Legislative session winds down this week
Cheyenne – The 62nd Wyoming Legislature passed the halfway point on Feb. 25 for its 2014 Budget Session.
The crossover period marked the last day for third reading of bills in their house of origin, which comes with mixed reports for agriculture.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton, “This session, Chairmen Mark Semlek and Gerry Geis both commented that the Ag Committee’s load has been pretty light this year. We haven’t had the big workload that other legislative committees saw this year.”
The primary goal of legislators during the budget session is the 2015-16 biennial budget.
On Feb. 24, conferees were appointed from each body to reconcile differences between the bills. The committee met on Feb. 26.
Members of the conference committee include Representatives Steve Harshman, Kermit Brown, Bob Nicholas, Tim Stubson and Mary Throne, and Senators Eli Bebout, Drew Perkins, Curt Meier, Dan Dockstader and John Hastert.
“There were some major areas where the budget bills differed,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “However, there was nothing that affected agriculture.”
Magagna pointed out that the majority of differences occurred in education and other areas.
“The only major item that affects ag is $100,000 the House put into the Department of Agriculture to do further exploratory research on the ability to have a federal equivalency state-inspected meat plan in Wyoming,” he adds. “That provision wasn’t in the senate bill.”
“Everything in the budget relating specifically to agriculture came through fine,” Magagna says.
In working the budget, Hamilton notes that an increasing trend seems to be occurring where more legislating is occurring in the budget bill than normal.
“We are starting to see legislating in budgets at the federal level, as well, and I don’t want to go down that path,” he says. “The budget process should be kept relatively straightforward.”
Utilizing footnotes for budget considerations is a process Hamilton cautions legislators and the public to be wary of.
At the crossover period, 158 of the 306 bills numbered for introduction remained active. Only 13 bills were not considered for introduction.
Many of the bills pertaining to agriculture continue to move through the legislative process with little resistance.
Included among those is Senate File 7, Brucellosis Surveillance, which would provide funds for brucellosis testing outside the Designated Surveillance Area.
“The bill directing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to come back for the next biennium and seek General Fund money for grizzly bear management and health care costs has seen several amendments,” Magagna says.
Additionally, Hamilton marks the bill introduced by Senator Larry Hicks dealing with trespassing to collect data, Senate File 85, was one that he believes has merit but needs more work.
“We hope that one of the committees will support that as an interim topic, so we can have a discussion about it,” Hamilton comments. “This is something we’ve been addressing piece-meal through the years.”
A number of other bills are working their way through the legislature unimpeded.
Conservation easements continue to divide the ag community, and as a result, provisions in Senate File 82, Large Projects Funding, have seen support and opposition.
“We have spent time on the large projects funding bill, and after first reading, there was an amendment to preclude funding of easements unless they provide for public access,” Magagna mentions. “We’ve strongly resisted that.”
Magagna further notes that he doesn’t believe easements would go through if public access was required, though some landowners do choose to allow access.
On the other side of the field, Hamilton comments, “We always have concern about natural resource projects and use of money for perpetual conservation easements.”
Both Magagna and Hamilton saw regret that several bills did not progress through the legislative process.
“The bills that were our priorities died,” Magagna says.
In particular, Magagna explains that Senate File 8, a bill to cap state land acquisitions, died on the floor of the Senate.
“We are disappointed that bill didn’t come up,” Hamilton notes.
Both Hamilton and Magagna also mentioned House Bill 23 as being disappointing to see fail.
“The bill to protect landowners from liability against trespassers died on the House floor after it got amended in the House Judiciary Committee,” Magagna says. “The amendment would have taken out the attractive nuisance provisions, so the leadership opted not to bring the bill forward.”
Magagna marks that House leadership was concerned about lengthy debate with the budget pending, saying, “That bill was one of 37 that died on the house floor.”
“We will certainly try to see if we can get that bill through next year,” Hamilton says. “We are at a loss as to why we are struggling to the bill through. The bill is trying to protect private property rights – which Wyoming holds important.”
This year’s session, Magagna notes, has seen some peculiarities.
“It seems like this year more than in the past, I’ve seen committee bills that were worked during the interim come up – on both the House and Senate side – and have amendments that were never attempted in the interim,” he explains. “Committee members are also voting differently than in the interim.”
While it is not unusual to see amendments on the floor of each body, Magagna comments that it is both unusual and interesting to see the legislators changing their votes or adding amendments to committee bills before they are put on General File.
“It is interesting and an observation I have made this session,” he says.
For the remainder of the session, the Wyoming Legislature encourages the public to continue to actively participate in the legislative process.
For a complete list of all the bills that are still active and to track their progress as the session continues, please visit wyoleg.gov.
Information on these bills is current as of Feb. 27.
In the next two weeks of the 2014 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature, a handful of important dates are looming.
Feb. 28 was the last day for bills to be reported out of committee in the second house, and March 3 marks the last day for Committee of the Whole on bills in the second house.
March 5 is the last day for third reading of bills in the second house.
Lawmakers hope to wrap up the 2014 Budget Session by March 7.