. They’ll again look at solutions for water produced during the production of coal bed natural gas and be discussing invasive plant species.
Magagna says the Revenue Committee will discuss tax rates and tax exemptions. With some tax exemptions directed toward agriculture Magagna says that’s a discussion his organization will follow closely.