Week 1 at the Legislature: Redistricting, coal funds, grouse farming7 min read
CHEYENNE — One week into the four-week 2022 budget session, Wyoming’s 66th Legislature has winnowed 279 pieces of legislation to 184 for further consideration. In addition to the adoption of a new budget and the allocation of $500 million in federal aid, here’s what else WyoFile reporters are tracking:
What is it: House Bill 100 – Redistricting of the Legislature redraws voting district lines, as is required by law every 10 years following a census. This particular map, also known as the 62-31 plan, adds two House districts and one Senate district to reflect population changes over the last decade.
What happened: The bill was amended several times before passing the House Friday. This included one change Rep. Jared Olsen (R-Cheyenne) dubbed the “Grand South Cheyenne Compromise of 2022.” South Cheyenne is a blue-collar neighborhood with a large percentage of Hispanic voters and one of the fastest-growing areas in the state.
The amendment splits that population into two, rather than four, to reflect “communities of interest and neighborhoods that align together,” Olsen said on the floor. It was the final adjustment in a series of back-and-forth changes that divided Cheyenne’s Hispanic population differently.
Status: The bill cleared the House with a 54-6 vote Friday and now heads to the Senate.
Related legislation: Senate File 60 – Redistricting of the Legislature-2 remains in play. That’s the “backup” bill sponsored by Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper). The bill would retain the Legislature’s current tally of 60 representatives and 30 senators. Meanwhile, Senate Joint Resolution 1 – Redistricting commission failed introduction. It would have amended the Wyoming Constitution to make redistricting the responsibility of an independent commission instead of lawmakers.
What is it: Senate File 84 – Mineral royalties-proportional severance tax relief aims to prevent job and economic losses that might result from anticipated increases in federal royalty rates on oil, natural gas and coal. The bill would create a refund of state severance tax payments to help make up for a portion of the anticipated increase. Those payments would then be backfilled with the state’s portion of federal mineral royalties, which are split roughly 50-50 between the Federal Treasury and the state of origin. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering raising the royalty rate for oil and gas from 12.5% to about 18.75%, according to federal reports.
What happened: The Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee heard public comment on the bill and advanced it on a 4-1 vote Monday.
Status: Senate File 84 returns to the Senate floor for further consideration.
Who said what: Proponents of the bill say that an increase in federal royalty rates would disproportionately hurt fossil fuel producers in Wyoming because nearly 70% of the underlying mineral estate is federal.
“It just mitigates [a federal royalty rate increase] slightly, and Wyoming remains status quo in terms of the revenue that you can expect from oil and gas.” — Pete Obermueller, Petroleum Association of Wyoming president
“There’s already a process in place in the federal regulations that allows a company to apply for royalty relief. So if a company ends up having an issue with paying that extra federal mineral royalty, they can apply to the federal government to get that royalty amount reduced. And in fact, operators in Wyoming have taken advantage of that recently.” — Shannon Anderson, Powder River Basin Resource Council
What is it: House Bill 141 – Coal-fired facility closures litigation funding-amendments expands the scope of a 2021 law that set aside $1.2 million for the governor’s office to sue states that impede the use of Wyoming coal through renewable portfolio standards or blocking permits for coal export facilities. House Bill 141 would expand the use of that fund to sue the federal government for “overreach” that impedes Wyoming coal. Opponents say the expansion bill does nothing to address concerns raised last year that the measure passed in 2021 potentially infringes on the Attorney General’s prosecutorial discretion while tying up appropriations that could be put to better use.
What happened: The bill sailed through introduction, and was discussed in the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee Monday morning.
Status: The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee will continue working the bill when the committee meets again Wednesday.
Who said what: “It’s pretty simple. We’re just opening up the boundaries, so to speak, of what this money could be used for, so there’s no new allocation,” Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) said.
“Last year’s bill was very limited in scope, whereas everything in this year’s bill, the Attorney General’s office already [has discretion to consider a lawsuit], so there’s no need for additional funding.” — Shannon Anderson, Powder River Basin Resource Council
What is it: A pair of bills — House Bill 28 – Hathaway lump sum merit scholarship and House Bill 29 – Hathaway scholarship amendments — would make adjustments to Wyoming’s esteemed performance-based scholarship program. House Bill 28 sought to allow students to apply for the scholarship either 20 years post high-school graduation, or up until the applicant’s 41st birthday. It also would have made convicted felons eligible for the scholarship.
House Bill 29 increases student scholarship awards by about 5% and transfers certain types of funds from the Hathaway Student Scholarship Reserve Account to the Hathaway Scholarship Expenditure Account.
What happened: House Bill 28 died in the House, 31-29. House Bill 29 passed second reading in the House on Friday.
Status: House Bill 28 is dead, but HB 29 will proceed to a third reading in the House. If approved it will go to the Senate.
What is it: House Bill 33 – Community health services-continued redesign efforts delays the launch date for a piece of legislation passed in 2021. That bill required the Department of Health to redesign the state-funded mental health and substance abuse system. The bill gives the WDH two more years to work with stakeholders and determine how payments to providers will shake out.
What happened: The bill passed the House, 59-1.
Status: The Senate received the bill for introduction on Friday.
Who said it: “A lot of good work was done over the summer … But a lot of work remains to be done, specifically the payment side was the big elephant in the room that we were not able to tackle over the summer.” — Franz Fuchs, chief data analyst at the Department of Health.
What is it: House Bill 53 – Military department-discrimination or harrassment grievances was created to address allegations of widespread workplace hostility, harassment and retaliation in the Wyoming National Guard. The proposal creates a new state position overseeing complaints and broadens options for guard members and employees seeking redress.
What happened: The Wyoming House of Representatives broadly supported HB 53, which advanced untouched save for an amendment that slightly increased the budget allocation to support the new position.
Status : The Wyoming Senate received HB 53 on Monday.
Related legislation: Senate File 45 – Military department-annual report requires the Wyoming Military Department to prepare a report summarizing sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual assault cases annually. Similarly, the proposal sailed through its introductory chamber of the Wyoming Legislature and has moved onto the House.
What is it: Senate File 10 – Predator control emerged after a dustup between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers and southwest Wyoming county predator boards that hired out aerial gunning operations over federal land. The proposal would allow the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Predatory Animal Damage Board to contract directly for predator control, addressing permitting concerns.
What happened: Senate File 10 breezed through the Wyoming Senate, passing introduction and subsequent readings with no votes in opposition.
Status: The Wyoming House of Representatives received SF 10 on Friday.
Who said it: “The idea here is that we want to get the planes back in the air. It’s a simple bill. We were grounded.” — Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan)
What is it: Senate File 61 – Sage grouse game bird farms proposes to extend permits that allow private businesses to raise sage grouse in captivity. Wyoming is home to more greater sage grouse than any other state, but the bird, a former candidate for Endangered Species Act Protections, continues to struggle. Captively raising sage grouse has been pitched as a strategy to mitigate the effects of habitat loss, though opponents argue it’s bad policy that privatizes wildlife and doesn’t work.
What happened: The Wyoming Senate cleared SF 61 in a 27-2 vote, with Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson) and Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) opposed.
Status: The Senate’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee will work SF 61. It’s on the agenda for 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Who said it: “They’re not collecting eggs anymore. They’ve got 54 pairs in their facility.” — Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper), referring to Diamond Wings Upland Game Birds, the only Wyoming business raising sage grouse.