Wyo legislature consider tough budget questions, advances bill through the processWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – Feb. 19 marked the last day for bills to be heard in Committee of the Whole for the house of origin, according to the Wyoming Legislature’s website. Next week, Feb. 22 will be the last day for second reading, and Feb. 23 is the last day for third reading of bills in their house of origin.
With these important deadlines approaching, the 170 bills originating in the House of Representatives and 109 bills from the Senate are working their way through the legislative process, including a number of bills that impact the agriculture industry.
Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank noted that the budget for the 2016-17 biennium is a top priority for everyone in the state right now.
“We are certainly watching the budget,” she said. “We know that five percent cuts are expected across the board, and we recognize that everyone is going to have to tighten their belts.”
However, she also added that they are watching to ensure there aren’t deeper cuts taken from areas that would provides notable hardships in the future.
Jim Magagna, Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive vice president, added, “We can’t complain about seeing our fair share of budget cuts.”
He also said that, within the budget, salary increases for brand inspectors have remained intact since they were approved by the Appropriations Committee, and amendments to reinstate funding for control of noxious weeds on state lands have also been up for discussion.
“We have to wait and see how they turn out,” Magagna said, noting that the status of bills and amendments can change rapidly during the session.
Of particular interest to many in Wyoming’s agriculture industry, two bills to amend trespass legislation, both on the civil and criminal fronts are working through both bodies.
“There have been some changes to the criminal trespass bill,” explained Frank. “As it stands coming out of the Senate, it would apply to trespassing occurring on private lands and data collected on private land. The language related to crossing over private land to access public land has been amended out.”
While crossing over private lands to collect data is still a problem, Frank said, “We still think that getting those protections for private landowners is important. It still provides some relief, though we are disappointed that it doesn’t include crossing private lands.”
Magagna continued, “We understand that we don’t want to interfere with the data itself, but we feel strongly that trespass is trespass – no matter what happens after someone trespasses.”
“I’m at least hopeful we can come back in the House and bring back the concept of trespassing to access public land in a meaningful way,” he said.
Several other bills have also see traction in the House and Senate, said Magagna, including bills related to antler collection and compensation for loss of livestock to wolves.
“We are pleased with where the bill on trespass for collecting horns and antlers is right now,” he explained. “I think it will move forward.”
The bill provides for fines if individuals trespass on private lands to collect horns and antlers. It also allows for confiscation of the horns and antlers so offenders cannot sell the products.
“There is also a bill for compensation of livestock loss to wolves in the predator areas,” Magagna said. “That bill is continuing forward.”
The bill would allow ranchers to be compensated for any livestock loss that results from wolf kills statewide.
“We are still watching other bills,” Magagna commented, “and we’ll wait to see what happens in the rest of session.”