Including One bill—Senate File 45—that needs your support
The Wyoming State Legislature continues to trundle through its month-long 62nd assembly—this one a condensed, biennial budget session, which will establish the state budget for 2015-2016.
Nearly 300 bills this year
By the end of the first week, legislators had introduced 297 bills (179 in the House, 118 in the Senate) and seven resolutions (five in the House, two in the Senate).
Taken together this is an average of nearly 3 ½ bills or resolutions per legislator. And remember, most of the bills are co-sponsored, which further inflates the average bills per legislator.
On the other hand, some legislators seldom—if ever—introduce legislation. I’ve heard more than one say that introducing legislation is not their job, and more importantly it’s not what their constituents want.
Closely following 22 bills
As of February 25, 123 bills have already died and more will surely die in the days to come. Not one bill has yet made it to the governor’s desk.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council, at the outset, identified 22 bills and resolutions to follow closely during the session (about 7 percent of all of those proposed). Of the 22, five have either failed introduction or not received the votes necessary to move through either the standing committee or Committee of the Whole.
One bill that needs your support
One of the most important issues that we are working to influence during the session (as we did during the 2013 interim) is improved funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
During the interim, the joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee endorsed two bills that if passed would help the agency better fulfill its obligation to manage all of Wyoming’s wildlife.
One of those bills, Senate File 45 (SF 45) Game and Fish Department, general fund requests, is still in play.
If successful this bill will shift the funding of employee benefits and grizzly bear management away from hunters and anglers and into the general fund. Taken together, this general fund request will total about $6 million annually.
This is an important bill for many reasons, but particularly since the Legislature has failed in each of the last two sessions to authorize the department to increase license fees.
Why we need to better fund the Game and Fish Department
The well-being of Wyoming’s wildlife is fundamental to our quality of life; we have a profound cultural ethic of responsible stewardship and wildlife management.
Additionally, our big game animals, birds, fish, and other species—and all the recreational opportunities they provide—help bring in more than $1.1 billion to Wyoming’s economy annually and contribute significantly to the state’s $3.1 billion annual tourism industry.
Governor Mead said it best in his state of the state address: “We must recognize the value of game and fish not only to sportsmen but to each of us. If Wyoming wildlife is worth the watching, it is worth the supporting.”
Instead of allowing the Game and Fish Department to raise its license fees in recent years—a move that a broad range of hunters and anglers groups supported—the Legislature directed the Game and Fish Department to reduce expenses, streamline its efficiency, limit or eliminate programs, and trim staff.
The department has been responsive to each of these directions. Its budget is now down by about $6 million dollars annually.
Unfortunately these cutbacks have also meant reduced hunter access, reductions in the fish stocking program, and the loss of important human resources for the management of wildlife in Wyoming.
Senate File 45 will be heard three times in the House of Representatives over the next few days.
We hope that you will show your support for the bill, your support for science-based wildlife management, and your support for our mission by calling your representative and asking for a positive vote on SF 45.
Some ideas you might consider expressing:
- As a constituent, it is important to you that the Game and Fish Department be well funded.
- Wyoming’s wildlife resources are unique in the lower 48 states, and we should do everything we can to keep things that way.
- Our state’s wildlife is essential to our economy, our natural heritage, and our way of life—our wildlife must continue to be professionally managed.
- Wyoming’s wildlife helps bring in more than $1.1 billion to Wyoming’s economy annually and contributes significantly to the state’s $3.1 billion annual tourism industry.
- The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has streamlined its operation, managed costs, and trimmed personnel.
- Because of inflation, the department has suffered a 13 percent reduction in funding over the last five years.
- The Legislature has a great opportunity this year to take a step toward getting the Game and Fish Department’s funding back on track. Although this is a stopgap measure, it will give legislators (and their constituents) the opportunity to more carefully consider license fees in a non-election year.
And as always, if you have any questions or expect to be in Cheyenne, please be in touch. It would be an honor to have you join me in advocating on behalf of all of our members in Wyoming’s capitol.
Contact: Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst and legislative advocate, Wyoming Outdoor Council. 307.332.7031 x18, firstname.lastname@example.org