WyFB members receive legislative updates at annual meetingWritten by Saige Albert
“This session is a little different than normal,” commented WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. “Usually, we tell our members about 400 to 600 bills that are introduced, and this year we are less than 300. That is unusual.”
Hamilton added that for bills to be introduced during a budget session, a two-thirds vote is required, and, in the past, that hasn’t presented much of a challenge.
“We saw a lot of bills die this year because they didn’t get the two-thirds majority, and that is the way this session ought to be,” said Hamilton. “I was surprised.”
With the budget as the primary focus of the session, Hamilton and (WyFB) Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline emphasized the handful of bills that are of interest to the agriculture community.
Ag research funding
President of the Senate Jim Anderson of Glenrock introduced Senate File (SF) 65, Applied Agricultural Research Funding Program, to establish a fund of $200,000 in the Wyoming Department of Agriculture for research projects, and the bill has passed third reading in the Senate.
“While we always want more research for agriculture, the question that I raise is, why isn’t the university doing this?” commented Moline. “The university used to be developing enterprise budgets and doing studies with animals, and the question ‘why aren’t they doing it now?’ hasn’t been answered.”
In the bill, monies would be distributed to UW, community colleges or other appropriate research entities to perform research projects related to agriculture.
“Especially in times of tight budgets, is it a good idea to start another duplicate program?” questioned Moline, who also noted that, while research is necessary, the funding would be redundant. “Why are we duplicating the funding mechanism for programs that should be done at the university?”
Voluntary livestock identification has proven to be a hot-button item in the industry for some time, and Hamilton stated, “I think we have an opportunity to provide the necessary traceability and tracking under our current system, but the big issue is that our Livestock Board is unable to do that now because of their lack of computerization.”
The bill, House Bill (HB) 7, would remove any reference to a national animal identification system, and Hamilton noted the importance of that concept, saying, “I don’t think we support a national animal ID system.”
Hamilton also noted that the state wants to guarantee that data collected would be confidential, but available for tracing back potential disease outbreaks.
“We are certainly supporting it just to get the discussion about the national animal ID out there,” he said.
The Senate received HB 7 for introduction on Feb. 29.
Reimbursement for livestock, SF 18, would attach funding to the state’s authority to pay producers for the removal of diseased livestock from their herds.
“The state has the ability now to pay producers, there are just no funds attached,” said Moline. “This bill would attach some funding, which would come out of reversions from the brucellosis fund.”
The House has received the bill for introduction, and Moline added, “Hopefully, this bill will go through.”
SF 19, concerning voting within predator management districts and refunds for predator fees, was introduced in the House on Feb. 22 and referred to committee.
Current interpretation of the law says that producers who pay the predator fee are eligible to vote, and the bill clarifies that each entity that pays the fee would be eligible for only one vote, preventing a single corporation from bringing multiple partners or representatives to the table.
Voting in predator management districts brought up the discussion of redistribution of predator management fees to those requesting a refund.
“Right now, the Attorney General has said that the law requires predator districts to withhold five percent of predator fees for refunds,” said Hamilton. “They have been giving 100 percent back to those requesting it.”
Moline continued, explaining that five percent of the total collection would be withheld for refunds and pro-rated to those producers who request money back.
“For example, in Albany County, we usually have two to three percent of the total funds requested for refunds, so we would be able to give back all of that money,” he explained. “However, in counties where 25 percent of the fees were requested back, instead of paying 25 percent, they would pro-rate everyone out up to five percent of the total fees collected.”
Discussion by the Agriculture Committee brought concern about the fairness of that system, commented Hamilton, adding that the discussion would likely continue through the interim period.
County commissioners’ special expertise is addressed in SF 84, which provides county governments the special expertise necessary to allow them to participate in the federal land planning process.
“A lot of our county governments are becoming involved in resource management plan updates, and while we have been advocating that county governments are entitled to participate in this process, the federal government is throwing out that they don’t have special expertise,” explained Hamilton.
A designation of special expertise is required for local government to have input in NEPA planning, and Hamilton noted that federal statutes allow state legislatures to designate special expertise for counties, which is what SF 84 accomplishes.
“In my opinion, this bill is too narrow,” added Hamilton. “In many counties, the entities that are doing the heavy lifting are our conservation districts, and I would have liked to see this broader, but the county governments may be able to designate conservation districts as the entity with special expertise.”
SF 84 was passed in the Senate and is currently in committee in the House.
As a final note, Hamilton added that, on a national level, Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, as well as Representative Cynthia Lummis, have been working hard to advocate for Wyoming’s interests, particularly as it relates to the Clean Water Act.
“As you see these individuals, please thank them,” said Hamilton. “They have been working very hard to keep things from going forward.”
Private property rights upheld
Wyoming Farm Bureau supports House Bill 52, a private road action, which gives private landowners the right to reimbursement for legal and appraisal costs when roads are built across their land.
Usually a county’s commissioners appoint a board of appraisers to determine the route that a private road will take and what fee will be paid for crossing the land. HB 52 provides some protection for landowners who feel their land has been undervalued and it allows them to seek their own appraisal.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline explains, “This bill says that when a landowner gets an appraisal, by a registered appraiser, if it comes out 15 percent higher than the offer, the landowner can get the higher amount, and the applicant will have to reimburse the legal fees and appraisal costs.”
Because of the importance of private property rights, Moline says he believes the bill will continue forward. HB 52 passed the Senate Committee of the Whole on Feb. 28.