By: Melissa Garcia, Legislative Research Intern, Austin Office
During this year’s 20-day budget session, the Wyoming state legislature introduced a total of 244 bills. Several of these bills corresponded with national trends that include changes in education, welfare, and retirement pensions. Yet, the legislature also dealt with a handful of bills that were unique to the state. In particular, the federal regulation of wolves was addressed by a bill that requested that the federal government reintroduce wolves into Central Park in New York City and by a bill that sought to remove grey wolves from the endangered species list in Wyoming.
For some background, the Wyoming state legislature is composed of 60 state representatives and 30 state senators. Both legislative houses are predominantly Republican with a supermajority of 26-4 in the House and 50-10 in the Senate. The House is led by Speaker Edward A. Buchanan (R-Goshen) while the Senate is led by Senate President James Anderson (R-Converse-Platte). The Governor, Matt Mead, is also a Republican. In addition to the 40-day regular session, which convenes every odd-numbered year, the Wyoming legislature meets for a special 20-day budget session each even-numbered year. During the budget session any non-budgetary item must receive a 2/3 introductory vote for it to be considered, debated and voted upon. At this moment many of the 114 bills that passed both chambers of the legislature are awaiting signature by Governor Mead. The budget for fiscal years 2012-2014 was signed into law on March 3rd, 2012.
Among the bills considered this session, several were similar to bills proposed by other states across the country. Changing education standards led to the passage of SF 57, which establishes standards for school accountability. The bill requires end-of-course assessments and statewide assessment measures for students. It also requires schools that are ranked as “not meeting expectations” to submit an improvement plan or the principal of the school may be dismissed. Several other states with a Republican majority, including Idaho, Utah, Georgia, and South Dakota have each passed bills this year that modify education standards, increase the number of charter schools, limit teacher tenure, and reduce class sizes, among other things.
The legislature also sought to impose new requirements for public assistance. HB 82 requires individuals applying for benefits from the Personal Opportunities with Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to submit to a drug test. Utah, Indiana, Georgia, and Virginia have also passed bills that require drug testing of individuals applying for welfare benefits. The legislature also sought to restructure state employee retirement plans. In order to address underfunded pension plans, many states have proposed bills that either reduce retirement benefits or restrict increases. Wyoming’s SF 59 repeals the cost-of-living increases in some public employee retirement plans and requires that the state legislature revisit the issue at a later time.
While education, welfare, and retirement benefits are issues that transcend state borders, some bills hit closer to home. Most contentious this session was the regulation of grey wolves. HJ 13 requests that Congress reintroduce wolves to Central Park in New York City. Grey wolves remain on the endangered species list despite the legislature’s claim in SF 41 that their populations have recovered to the point that the state should have sole authority over the regulation of grey wolves. In an attempt to regain that authority, Wyoming passed SF 41 to authorize the hunting of grey wolves as trophy game. Yet, no bill from Wyoming gained more national attention than HB 85. The bill has been labeled a “doomsday bill” by many news sources. The bill would create a task force to investigate whether or not Wyoming’s government would remain viable if the federal government and national economy fail.
Despite all of the media attention, neither HB 85 nor HB 82 made it through to the Governor’s desk. Governor Mead has signed several bills into law, including SF 57 on March 21st. SF 59 and HJ 13 passed both houses and await further action along with most of the 114 bills that were passed in Wyoming’s 61st legislative session.
Melissa Garcia is a student at St. Edward’s University majoring in Political Science and is a current intern at Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.