THE FIRST WEEK OF THE WYOMING STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION is always exciting, and this year perhaps even more so.
There are 23 new representatives and senators, many new state staff members, and a few new practitioners of my celebrated profession—lobbyists.
And, of course, there is a new chief executive: Wyoming’s 32nd governor, Matt Mead.
Because the 2010 election produced a new Republican super-majority, committee assignments have been shuffled; many have new chairpersons, and memberships have changed.
The ratio of Republicans to Democrats on committees has shifted dramatically. Because there are so few Democrats in the Legislature this year, some committees don’t have bipartisan representation.
On the Senate side, the committee ratio of Republicans to Democrats is generally 4-1 or 5-0, depending on the committee. On the House side that ratio is generally 6-3 or 7-2.
Many observers see this as an indication that partisan interests will motivate much of the legislative agenda—and perhaps, to some extent, that is true.
On the other hand, in my observation, everyone seems to have pledged to work together for the continued success of the state with an understanding that many issues, and perhaps most particularly conservation issues, are not easily resolved through partisanship but instead through discussion, understanding, and collaboration.
As I work on behalf of the members of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, I will be focusing on issues that are of particular interest to them:
- Split-estate bonding requirements will be considered early in the session and that process might be contentious.
- We will also be following the wind excise tax debate and advocating that a portion of the state’s share of that tax be directed to the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.
- A proposal will be considered again to task the State Division of Economic Analysis with determining the “optimum use” for all land in the state (private, state, and federal). A similar bill passed last year but was vetoed, wisely, by then Gov. Dave Freudenthal. That bill featured a modeling process that would have created a bias toward finding so-called optimum uses for Wyoming lands that would almost always have involved resource development and extraction. In other words, the determined “optimum use” would likely never have been open space, important wildlife habitat, historical preservation, ecotourism, iconic landscapes, or conservation.
- We might also see the reemergence of the ill-conceived landfill “risk management” bill, which was introduced, but failed, in 2009, and which would have reduced environmental safeguards for hazardous waste siting.
- We will also be alert to funding challenges to the Department of Environmental Quality (perhaps similar to what we saw last year), with an understanding that this agency’s workload and responsibilities are always increasing—budget cuts in this agency would be a signal that the state’s decision makers are not committed to resource development done right.
- There is also a possibility that with so many new faces in the Legislature, the previous administration’s core sage-grouse habitat concept and boundaries will be challenged.
- All of this—coupled with advocacy for continuing tax credits for small-scale renewables and advancing the notion of state permitting of greenhouse gases—will mean the Wyoming Outdoor Council must remain on the ground and fully engaged in the process.
There is a lot at stake. But we believe that by communicating effectively with legislators and Gov. Matt Mead we can help produce outcomes that benefit Wyoming now and, to paraphrase the new governor in his inaugural address, ensure that we leave pastures (i.e., open spaces, clean air and water, and abundant wildlife) for our grandchildren to enjoy.
Contact: Richard Garrett, Jr., energy and legislative advocate, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x18; 307-438-9516; firstname.lastname@example.org.