NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Gordon recommends $400,000 for suicide hotline call center

CHEYENNE (WNE) — After rejecting an initial request to fund an in-state call center for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in his budget proposal, Gov. Mark Gordon changed course this week and recommended $400,000 in ongoing general funds for the project.

With the second-highest suicide rate in the country, Wyoming is the only state that lacks a local call center for the national suicide hotline.

Without the call center, Wyomingites can still reach the national hotline by calling 800-273-8255. But there are major downsides that come when a state doesn’t have its own operators.

During a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting last month, officials from the state Department of Health told state lawmakers that the lack of an in-state center leads to longer wait times for callers, and conversations with people who are unfamiliar with the resources and providers available in Wyoming.

Initially, the Department of Health requested roughly $1 million in general funds to set up the call center, and Gordon denied the request in his budget proposal, released in November. But in a letter submitted to the Joint Appropriations Committee this week, Gordon recommended $400,000 in ongoing funds to stand up the call center.

“I have it on good authority this refined figure more accurately represents the actual costs of a program designed and operated here in Wyoming,” Gordon wrote in the letter. “I continue to recognize the need to support individuals in Wyoming with suicidal ideation.”


Greybull considers pit bull ban

GREYBULL (WNE) — As part of its ongoing review of its vicious dog ordinance, the Greybull Town Council on Monday raised the possibility of enacting breed-specific legislation that would outlaw pit bulls within town limits.

The review was initiated after two separate dog attacks late last year, both of which resulted in injuries. In the first, a border collie

jumped out of the back of a truck parked in the grocery store lot, rushed and bit a person, who required medical attention.

The second occurred on the south end of town, not far from the elementary school. In that incident, a responding officer witnessed a pit bull attack a resident. He fired a shot at the dog, injuring it. When a second pit bull at the scene rushed him, the officer

again shot and injured the dog. 

Monday night’s discussion featured a back-and-forth between council members Clay Collingwood and Kaitlyn Johnson over breed-specific legislation.

“Pit bulls are a dangerous breed and anyone who wants to argue that is foolish because the stats don’t support your argument,” said Collingwood. 

He said there were 100 fatalities from dog bites in 2019 and that about 75 percent of them were inflicted by pit bulls.

Johnson disagreed, saying the town should classify dogs as dangerous based on their behavior, rather than their breed. 

“Any animal, no matter the breed, is the animal you raise it to be,” said Johnson. “Yes, pit bulls have a bad name because of what some owners use them for, but I know a lot of pit bulls that aren’t that way, too.”


Former Buffalo chamber CEO appeals theft conviction

BUFFALO (WNE) — Former Buffalo Chamber of Commerce CEO Angela Fox has appealed her conviction to the Wyoming Supreme Court. 

Fox’s appeal requests that three felony theft convictions be overturned. Fox was found guilty of three counts of felony theft in a jury trial in Buffalo in January 2019. 

The appeal does not dispute that Fox used the chamber’s credit cards and received goods and services from third parties through the use of those cards. Instead, the appeal argues that Fox charged items to a credit card that she was authorized to use, obligating the funds of the chamber, and the chamber then voluntarily parted with its money by signing the checks to pay the credit card bills.

Fox’s appellant brief, filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court on Jan. 2, argues that based on the evidence presented at trial, no reasonable jury could have concluded that Fox was guilty of theft as defined by Wyoming’s statute.

That statue, 6-3-402, states that “a person is guilty of theft if he knowingly takes or exercises unauthorized control over or makes an unauthorized transfer of an interest in the property of another person with the purpose of depriving the other person of the property.”   

Fox’s lawyers argue that the state presented no evidence that Fox took or exercised unauthorized control over any Chamber of Commerce property.

According to the appeal, under Wyoming law, “taking,” “unauthorized control,” and “property” all have specific legal meanings that, when properly applied and analyzed in this case, lead to the legal conclusion that Fox did not commit theft as defined by statute. 


Legislator expects opposition to small town funding idea

RIVERTON (WNE) — State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, doesn't expect larger cities in Wyoming to support his proposal to give more money to smaller communities in the state at the expense of bigger towns.

"There's never enough money for the larger cities," Bebout said during a meeting of the Joint Appropriations Committee last week. "I expect them to say, very delicately, that they don't like it, and I get that."

Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr didn't meet his expectation, however: She spoke in favor of Bebout's amendment, despite the fact that her city would lose money as a result.

She then spoke about a bill coming out of Wyoming's Joint Revenue Committee that would allow larger cities like hers to tax themselves without requiring approval from two-thirds of the entire county.

"The bill that will be coming before you ... takes that down to 50 percent, so that kind of helps," Orr said. "We really want to be able to chart our own course, and we think we can."

Shoshoni Mayor Joel High-Smith had pointed out earlier in the conversation that small towns like his "don't have a way to tax ourselves," since they "don't generate enough sales tax."

That inability to generate revenue was one reason Bebout said he proposed the distribution amendment.

He acknowledged that larger cities would "take a hit" as a result of the change to the distribution formula, but he said smaller communities will benefit - "which is the intent."

"That's exactly what I wanted to try to accomplish," Bebout said.


Federal assistance may be available for beet growers

POWELL (WNE) — In the aftermath of a frozen harvest that locked in the ground up to a third of the local sugar beet crop, there’s increasing hope for some federal disaster relief to beet growers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Western Sugar Cooperative — and growers for other impacted sugar beet cooperatives in the Midwest— have qualified for assistance from the USDA through the Wildfire and Hurricane Disaster Indemnity Program (WHIP). 

Specifics are yet to be worked out. Federal assistance could be a mixture of grants and low interest loans, said Heart Mountain grower Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative board. 

Meetings in Washington, D.C. between cooperative leaders and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency will occur soon. 

In December, key provisions were added to WHIP through the appropriations process that will allow for losses to be calculated and payments to be made at the cooperative level. Amendments were signed into law by President Donald Trump on the Friday before Christmas. 

The 2019 sugar beet harvest “will go down as one of the toughest that growers have been through in years,” Rodriguez said. 

“Our cooperative was not alone in this disastrous harvest,” he added, pointing out that sugar beet cooperatives in North Dakota and Minnesota also left unharvested crops in the fields at a much higher percentage than the Western Sugar Cooperative. 

In the four-state Western Sugar Cooperative, growers in Wyoming and Montana were shut down with the most beets still in the ground.