SHERIDAN — It’s a wrap, folks.
The 62nd Wyoming Legislature finished its 20-day budget session Thursday with a total of 132 bills passing through both the Senate and the House of Representatives and heading to Gov. Matt Mead’s desk for signature or veto. Mead will continue to sign or veto bills this week.
A total of 306 bills were numbered for introduction, with approximately 43 percent making it all the way through conference committees, three readings in each chamber and concurrence between the chambers on recommended amendments.
Some bills died before they could even be introduced, some squeaked through several readings before dying on third reading in the second chamber and 132 crossed the finish line to become official state law.
As a budget session, the biennium budget for fiscal years 2015-2016 remained a key focus for the 2014 Legislature. Mead’s original budget recommendation went through some ups and downs along the way but came out looking much like it did in the beginning.
Legislative leaders are calling it a balanced budget with significant investments in future growth for Wyoming. The budget bill, signed into law Wednesday, appropriates $3.32 billion in spending from the general fund, down slightly from the previous biennium.
It also calls for $160 million in transfers to other accounts over the next two years to promote savings for the future.
The budget contributes to the growth of the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account — the “rainy day fund” — while the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund also continues to grow.
“This budget establishes the foundation we need today for economic development tomorrow,” Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said in a media release.
Key components of the budget were money for infrastructure and education. It appropriated $175 million over two years to local governments, up from the last biennium, $250 million for construction at Wyoming’s K-12 schools and $102 million for construction and maintenance at community colleges around the state.
“It’s not enough to just educate and prepare Wyoming citizens for competitive jobs,” House Speaker Pro Tempore Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, said. “We need to bring these jobs right here to Wyoming. This starts by putting in place world-class infrastructure that entices the private sector to set up shop in Wyoming.”
The Legislature also promoted Wyoming’s energy sector by urging the study of an energy mega-campus designed to be a one-stop shop for commercial scale industries in Wyoming, passing legislation that will allow the state to take an active role in establishing terminals to export Wyoming coal to new and existing markets, and taking action against the Environmental Protection Agency by passing measures to minimize EPA intrusion and keep state control over regulation of mineral extraction, the press release said.
Sheridan County delegates saw many bills they cared about pass and also saw several fail.
A bill supported by Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, will increase private resident and nonresident snowmobile registration fees to $35 per year to cover the increasing cost of trail maintenance.
Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, was rooting for an increase in Hathaway scholarship amounts for Wyoming students, which occurred with the passage of Senate File 55.
The Legislature passed Senate File 31, supported by Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, which will establish a 24/7 Sobriety Program in Wyoming. This program will allow people convicted of DUI to elect to do a urine test each morning rather than spending time in jail and losing income from their job. If they pass the test, they can go to work. If they fail, they go to jail.
Of interest to employers is the passage of Senate File 76, supported by Rep. Kathy Coleman, R-Sheridan, which provides a definition of misconduct to limit abuse of unemployment compensation by employees fired for misconduct.
Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, was glad to see House Bill 21 pass. This bill will more strictly define usage of property tax exemptions by nonprofit organizations since exemptions were being misused, especially in Teton County and increasingly in Sheridan County.
Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, saw her personal bill, House bill 47, become law. This bill will allow municipalities to apply for state funds to build natural gas pipelines. In particular, this bill will allow a joint powers board for Dayton, Ranchester and Sheridan County School District 1 to apply for funds to bring natural gas to the Tongue River Valley, providing a much cheaper heating alternative for local residents.