Agriculture bills progress through committeeWritten by Saige Albert
In a budget session, bills require a two-thirds majority vote for introduction, making it more difficult to pass legislation, but Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says not many bills have been rejected.
As the primary concern for this year’s legislative session, the Joint Appropriations Committee spent much of January reviewing the budget for the year. With the January Consensus Revenue Estimating Group forecasting a reduction of $113 million over two years, Governor Matt Mead reduced his original budget by an additional $64 million.
“I submitted and produced a balanced budget, allowing for savings and taking a strategic approach,” commented Mead in the State of the State address. “I have not recommended deep, across-the-board cuts to agencies.”
“Natural gas prices, which have been a significant contributor, are headed down, and the prognostication is that they are likely to say down for the foreseeable future,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. “There may be some deeper budget cuts, and we can’t do that without getting some people upset.”
“It’s a tight budget year,” adds Magagna.
Legislative redistricting is also an area of controversy for this session.
“I don’t think anyone is very happy about the process,” comments Hamilton. “It seems to be a situation where we only have a limited pie, and anytime we change the way it is sliced, it takes away from someone.”
Some changes have been made in the initial meeting of the Corporations committee, including reinserting La Barge into the rest of Lincoln and Sublette counties, rather than in Star Valley, and a change in Goshen County has been made, according to Magagna.
Several other proposals, including conflicting proposals from Uinta County, have been submitted as well.
House Bill (HB) 32, redistricting of the legislature, was placed in the General File on Feb. 15.
Public lands access
A bill by Sen. Charles Scott of Casper, Senate File 63 Public Lands Access, caused stir among agriculture groups.
The bill aimed to provide access for recreational purposes or economic values by acquiring corners of private land for federal or state land access. To accomplish its goals, the bill gave the power of eminent domain to the Game and Fish Commission and the State Board of Land Commissioners.
Magagna comments, “The concern that it is really intended to address is growing elk populations, and one of the contributing factors are ranchers who don’t allow public access for harvesting elk.”
“The problem is a genuine problem,” continues Magagna, “but infringing on private property rights is not the solution.”
However, the bill failed introduction in the Senate with a 13 to 17 vote.
Livestock disease reporting
SF 20, livestock disease reporting and liability, originated with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) out of concern for producers who may be substantially affected by the purchase of diseased livestock.
“Brucella ovis is a venereal disease of rams, and it is extremely economically devastating,” explains WWGA Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. “If a ram tests positive, he has to be sold for slaughter only. We’ve taken a pretty aggressive stance.”
Reece notes that B. ovis was nearly eradicated from Wyoming until a few years ago, when it reappeared, and with the Sheep Quality Assurance board, Reece decided something had to be done to curb the problem.
“Statutes and regulations only affect the guys who do things right,” says Reece, who adds that the bill would impose a fine on anyone who knowingly sells diseased livestock.
The bill, which is not limited to sheep, would make producers who sell diseased livestock without disclosing their status liable for damages caused to other producers, but Reece acknowledges that the bill isn’t ready to be introduced into Wyoming statute yet, and he plans to recommend that the bill not pass out of committee.
“We have a draft bill that all ag groups can take to our members,” says Reece, “but it’s a new concept, and I want to make sure that it does only what we want it to do.”
“I believe whole-heartedly that it has a lot of merit,” he adds.
Magagna says his organization is fine with what the bill intents to accomplish. However, he is also worried about the language used in the bill and says he will take a closer look.
Ethanol tax credit
After moving out of the Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs committee, the ethanol tax credit bill, SF 8, was passed by the committee of the whole on Feb. 15 after discussion.
“This bill eliminates the state subsidy,” explained Sen. John Schiffer of Kaycee in the Feb. 15 session. “This industry is a mature industry.”
Schiffer also explained that, while at least 25 percent of corn utilized in the ethanol plant receiving the subsidy dollars must come from Wyoming, he wasn’t sure that the purpose of the subsidy should be to provide support for Nebraska corn growers, who are providing the remaining corn. Schiffer was also concerned with the seemingly non-existent sunset clause that was nullified with the plant’s expansion.
Conversely, Sen. Marty Martin of Superior asserted that a sunset clause was in place, and it is the Legislature’s duty to essentially keep its word and extend the subsidy to the sunset date, rather than “pulling the rug out from underneath the company.”
Hamilton expressed similar concerns, saying, “The state government said this was a deal they wanted to make, and they are trying to renege.”
SF 41: Wolf management
“There has been a lot of attention to the wolf bill,” says Magagna of other prominent bills thus far.
With the legislation the subject of an informational session on Feb. 14, and up for discussion in the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee meeting on Feb. 16, the bill is one of interest to many groups.
“I think with the passage of this bill, we would be well positioned for whatever comes,” comments Reece.
Mead also encouraged support of the bill in his State of the State address.
Get involved in Wyo. Legislature
The Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO) has continued to offer a variety of services to Wyoming citizens to be continually involved in the legislative session from their website legisweb.state.wy.us.
An Online Hotline allows members of the public to recommend support or opposition of a bill, along with short comments, to members of the legislature. The information will them be available to all members of the Legislature.
Also available is a live audio broadcast of each session in both the House and the Senate. Citizens will also be able to email, call or fax their legislator directly at the Capitol using information from the LSO website.
Visit legisweb.state.wy.us to access bill tracking information, audio broadcasts, session activities, legislator information and the online hotline.
Ag bills make progress in legislature
In the first week of the 2012 Budget Session, members of the Wyoming Legislature heard the introduction of a number of bills of interest to Wyoming’s agriculture community. Feb. 17 was the last day for introduction of bills for consideration this year.
The following bills have been introduced and will be heard in committee:
HB0041 – Omnibus water bill – planning (re-referred from Agriculture committee)
Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources
HB0006 – Change of use for irrigation districts
HB0007 – Voluntary livestock identification program
HB0018 – Notification of public land tenants-water rights changes
HB0037 – Irrigation districts – power projects
SF0018 – Reimbursement for livestock
SF0020 – Livestock disease reporting and liability
SF0047 – Omnibus water bill – construction
SF0049 – Terms for youth board of agriculture members
SF0055 – Purchase of federal lands
SF0065 – Applied agricultural research funding program
SF0076 – Water – beneficial use
Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources
SF0041 – Wolf management
SF0042 – Large project funding
SF0043 – State parks – acquisition of lands
SJ0001 – Wildlife – property of the state
The following bills and resolutions failed introduction:
HJ0002 – Constitutional assignment of general fines and penalties
SF0053 – Public land access
These bills have passed the Committee of the Whole in either the Senate or the House. The date passed is indicated in parentheses.
HB0010 – Game and Fish – additional elk licenses (2/16)
HB0012 – Marketable title act – conservation easements (2/16)
HB0013 – Wind estate disclosure (2/16)
HB0025 – Private transfer fee obligations (2/16, with amendments)
HB0032 – Redistricting of the legislature (2/16, Second reading, with amendments)
SF0008 – Ethanol tax credit (2/15)
SF0017 – Game and Fish – authority revision (2/16)
SF0019 – Predator management districts – management (2/16, with amendments)