Legislative session wraps up with a positive outcome for agWritten by Saige Albert
“It was a very good session for us,” comments Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece. “We were very pleased with the outcomes of the session.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton adds, “From the standpoint of a budget session, the focus was certainly more on those items. The legislators came to town to take care of the budget and the redistricting, and I think that part of it went pretty well.”
A look at funding
Despite concerns that cuts would be made, there were several positive expenditures for agriculture.
For the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB), Director Leanne Stevenson notes one of the biggest accomplishments during the session for the agency included an exception request for funds to computerize the WLSB.
“We are really excited about getting the funding for computerization,” she says. “That was probably the biggest benefit to the agency from the session, so we will be moving forward with phase one.”
“We received funding for all of the important ag programs,” explains Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, noting increased funding for predator control, continued funding for the Rangeland Health Assessment Program (RHAP) and new monies provided for livestock reimbursements.
Restored monies provided to the predator boards were a welcome appropriation, and Reece says, “The Governor was very supportive of the program. Restoring the original $6 million was a big thing for us.”
Of funding for the RHAP program, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank says, “We were very pleased with the $200,000 appropriation of the Rangeland Health Assessment Program.”
“Those projects have primarily been sponsored by the conservation districts,” explains Frank. “RHAP is an important program to help producers get monitoring data collected.”
Funding was also provided in the budget bill for indemnification of livestock removed from herds as a result of disease.
“It wasn’t a controversial bill,” says Hamilton, “but at the end of the day it was a pretty significant step. This is the first time that we have had money put into the program.”
Funding for ag research
A bill providing $200,000 of funding for research that benefits Wyoming’s agriculture industry was also passed by the Legislature, and Reece notes that the bill is important long term.
“The program could have tremendous benefit to the industry,” says Reece. “I think part of the bill was intended to send a message to UW that they need to reevaluate what they are doing in terms of ag research and get more in tune with the industry.”
“There was discussion tangential to Senate File 65 about some of the research, or maybe the lack thereof, that the College of Ag is putting out,” continues Hamilton, adding that the subject will be further explored in an interim study.
Hamilton also adds that information about the benefit producers receive from university studies, and ideas about improving the interchange between the university and the production ag community, would be interesting.
An interim study for this year follows the idea of improving agriculture research at the university. The topic aims to review studies conducted in agriculture at UW.
After hearing Representative Allen Jaggi’s (Uinta) bill relating to a federal policy coordinator, a joint subcommittee, composed of the co-chairmen of Joint Ag and Joint Minerals committees, as well as the Senate Minority Leader and the House of Representatives Minority Floor Leader, was formed to review federal policy impacts on management and development of natural resources, as well as to recommend legislative responses to federal policies necessary to protect the state’s interests.
“Representative Jaggi pulled the bill because he felt there wasn’t enough time to adequately debate it,” explains Hamilton.
Frank adds, “We are very interested in the progression of these discussions as it relates to coordination. Conservation districts are cooperating agencies, and our district supervisors invest much time, along with county commissioners and staff, in federal planning.”
“Anything that strengthens the local-state partnership and the ability to influence federal management is of interest to us,” she continues.
Livestock identification fails
“One bill we would have liked to see go through was the livestock ID legislations,” comments Magagna. “By signing something now, we could be a step ahead of what could be coming out of APHIS, rather than trying to respond later.”
The program for livestock identification met concern from Hamilton, however, who notes, “There were some livestock folks who were concerned that if we start a voluntary program, it will lead to a national animal ID, and there were folks in the Senate who were not convinced a piece of legislation was needed at this time.”
Livestock identification polarized the ag community, and Stevenson says in the interim the WLSB plans to continue to meet with producer and industry groups about a voluntary identification program.
“Even though the bill didn’t get passed, we still have the responsibility for animal health, and we have to figure out what to do for those who are interested,” she says.
Busy interim for the
A number of ag groups will be following the studies conducted during the interim, and Hamilton notes that, though not all studies are occurring in the Joint Ag committee, a number of projects of interest to the industry will occur.
“There will be quite a few of the interim committees in which we will be involved,” says Hamilton. “We have things in Minerals, Transportation, Travel, Revenue and Education.”
Magagna adds to the list of interim studies to pay attention to, mentioning the Judiciary Committee’s work related to eminent domain and regulatory taking will be important, as well.
“Another topic for the interim is funding for conservation easements,” says Hamilton, “and that one will be controversial.”
For easements, Reece says, “It’s time to take a good hard look at conservation easements, and we will have some good discussion about that this year.”
Frank mentions that, for conservation districts, the bark beetle study, water issues and the scope of a discussion on wild and scenic designations will be important, particularly.
“It will be a very busy interim session,” comments Reece. “The Ag Committee’s plate is very, very full, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Interim topics set for Legislature
Cheyenne – With the conclusion of the 2012 Budget Session, the Management Council has set interim topics for the upcoming year. Listed below are some of the topics that legislators will address in the interim:
• Eminent domain and regulatory takings
• Energy literacy and agriculture in the classroom – receive reports on energy literacy in the classroom and ag in the classroom projects.
Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources:
• Joint Subcommittee on Federal Natural Resource Management Issues – review federal natural resource management issues.
• Wyoming Department of Agriculture – uniform construction of state fairgrounds, licensure for pesticide application, commission style department agriculture, predator refunds for out of state leaseholders, and large game damages.
• State Lands and Investments, including the State Forestry Division – state funded conservation easements, mitigation of the bark beetle and common carrier pipelines.
• Wyoming State Engineer’s Office – review of export statutes, review of “beneficial use,” and federal government’s appropriation of water.
• Wyoming Livestock Board – brand inspections, and review of animal health, feral livestock and archaic statutes.
• University of Wyoming – review of agriculture studies conducted by UW, including the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database and endangered species.
Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs:
• Wyoming Department of Transportation funding – a broad review of the Department of Transportation’s current revenue streams and financial structure.
Select Natural Resource Funding:
• Statutory responsibilities – review the scope or projects with authorized funding from the wildlife and natural resource trust income account.
For a complete list of the 2012 interim committee studies, visit legisweb.state.wy.us.