Interim session, Wyo legislature schedules interim committees
Cheyenne – Last week marked the conclusion of the 2014 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature.
“At the start of the session on Feb. 10, a total of 306 bills were numbered for introduction,” says Associate Legislative Information Officer Anthony Sara. “The Wyoming Legislature passed a total of 132 bills.”
The session was quiet for most agriculture groups, who noted some disappointment with the passage, or lack thereof, of a handful of bills.
The senate introduced 101 pieces of legislation. Of those, 71 passed both houses. In the house, 128 bills were introduced of the 184 numbered, and both houses approved only 61.
“Both the House and Senate have addressed a broad range of issues affecting Wyoming residents, and while some of these laws will take effect immediately, many will not go into effect until July 1 of this year,” Sara adds.
Among the bills addressed this year, Wyoming’s biennial budget was signed by Governor Matt Mead, with an agreement of $3.3 billion in General Fund spending and $160 million in transfers to other accounts over the next two years.
In an opinion by Senate President Tony Ross and Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, the two comment, “The budget makes targeted investments in infrastructure, a critical component for growing the Wyoming economy in the long-term.”
The legislature noted that they took careful consideration in allocating funds to best poise Wyoming for the future.
“While no one can predict the future, Wyoming understands the importance of taking the initiative to plan ahead,” Brown and Ross write. “The fiscal year 2015-16 budget puts Wyoming in the driver’s seat, giving future citizens and lawmakers the resources and foundation they need to guide Wyoming’s successful future.”
On wrapping up the 2014 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature, Management Council released the list of interim topics selected for this year’s committees to explore.
“It is going to be a busy interim,” says Brett Moline of Wyoming Farm Bureau. “While some committees don’t have much, there are going to be a number of topics we look at.”
For most agriculture organizations across the state, the subject of criminal trespass and trespassing to collect data will be important this year.
“Over in the Judiciary Committee, a very important issue that will be looked at is trespass to collect data,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says.
Moline adds, “There have been problems in Wyoming. The laws aren’t easily understood, and people have come onto or across private property to collect data.”
While laws regarding trespass onto private lands in hunting are explicit, Moline notes that other trespass laws are more vague.
Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) Executive Director Bobbie Frank adds that the topic will also be important for WACD.
“This topic will be our top interim priority,” Frank says.
The interim topic follows after Senator Larry Hicks’ bill on the subject failed to go through during the latest session of the legislature. Magagna comments that Hicks’ bill warranted additional work and discussion prior to its passage.
Ag committee topics
“The big issue on the Ag Committee is animal welfare,” Moline continues.
Several years ago, rules changed such that the Wyoming Livestock Board was only responsible for livestock welfare cases.
“That change left pets in limbo,” Moline notes. “There was also a fund set up for care of confiscated livestock, but there is question as to whether that can be used for pets, as well.”
Magagna continues that designation of pet animals is also a question that will be contemplated in the interim.
“It may seem pretty clear to distinguish which animals are pets, but when we look at our working cow dogs that lie on the porch for half the day, are they livestock or pets?” Magagna asks. “We run into the same issue with horses. It will take some work to sort that out.”
The Ag Committee will also look at landowner and state land issues related to energy development, including pipeline liability.
“The question in energy development is what happens when a pipeline company goes defunct and doesn’t clean out their pipelines?” Moline asks. “Who is responsible for those?”
The committee will explore solutions for pipeline liability and assistance for remediation of leaks when companies are no longer present.
Private property issues will also be discussed, including notification requirements for designations of private property.
“When someone makes a designation on private property – such as where a city thinks a park should be, for example – they should be required to notify the landowners,” Moline says, noting that the Joint Ag Committee will explore whether any action is necessary on that subject.
The Minerals Committee will look at other landowner issues related to energy development to ensure that landowners and their property are protected.
General ag issues
The Ag committee will also look at a variety of issues that have been persistent in the ag community, including fire suppression, mountain pine beetles, beef processing and water uses.
“They’ll look at traceability,” Moline continues. “They will also look at a dry bean research checkoff and limits on the beef checkoff.”
Magagna comments that national increases in the beef checkoff are being contemplated and current limits only allow brand inspectors to collect one dollar for the checkoff.
“If the national checkoff were to increase, we don’t want to put ourselves in a situation that the Wyoming Beef Council has to create a new mechanism to collect additional amounts,” he explains.
The agriculture community will also closely follow the actions of the Select Water Committee, Select Natural Resource Funding Committee and Selected Federal Natural Resource Management Committee.
“The Select Committee of Federal Natural Resource Management is one we will keep an eye on,” Moline says. “They will continue to look at whether there are ways to get federal lands into state management.”
The issue has a number of considerations that must be taken into account, including how to transfer lands legally and whether Wyoming has the financial ability to manage those lands.
The Transportation Committee will also look at classifications for non-commercial driver’s licenses to address concerns of weight limits in vehicles.
“Of course, there will be other topics we monitor, as well,” Magagna says, also noting that the interim session promises to be both busy and exciting.
With the interim session filled with topics that affect agriculture, Wyoming ag groups will be busy over the next year in preparation for the 2015 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature, slated to convene on Jan. 13, 2015 for a 40-day session.