Corporations looks at special districts
Cheyenne – During the Nov. 21-22 meeting of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee of the Wyoming Legislature, members of the Committee took under consideration several bills having to do with special districts in the state of Wyoming.
The three bills that affected ag-related districts, such as conservation districts and irrigation districts, among others, include Special districts task force – continuation, Special districts budget requirements and Special districts – dissolution by commissioners.
Sen. Larry Hicks of Baggs said that the bills brought much discussion during the meeting, but ultimately, the only one moving forward is the bill concerning budget requirements in special districts.
The bill proposing a method by which county commissioners would be able to dissolve a special district if they violate some statutory requirement.
“For the dissolution bill, Sen. Charlie Scott made a procedural move and moved to lay the bill back indefinitely,” explained Hicks. “After several hours of testimony on that bill, it was pretty apparent that the legislation wasn’t going anywhere. There has never been majority support on either the House or Senate side on the dissolution bill.”
Passage of Scott’s motion effectively killed the bill for sponsorship by the Corporations Committee during the 2017 session.
Task force bill
The Corporations Committee also opted against sponsoring legislation to continue the Task Force on Special Districts.
“My major concern with that bill was that it had no sideboards,” Hicks explained. “The bill didn’t say what the Task Force would study, and after the results of this year’s Task Force work, I think the majority of the Committee was uncomfortable with moving forward without any specificity on the topics of study.”
Hicks said the Committee could not justify a bill to spend $21,000 to continue a task force without any specific details, sideboards or direction.
One bill that was passed, with significant amendments, was the bill identifying budget requirements for special districts.
“We took quite a bit of testimony on that piece of legislation, and there was quite a bit of uneasiness with it,” Hick said. “I used the same procedural move that Sen. Scott had used and asked for the bill to be permanently laid back. It passed.”
However, following passage of the motion to indefinitely postpone the bill, Committee Chairman Sen. Cale Case asked the group to reconsider the bill and give it one last chance for a honest hearing.
“Some of the committee members felt that we had put in this much time that we should reconsider it,” Hicks explained. “On Nov. 22, we started heavily working that bill. Hospital districts, conservation districts and any court-administered special districts were exempted from the bill, and several sections were pulled out dealing with other entities.”
The special districts budget requirements bill passed on an 8-6 vote, with the amendments applied.
“It’s got a long way to go,” Hicks said. “I think the bill has a chance of passing, but the proponents of the legislation have a lot of work to do.”
Words of caution
Hicks noted that every few years, a bill comes forward that targets special districts in one form or another, which is problematic.
“What most legislators don’t understand is that there are 670 special districts, over 2,000 appointed and elected special district board members and 28 types of special districts,” Hicks said. “When a person casts a broad net and uses that nomenclature, pointing out one particular entity that has some problems, they capture all 670 districts.”
He continued, “It should be very cautionary. When we cast broad nets, we can expect a lot of push back.”
Hicks added that the majority of Wyoming’s special districts are run very well.
“The vast majority of Wyoming specials districts are fiscally conservative and run well, and we owe them gratitude,” he said. “If we do have problems, it is incumbent upon us to work with those entities to come into compliance, rather than coming in to dissolve them.”
Rather than attempting to broadly legislate issues, Hick suggested, “If we are going to fix problems, we need to identify where issues exist and be surgical in our approach.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.