Wyoming Lawmakers Face Tough Issues When Legislature Reconvenes
The 2021 Wyoming Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on Monday, March 1 in Cheyenne.
Although the body held an eight-day "virtual session" in Cheyenne earlier this month and committee meetings have been taking place over the last few weeks, the bulk of the General Session--and most of the more controversial proposals--still remain to be dealt with.
A few of the higher-profile bills include:
-House Bill 37, the Road Usage Charge Bill. This measure would track the miles driven by vehicles in the state and charge a fee based on the mileage. Governor Mark Gordon, in a recent interview, said he "knows a lot of people are upset" by the bill. But the estimated $136 million per year that the bill would raise for roads and highways may be attractive to a state that faces major revenue challenges.
-House Bill 26, Fuel Tax Increase Bill--would increase the state's fuel tax by nine cents a gallon. This bill, which would generate an estimated $60 million per year, passed a committee vote this week and is backed by some industry groups. But any tax increase right now tends to generate opposition among many members of the general public.
House Bill 61, School Finance Recalibration--of all the revenue challenges faced by the state, by far the biggest is in school funding, which is currently facing a $300 million deficit. That situation is not likely to improve on its own, given the Biden Administration's recently announced moratorium on oil and gas leases on federal land and the continuing struggles of the state's coal industry. State Superintendent Jillian Balow recently said the moratorium threatens to "defund education" in Wyoming. Wyoming has traditionally funded education with tax revenues from the minerals industry. Needless to say, a $100 million dollar cut in school funding in this bill as originally written is not popular with education officials around the state.
Some Wyoming lawmakers think yet another lengthy court battle over school funding is all but inevitable. That certainly would be nothing new in Wyoming, which has periodically seen such legal wars going back to the early 1980s.
House Bill 56--One of several bills that would place limitations on future health orders in the state. Various bills limit the time the orders could remain in effect without legislative approval to anywhere between 10 and 30 days. The bills are responses to what some felt were over-reaching state health orders issued during the COVOD-19 pandemic. Another bill, Senate File 95, would make the position of state health officer an elected one. Currently, the state health officer is appointed by the governor.
House Bill 134--would ban abortions after a detectable fetal heartbeat can be heard, generally considered to be around 5-6 weeks. Current Wyoming law prohibits abortions at the point at which a fetus is considered "viable' to live outside the womb, which is generally considered around 23 weeks or so. Another abortion bill-- Senate File 34, also known as the "born alive" bill-- would mandate that "medically appropriate" measures be taken to save any infant who survives an abortion. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2020 but was vetoed by Governor Mark Gordon.
Other high-profile bills awaiting action by lawmakers include a proposed tax on unearned income as well as various other proposals designed to increase state revenues, a bill to limit the amount of property tax increases in any given year, and state appropriations to city and county governments, among many others. The legislative session is expected to continue into early April.
The 2021 Session is a General Session, which means that bills on any topic can be introduced without needing a 2/3 majority, which is needed for the introduction of non-budget bills during a budget session. Wyoming alternates budget and general sessions every other year.