Legislature will focus on ag, education and Medicaid

By: 
Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

File photo via the Wyoming News Exchange

The budget session of the 67th Wyoming Legislature begins Feb. 12. While Republicans dominate the Wyoming Legislature, perspectives on matters concerning education, health care and land vary among representatives at the capitol.

 

Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, Rep. Allen Slagle, R-Newcastle, and Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, discussed these issues in a forum Jan. 8 at Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center.

 

Federal government, agriculture, land

 

Legislators have drafted a bill, SF 13, that would appropriate $50 million from the general fund to a legislative legal action account. With the support of the majority of both houses, while in session, or two-thirds of the members of the management council during the interim, the Legislature could sue the federal government regarding federal land use plans within Wyoming. Legal staff from the Legislative Service Office or private counsel could handle the case.

 

According to Steinmetz, the spending is necessary.

 

“There’s a lot of federal government overreach coming our way, and we understand that,” Steinmetz said. “Sometimes having the ability to get outside counsel, (at least as a stop gap,) might be the option that we need to pursue because those folks are out there in the trenches every day.”

 

Slagle said the funding would help Wyoming by allowing the Legislature the authority to take legal action if the governor chooses not to.

 

Steinmetz said the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee, which she chairs, is working to create a grace period for extenuating circumstances regarding state land lease renewals and an amendment that would allow lease renewal applications’ postmark date to be considered the filing date. Those bills are HB 10 and HB 11, respectively.

 

The committee has also responded to Gov. Mark Gordon’s veto of Slagle’s 2023 bill, HB 106, which would have put a moratorium on wind energy collector lines using eminent domain. With SF 11, Wyoming would ban private companies from using eminent domain. SF 10 requires companies to reach land use and compensation agreements for at least 85% of the land or, if there are more than two landowners, at least 85% of the owners of the land that they would want to use for the collector system for generating electricity. Public utilities with certificates of public convenience and necessity and electric substations or interconnection facilities associated with existing or proposed transmission lines that serve load or that export energy from Wyoming are exempt from the SF 10 requirements.

 

Another bill this year, HB 60, addresses extraordinary damage to rangeland caused by grazing elk herds that have moved away from mountainous regions following threats from wolves.

 


 

 

Education

According to Steinmetz, the Senate Education Committee passed a parental rights in education bill, but it is weaker than the 2023 version.

 

The 2024 bill, SF 9, requires school districts to notify a student’s parent as soon as possible if the student’s health changes, and whether the school can continue to provide a safe, supportive learning environment for the student. Parents must be allowed to access, within a reasonable time, the district’s education and health records on their child. School district personnel must be able to notify a student’s parent about the student’s health, and there must be no policy that would discourage a student from telling a parent about their health. School districts would provide parents with information about any health screening of students before the screening would take place, and parents could decline any health care service that the district provides students.

 

This session has a new education savings accounts bill, HB 19, for Wyoming residents who meet certain requirements. The family’s income must be no greater than 2.5 times the federal poverty level, and the child must not be less than 3 years old, a high school graduate or ineligible to attend a public school.

 

Another bill would bring the developmental waiver for preschool for the community development centers, which is currently under the Department of Health, into the kindergarten through 12th grade system.

 

Steinmetz said it’s not the best idea, because while it is a voluntary program, it could conceivably become mandatory in the future. Developmental preschools need more financial support, but with the differences in services these preschools provide, the senator believes they should remain part of the Department of Health.

 

HB 61 or the “fiscal accountability and transparency in education” bill, would require school districts to annually report to the Department of Education any financial and staff resources, public funding and policies used for district programs that address diversity, equity or inclusion; political or social activism; or social issues. 

 

Both the school districts and the Department of Education would publicly post the information, as well as related contracts and results, on their respective websites. Before a student would participate in any related program or activity, the district would need to give parents at least two weeks of advance notice that the programming will take place, and secure the student’s parents’ permission at least one day before the event. School district employees would be allowed to opt out of these programs and activities. School district employees and students would also not be required to refer to a student with the student’s preferred pronoun if the pronoun does not align with the student’s biological sex.

 

Medicaid

 

Responding to a question from a town hall attendee, Neiman said he does not support expanding Medicaid to groups outside of the most vulnerable when there is no guarantee that the federal government will continue to fund it 90%, the portion it is currently covering. He does not believe Wyoming has a sufficiently consistent revenue stream to afford it. Expanding the benefits, which children, people with disabilities and the elderly currently receive, to “able-bodied” adults could be a tremendous addition to the budget. Employers might lower employees’ wages or refuse to offer them medical insurance so that employees might then turn to Medicaid.

 

“If we implemented it and then had to go back and tell everybody in the state that now we can no longer offer it, so you’re just going to be out of insurance for able-bodied adults, who is going to have the courage or the strength or the character to do that? They’re going to want us to do something to increase taxes or something to be able to cover it,” Neiman said.

 

According to Slagle, Weston County Health Services would suffer financially if everyone were on Medicaid because the reimbursement rates are lower.

 

How to get involved in your legislature

 

• Read and track the status of this session’s bills, which are posted at wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2024.

• Testify at a committee meeting on a bill that matters to you. Information about this year’s committees is at wyoleg.gov/Committees/2024.

• Attend a committee meeting in person or remotely, via youtube.com/wyominglegislature.

• Contact your legislators. You can find out who your state legislators are by entering your address in the state’s map here.

In a guidebook at wyoleg.gov/docs/CitizenGuidebook.pdf, the Wyoming Legislative Service Office has more information about state legislative processes and how citizens can get involved.

 

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newcastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

Email Us

Facebook