Wyoming Legislature sets priorities, topics of discussion for 2015 interim sessionWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – Coming out of a 37-day general session, the Wyoming Legislature is preparing for the interim session.
However, as the legislature is also preparing for the 2016 Budget Session.
“Interim topics are important, but during a budget year, they have lower priority compared to the budget,” said Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union Lobbyist and Government Affairs Representative Scott Zimmerman. “We have a shorter legislative session this year, too.”
At the same time, budgetary concerns, in light of the price of oil and natural gas and an uncertain future for coal, mean that the primary focus of the session will revolve around funding the work of the state government.
The Joint Agriculture State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee will be tackling eight topics during the interim.
While Management Council defines the topics, Zimmerman notes that the direction the committee takes with the topics will be seen following the first meeting.
As the top priority, livestock rustling has been identified.
“The committee will consider issues related to livestock rustling, including enforcement of the laws and seizure of private property,” said Management Council.
“Livestock rustling is becoming a bigger issue, and livestock are worth more now than they have been,” Wyoming Farm Bureau's Brett Moline noted. “There is concern about how rustling has increased.
Also related to livestock, the duties of the Wyoming Livestock Board Director and State Veterinarian will be reviewed and considered by the Joint Ag Committee.
The second priority for the Ag Committee is reservoirs, but Zimmerman noted that water issues will be important moving forward.
“There are some heavy-duty water issues coming up in the next few years,” he continued. “With the water strategy and some of the initiatives coming out, there will have to be some fairly significant water law changes debated.”
Zimmerman further noted that there will be opportunities to modernize and update water law this year.
The third priority is conservation district mill levies, which would provide the opportunity to create alternative assessments for water projects.
This year, a bill was introduced in legislature that would allow an additional mill levy to fund specific water projects.
Aside from rustling, there is little focus on livestock issues in the interim topics, a trend that started in the 2015 legislature.
Pesticide training and safety will be discussed by legislators. The topic strives to look at issues related to pesticide training and safety programs and funding for those programs.
The fifth priority is a federal lands study, where the committee will consider issues related to management and administration of public lands. The topic comes at the direction of Senate File 56, which passed in this year’s session.
Moline mentioned, “This study will look at whether Wyoming should take over management of federal lands.”
The question, Moline noted, is can Wyoming afford to grow government by that much, and would it be worthwhile financially?
Legislators will also look at Wyoming State Fair planning, costs and fees, as well as genetically modified organisms and products, including regulation.
Other items of concern
In addition to the interim topics from Management Council, Wyoming Farm Bureau's Ken Hamilton noted that the upcoming budget session will provide some challenges for the year.
“In the budget session, we will have to have discussion about the prices for our minerals,” Hamilton noted. “Representative Harshman pointed out that the fund for construction of schools will run out in 2017. We will have to decide how to fund those projects, and it will be a big argument.”
“Our legislators will have to figure out how to fund state government if oil prices stay at $50 a barrel and gas prices are low and coal is hitting the skids,” he said.
With potential budget crunches in the near future, Hamilton mentioned that the state will have to have serious discussions to address the issue.
“We have a fairly new Ag Committee in the House and in the Senate as well,” Hamilton continued. “In the Senate, I think they have some really thoughtful individuals who have a good feel for the ag folks in their communities.”
With a number of new members on the Ag Committee, Zimmerman said, “Representative McKim did an excellent job as incoming chairman, but it takes time for the committee to come together as a group.”
“I think we have a really strong committee,” he added.
“It is always a learning process to get to know the new legislators,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, “but we want to learn how to best work with them. Overall, we have a really good group of legislators on both the House and Senate Ag Committees.”
The Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee has meetings scheduled for May 11-12 in Riverton and Sept. 14-15 in Afton.