Wyoming State Representative Scott Heiner (R-HD18) provided the following update on the 2021 legislative session.
This week we began to work on the Supplemental Budget on the House and Senate Floors. The debate was often ‘spirited’ with a lot of good discussion. All Legislators are trying to do the best for the future of Wyoming as best they can. After the Governor spent many months making painful Step 2 and Step 3 cuts to the Budget, many of my colleagues in the House wanted to put much of the funding back in. While speaking with the Governor about the budget on Thursday night, he commented that if all this funding is restored, he may be forced to make cuts again during the next year and ripping the band-aide off a 2nd time may hurt as bad as it did the first time.
We were able to defeat amendments that would have added about $70 million back to the budget, but several amendments that added a total of $20 million were added. I supported efforts to restore $15 million to the Department of Health to fund programs for our children with developmental disabilities and in-home care for our senior citizens. My amendment would have been cost neutral and was to fund these programs by transferring money from the Investment Ready Grant Program which helps build infrastructure to attract businesses to our communities. I felt that taking care of our most vulnerable citizens was more important than building sidewalks at this time. My colleagues agreed that restoring funding for these Department of Health Programs was important, but they voted to take the money out of the rainy-day savings account instead.
Our efforts to make the Attorney General an elected official failed in both Chambers. The Senate bill failed in Committee and my bill did not get introduced. Somehow, we need to get our AG to respond better to the needs of Wyoming. It took years for Wyoming to finally use the Interstate Commerce Clause to try to overturn the decisions of our more liberal states that are preventing us from exporting coal. We are also trying to motivate the AG to initiate legal remedies against those states that have passed legislation that will prevent us from exporting electricity generated by coal.
Several efforts were made to raid the Prison Savings Account to pay for Education. This account was started several years ago to slowly accrue enough money to pay for replacing our existing prison when it reaches its life expectancy in 15 years. This legislation eventually passed which I did not support. When the time comes to replace the prison, Wyoming will not have the funds saved up to accomplish the task and the cost will be significant.
HB0133 to allow Online Sports Wagering was passed in the House and now goes to the Senate. We were able to kill the bill on 3rd Reading by a vote of 28 to 32, but the Democrats were able to bring it back and it passed 32 to 28. Although you cannot legally take your children into a casino, with this legislation you can bring the casino into your living room. Many of the Legislators felt that online wagering was already occurring and we might as well tax it. With that logic, we should probably look at legalizing prostitution and illegal drugs as well (just kidding).
HB0101 passed that will prohibit closure of our Elk Feedgrounds without the authorization of the Governor and authorizing the Wyoming Game and Fish to look for private lands to relocate the feedgrounds off of Federal Lands. As you are aware, there are many efforts within the Federal Government to close down all feedgrounds within the state.
HB0209 to legalize and regulate marijuana passed out of the Judiciary Committee 6-3. I listened to many of those that provided testimony for and against this legislation, but I could tell that the committee had already made their decision. While medical marijuana provides benefits for those with chronic pain, most states that have legalized medical marijuana are still struggling to control recreational use. While I support medical marijuana for specific cases, I don’t want us to lose control and allow more recreational use.
Next week we will try to tackle the Education deficit. So far neither the House nor the Senate have made any cuts to K-12. The Senate attempted a $124 million cut which failed, and in the House the sponsor of an amendment to cut $100 million pulled his bill at the last minute. One of the current bills provides for an additional 1 cent sales tax which would go into effect in a couple of years as our rainy-day fund drops down to $650 million.
Representative Scott Heiner