Wrapping up the session: Wyoming legislators conclude 2017 general session
Cheyenne – Wyoming’s agriculture organizations spent 40 days in Cheyenne, advocating for the interests of their members, and lobbyists for those organizations all noted that the session was very different from those in years past.
“This year is one for the books,” said Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). “We dealt with many issues, from budget constraints to a large number of new legislators.”
He also noted that leadership in the House of Representatives was entirely new.
“They faced a challenge, and they stepped up to the leadership responsibilities that they were elected for,” he commented.
While this year’s budget bill provided challenges, not all were disappointed in the outcome of the bill.
Amy Hendrickson of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association said, “We were thrilled to get $306,000 for predator management added back into the bill. It’s not a lot, but we’re very grateful for that money.”
Bobbie Frank of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts said that conservation districts largely avoided major impacts from budget cuts.
Ken Hamilton of Wyoming Farm Bureau noted that this session, the Appropriations Committees took a different strategy than he had seen in previous years.
“It surprised us when the Appropriations Committee started drafting bills that went into statutes and changed things,” he explained. “For example, they changed the Wyoming Livestock Board’s ability to increase fees from 20 to 25 percent in one year. That was unusual.”
Brett Moline, also of Wyoming Farm Bureau, echoed Hamilton saying, “There were some major fee-increase bills that came out of Appropriations, rather than their appropriate committees.”
Moline cited bills related to driver’s license and license plate fee increases as examples.
Keith Kennedy of the Wyoming Ag Business Association and Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission said those increases could have been worse for agriculture, though.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but they did decide to include apportioned vehicles that hadn’t been included before,” he said. “Also, the increase in state registration fees wasn’t as steep as it could have been.”
For ag taxes, a bill was passed to ensure that farmsteads, or the land where shops, sheds and corrals lie on, are assessed at agricultural values, rather than as for their residential value. The bill was supported by all ag groups in the state.
“I think there was a desire by some in the Legislature to figure out a tax increase, but they didn’t get it done,” said Moline.
Several pieces of legislation that were hotly debated during the interim related to special districts also passed, including Senate file (SF) 15, Special district budget requirements.
“Conservation districts are not affected because we were exempted from the financial requirements, but water conservancy districts are affected, as are other ag districts, like predator boards and irrigation districts,” Frank said. “Special districts want to make sure they’re aware and familiar with new requirements.”
For example, special districts are now required to have training.
“We are also concerned, however, that there could potentially be a number of different training programs that do not give out the same information,” Frank said. “SF 16, Special district elections also passed, as well.”
Hendrickson noted that predator management boards across the state currently meet many of the requirements, but they are working to ensure all requirements are met.
For Frank, House Bill 26, Bark beetle funding, passed and was signed, allowing groups across the state adequate money to address impacts from bark beetle infestation.
Hamilton and Moline mentioned that several bills related to food also passed during the session, including a bill to expand food freedom to include poultry and rabbits.
“Rep. Lindholm wanted to re-emphasize that people can sell chickens, as long as they’re below the USDA level of 1,000 birds, and they can also sell fish and rabbits,” said Moline. “Sen. Dockstader also sponsored adding a provision to allow food sales at places of business, rather than just at farmers’ markets.”
In addition, $25,000 was added to the budget as a grant for schools to allow them to pay for processing on donated animals, allowing purchase of local meat products.
Magagna highlighted that WSGA had two priorities for the session – a bill regarding antler and horn collection and another to increase monies available through the beginning ag producers loan program. Both bills passed.
Kennedy also expressed that a bill that clarified LLC dissolution and the potential for IRS capital gains ramifications.
“There was some language that was unclear, so it was possible that the Internal Revenue Service could levy a cash assessment for dispersing property if an LLC was dissolved,” he said.
A bill on animal cruelty, which makes it a felony to maliciously shoot or kill an animal that is on property where it is supposed to be, also passed.
“We did not anticipate this bill,” Magagna said, “but we were glad to support it.”
Hamilton noted that he supported the bill and said, “We worked on expanding it to some degree to say that if someone comes onto land or into areas where livestock are lawfully supposed to be, it would also be a felony to shoot that animal.”
Several bills that were of concern to the ag industry also failed or died for lack of action.
“There were a couple of bills that also floated in the session for discussion,” Hamilton said. “One of them was a country of origin labeling bill for the state of Wyoming, and another was a right to repair farm equipment bill. We’re hoping to see some discussion on the latter in the interim.”
Other failed bills included provisions to continue the Task Force on Special Districts, instream flow bills and small water projects bills.
“Some of the bills that died will likely be taken up in the interim because they need more discussion,” Frank said.
Among the challenges that resulted from session, Magagna highlighted loss of General Fund monies for the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB).
“Fifty percent of the funding for the brand program was eliminated,” Magagna said. “That is going to be a challenge for the Board and the industry on whether we increase inspection fees, registration fees or what to cover that loss.”
Additionally, the reduction of WLSB’s law enforcement from four to one position will also be challenging.
“I think they’re on a good path to see what options are available and to engage the industry,” he comments.
“We’re keen on working with WLSB to answer the challenges that they see,” Hendrickson added.
As legislators and lobbyists return home to continue assessing long-term impacts and look at the interim session, Magagna commented, “From an agriculture perspective, aside from budget issues, by and large, it was a good session, and we accomplished much more than I had anticipated.”
Look for more in next week’s Roundup on the issues that will be discussed in the interim session leading up to the 2018 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.