August 3, 2021

Evidence Based Wyoming

Wyoming politics, conservatively by the numbers

Beware the Lawmakers of March…

12 min read
Beware the Ides of March

Beware the Lawmakers of March

The March portion of this fragmented legislative session is quickly approaching. that means it’s time to get caught up on bills that are important to you or Wyoming. Feel free to disagree with me, I might be wrong.

I’ve read all the bills and classified the important ones into three categories, Must Fail, Must Pass, and Pick’em.

Pass and fail are pretty obvious ones for what they are.

The pick’em category is a bit more difficult. I could make an argument for and against each bill listed. So it’s up to you, dear Reader, to advocate for or against each as your fancy suits.

On to the bills:

Must Fail

HB-2 – School buildings and facilities study. This bill should die a quick death. Legislators have been bragging for years about how we’ve rebuilt almost all of Wyoming’s school buildings in the last decade. Now when money is tight, they want to spend an additional $6 million to check on the state of what they built. This is nuts, a relic of the days of high price coal and high price natural gas. The bill is on the general file.

HB-26 Fuel tax: The legislature wants it to cost more to get to work and transport your kids around the state. A bump of $0.09 from $0.24 to $0.33 in the per-gallon fuel tax is again in the mix this session. Referred to Transportation.

HB-37 Road usage charge:  Another novel tax idea, this one will track you where you go and when you go. This kind of tax is appalling as it requires a way to detect which roads are used in order to charge the appropriate per mileage usage tax. Big government would love to have the data of where and when you were, but it’s none of their darn business. This bill may exist solely to make HB-26 palatable, what a horrible strategy! If you can’t make the case for a tax increase, then you haven’t thought your argument through.

HB-83 Health care cost control. – This bill, while well-intentioned, is way off base. It is not the government’s job to pick winners or losers by controlling prices. The bill seeks to limit hospital prices that can be charged to uninsured individuals to the lowest negotiated insurance rate. This bill will have tons of unintended consequences and will create price pressure on already strained hospitals. Changes may be made to this bill to make it more palatable, but it will be a bitter pill to swallow. It would be better to have this bill die in committee as soon as possible. This is not the way to fix health care. Health care can only be solved by having less government, not more. It has been introduced and referred to the Labor Committee.

HB-55 Tobacco Tax – This bill calls for a roughly 25% increase in the tobacco tax. We need to cut more government across the board before we start raising taxes.

SF-3 Automated vehicle identification systems.  This bill I hate. Any legislation that puts a machine in charge of giving me a traffic ticket instead of a human is edging toward unconstitutional. You have the right to face your accuser. You can’t interrogate a machine. Even with sterling maintenance and best-kept records, a device can still give erroneous results.

SF-11 Highway safety-seat belts. Yuck, I mean yuck. This bill raises the fines for not wearing a seatbelt. This is a pure money grab and an awful one at that. The intent is to save lives. But it’s not the state’s job to protect me from me. Instead, pass laws to make sure kids under 18 must use seatbelts, or the driver (and/or the parents) get fined. I’d support that bill as kids don’t know any better and think they are invincible when they are older. That said, when you reach the age of majority if you don’t want to protect yourself, it’s your choice, your consequences. This must fail.

SF-76 Broadband development program-amendments.  I think this bill is hogwash. It’s trying to reduce the bandwidth requirements to get funds from Wyoming’s broadband development programs. Usage of the internet is only increasing, and the demand for larger bandwidth continues to grow. It makes no sense to lower standards to deliver broadband to an area. The opposite should be occurring. Wyoming should be raising the bar to require greater bandwidth delivery to gain access to state funds. This must fail.

Must Pass

HB-7 – Air ambulance membership organizations-regulation: This is fixing the problem created by Speaker Eric Barlow’s legislation of 2019. The bill has been referred to the Minerals Committee.

HB-11 – Oil and gas production tax exemption. This bill is essential to keep Wyoming minerals competitive when prices are low. It establishes price thresholds where various minerals will be exempted from one-half of the severance tax. This is a good idea and long overdue. The bill is currently assigned to the Minerals committee.

HB-12 Bond elections – An outstanding bill from Rep. Styvar requiring bond elections to occur during general elections. It would be better if all ballot initiatives, bond-elections, tax referendums, and all other ballot questions were held only during general elections to ensure the voting public’s largest possible segment got to vote on these critical issues. The bill has been referred to the Corporations Committee.

HB-36 Management council membership – This bill cleans up the Management council somewhat. Democrats represent a minority of legislators yet have a much larger membership on Management Council.

HB-56 Public health orders-2 – This bill limits the power of locally issued public health orders. The procedures set forth provide an excellent framework for handling future pandemics by limiting the duration of locally issued public health orders to 14 days unless ratified by the governing entity for the facility that has been closed.

HB-59 Public health emergencies-immunity amendments 3. – This bill is critical to protecting our business from insane lawsuits because of COVID and other future pandemic-related infectious diseases. The bill provides immunity, except in gross negligence cases to persons or entities, if someone contracts the disease on their premises.

HB-70 Abortion-informed consent. A bill requiring doctors to provide information on the nature of the procedure describing the child’s age and development at the time of the abortion, with an opportunity to view the child via ultrasound. The provider must also detail the possible unwanted effects for the patient, and alternatives to abortion. This is one of the best pro-life bills in recent years; it builds on Rep. Gray’s and other conservatives’ work. This is a must pass.

HB-74 Elected officials-removal. This bill helps clean up some of the languages to remove elected officials by a recall election. It is legislation that is long overdue.

HB-75 Voter fraud-prevention. – This is Voter ID. This is long overdue in becoming law.

HB-88 Data center tax exemption-repeal. – This bill repeals the exemption of data processing centers from some sales and use taxes. While this amounts to a tax increase, it is more important that government not pick winners and losers. Consequently, all businesses would pay the same sales and use taxes. The Revenue Committee is considering this bill. A friend knowledgeable on the subject noted, “Wyoming is naturally perfect for data centers – no need to incentivize. There are a lot of tax exemptions out there … time to eliminate them all.”

HB-98 Public health orders-reforms. This bill puts substantial limits on public health orders and requires legislative approval for orders to continue past ten days. This is a no-brainer, as Wyoming has no other check on executive power regarding public health orders. HB-98 gives Wyomingites the security that the government can impose its will for only so long without the legislature’s approval.

HB-99 Property tax increase limit-2. – This bill places a 3% limit on the increase in the amount of real property value that can be taxed in any given year. A great must pass idea from Rep. Gray. It was introduced and referred to the Revenue Committee.

HB-110 Wyoming business council-promotion of low taxes. – Forcing the business council to promote our state’s low taxes is another excellent idea. It’s one of the features Wyoming folks love. While I’d rather see the business council and all of the incumbent expenses eliminated, forcing them to promote the low taxes that makes us great is the next best thing.

HB-116 Concealed carry-residency requirement-2. – Concealed carry becomes true constitutional carry in Wyoming. A great pro-gun bill and must-pass legislation.

HB-117 Repeal gun-free zones and preemption amendments-3. – The companion bill to HB-116. This is another bill that has been a long time coming. It is a must-pass bill.

HB-124 Second Amendment Preservation Act-2. – This bill is one of the smartest bits of legislation in recent years and is similar to SF-81. This allows Wyoming to invalidate unconstitutional laws and ensure no Wyoming money is spent on the unconstitutional legislation. Another must-pass pro-gun bill.

One item I’d like to see added is:

Any public officer or employee of this state or any political subdivision of this state, who acts as an official, agent, employee, or deputy of the government of the United States, or otherwise acting under the color of federal law within the borders of this state, and knowingly enforces or attempts to enforce any of the infringements identified in W.S. 6‑8‑407(a) or gives material aid and support to the efforts of others who enforce or attempt to enforce any of the infringements identified in W.S. 6‑8‑407(a) shall be permanently banned from holding any elected office or being appointed to or serving on any board or commission in the state of Wyoming or its political subdivisions thereof.

HB-126 Public building art mandate-repeal. – Eliminates the mandate that public buildings display artwork. This is a quick and easy one-time cost saving. Marshal Burt deserves kudos for bringing this to the floor.

HJ-2 Board of medicine-improper enforcement actions. – The Board of Medicine made a big mistake with its threatening letter in March of 2020. HJ-2 takes the bold step of rebuking the Board of Medicine for its action and makes explicit the Wyoming Health Freedom Amendment’s intent ratified by 70% of voters in 2014. Curiously the Board of Medicine has already reversed its anti-patient and anti-doctor assault on our health care freedom. This makes HJ-2 all the more critical as it will solidify our “right to try” any course of treatment not explicitly restricted by the legislature.

HJ-4 Recall of state elected officials-constitutional amendment. – This would amend the Wyoming Constitution to allow for the recall of all elected officials in Wyoming. Not much to argue about here. It’s about time this has been proposed.

SF-19 Public health emergencies-immunity amendments. This bill is similar to HB-59 and should pass. It will protect businesses from nuisance lawsuits associated with COVID like pandemics.

SF-34 Born alive infant-means of care An outstanding pro-life bill from Sen. Steinmetz. This is true-red Republican as it gets. It must become law.

SF-65 Government waste, fraud, and abuse. 2019’s SF-70 makes a return, and it is a good thing it does. Any legislation to help stop government fraud and abuse is a good bill, in my estimation. This bill needs to pass. Given the 2019 bill was killed by the recently ousted Rep. Lindholm, SF-65 should pass this go-round. That is unless Speaker Barlow and Rep. Harshman have cooked up another plan to kill an otherwise good bill.

SF-67 Repeal gun-free zones and preemption amendments. This is the same as HB-117. It is a must pass. Yahoo for the elimination of gun-free zones!

SF-77 Legislator salary restrictions.  This bill will save taxpayers a few dollars. It simply says if you are a state employee, you don’t get paid your state employee salary for being a legislator. The self-employed and normally employed legislators all make a tremendous personal sacrifice to serve. Many legislators use their vacation time to serve; they take time off without pay. If self-employed, they aren’t in the office to generate revenue. Why should a public employee be different? This is must-pass legislation.

SF-81 Second Amendment Preservation Act. A no-brainer. A mirror bill to HB-124. One item I’d like to see added is:

Any public officer or employee of this state or any political subdivision of this state, who acts as an official, agent, employee, or deputy of the government of the United States, or otherwise acting under the color of federal law within the borders of this state, and knowingly enforces or attempts to enforce any of the infringements identified in W.S. 6‑8‑407(a) or gives material aid and support to the efforts of others who enforce or attempt to enforce any of the infringements identified in W.S. 6‑8‑407(a) shall be permanently banned from holding any elected office or being appointed to or serving on any board or commission in the state of Wyoming or its political subdivisions thereof.

SF-81 is must-pass legislation.

SF-94 Prohibiting coerced vaccinations. This is straightforward; vaccination coercion is wrong. The seatbelt argument from SF-11 applies here. It’s scary we have to pass a law to state a constitutional right. This is a must-pass.

SJ-1 Taxes to voters.  Heck yeah, voters should approve tax increases. This resolution is outstanding. It will make for great political theater. Someone should make odds on which legislator will argue that the public is smart enough to elect them but too dumb to decide on tax increases. Every legislator that votes against this should lose their job next election cycle. It is that simple. This is a must pass.

Pick’em

HB-50 Local government distributions-revisions. – This bill reduces some of the monies to be distributed to towns and counties. It accounts for roughly $5 million in cuts from the statute it amends. However, the money the state is not sending back to the towns and counties is rightfully theirs as it is collected via sales tax. So is shorting towns, cities, and counties that are likely struggling for cash worth the state’s savings? It has been referred to Appropriations.

HB-54 Wyoming meat packing initiative – This bill looks to set up a council to promote and incentivize regional meatpacking facilities to help get excellent Wyoming beef to market. I’m pulled in two directions by this bill as I want to see Wyoming ranchers succeed, but it isn’t our state government’s function to pick winners and losers. This bill should fail, at the same time, my feelings won’t be hurt if it passes. The bill has been referred to the Agriculture Committee.

The argument for passing this is simple. Montana did this successfully, and Wyoming can do it too. To quote a friend, “Gov. Gordon could not give away the $1.25 billion CARES Act money fast enough, so he directed a lot to the WBC. Better meat processing than server farms.” It’s a good point.

HB-94 Solar electricity generation-taxation. This is another contradictory bill for conservatives. It amounts to a tax increase but levels the playing field between forms of energy. I would prefer to see a tax reduction of the other forms of energy. That said, I can live with raising the tax on solar energy in the guise of treating all producers equally and ensuring that the government does not pick winners or losers, especially in energy production. See HB-108 below for more of the same argument.

HB-108 Wind energy production tax. – This can go either way.

Fail: This is a new tax, so it’s a hard no. It also may harm rural counties like Carbon county, where economic investment is direly needed.  

Pass: The counter-argument is that wind power is subsidized at $23 per megawatt, and it’s time to claw back some of that subsidy and put wind power on par with gas and coal power generation. 

SF-73 Tolling authority for I-80.

Pass: Okay, I’m not a guy to recommend new taxes. That said I-80 maintenance is one of the larger Department of Transportation budget items. I’ve it said before I support tolling of I-80 if and only if it does not cost Wyoming users of I-80 a single out-of-pocket dime, ever. Prior bills have had a tolling scheme whereby Wyoming residents would not be charged directly for tolls incurred using I-80. Amend this bill to include a similar scheme to keep I-80 cost-free to Wyoming citizens, and I’m all for tolling I-80. Wyoming’s Budget needs the shot in the arm. (Yes, I know this will drive my conservative friends nuts. This is part of my Reagan Rule 20% where we get to disagree and still, both be Republicans!)

Fail: Doug, what part of no new taxes don’t you get, you idiot.

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