By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Lawmakers have been given their marching orders for this upcoming interim session by the Legislature's Management Council.
The leadership of the House and Senate approved a slew of topics Friday for committees to work on during the interim session. The 10 committees and five subcommittes will deal with a broad range of issues, covering everything from revenue-broadening tax measures to how to care for an aging population.
Each committee will deal with about a half-dozen issues throughout the rest of the year, and potentially draft legislation to be presented during the 2020 session.
What follows is a look at several topics that should garner significant interest from lobbyists, local governments and the public at large.
The Joint Revenue Interim Committee is taking another crack at trying to find ways to broaden the state's revenue streams. This comes after several of the committee's major bills for the 2019 session failed to pass.
Several of the top priorities for the committee have to do with taxes and revenues. A major focus will be an in-depth examination of long-term planning options for funding public education and general government services given the current state fiscal structure.
The committee will also examine taxing wind and other renewables, ramifications of higher taxes on renewables, and whether working with states like Montana to create similar tax structures could help keep energy companies from fishing for lower tax rates for new projects. It will also study the difficulty cities and counties have in raising mill levies.
Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, on Friday added another tax issue to the committee's agenda. It will now look at whether the state should push for a amendment to the Wyoming Constitution to create a corporate tax. Perkins was a major backer of a failed bill in the 2019 session to put a 7 percent income tax on retail, restaurant and hospital corporations with more than 100 shareholders.
Management Council also added a comprehensive study on electronic cigarettes and vaping products to the top of the Revenue Committee's priority list. The Legislature passed a bill classifying vape products as tobacco in this year's session.
The top priority for the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee will be to start a multi-year study on how Wyoming can best care for its rapidly aging population.
House Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, said for Wyoming to come up with the best path forward, it needs to first understand all aspects of caring for the elderly. That includes keeping seniors from having to move to high-cost nursing facilities, increasing the number of nurses to provide care, and potential solutions to the lack of retirement savings for many Wyomingites.
The state is aging at a much higher rate than the rest of the country, and that includes the state's nurse workforce. Wilson said 25 percent of the nurses in the state are 56 or older, without an abundance of replacements being trained in Wyoming.
"This will take multiple years," Wilson said. "We need a holistic view before we start chipping away at this (problem)."
Helping provide care to the state's older citizens won't be the only topic on Labor's agenda. The committee will look at the state's mental health-care system, where there is a lack of services available, and the connection between the state's prison population and mental health and substance abuse issues.
Two of the topics set as the highest priority for the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee could have major ramifications for current and retired service members.
The first will be to examine what, if any, barriers exist for the spouses of servicemen and servicewomen who have a professional license in another state to receive a license here in Wyoming. The Legislature has heard from the military community that spouses who work in fields like medicine, education or cosmetology face time delays and high costs to receive a license in Wyoming.
The topic was brought up late in the interim process in 2018 as a potential bill for the Transportation Committee to take on. But at the time, there were too many questions for the idea to win support of members.
The other major area of focus could mean significant help for veterans in Wyoming. The committee will look at the state funding a department service officer for the Wyoming Veterans of Foreign Wars. That position, which the VFW won't be able to fund after 2022, helps represent veterans in front of the state Board of Veterans Appeals. Without the position, Wyoming estimates about a third fewer claims for benefits will be filed by veterans.
The committee will also deal with several road-related issues, including the potential of tolling portions of Interstate 80 to help fund road maintenance and other transportation projects. The Management Council discussed how the state could use money from the federal mineral royalties fund to pay for tolls associated with cars registered in Wyoming.
Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and other members of Management Council wanted the Transportation Committee to study whether paying for state residents out of existing money would result in a net benefit for Wyoming.
The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee will spend the interim working through several large studies. The committee will examine the impact of the state's new public records law as well as studying public meetings rules, the results of several judicial reinvestment bills meant to reduce recidivism, and ways to strengthen laws around the sexual abuse of minors and human trafficking.
Along with those major examinations, the Judiciary Committee will work through state statutes that are at odds with Wyoming Supreme Court decisions, and examine how to better protect adults with developmental disabilities.