Legislative session reconvenes
The Chambers of the House and Senate were full on March 1, as the Wyoming Legislature reconvened for the 2021 General Session after holding an eight-day virtual session in early February.
“It’s nice to be in Cheyenne, and it’s so much better to be in person,” commented Rep. Hans Hunt (R-Newcastle) on returning to Cheyenne for the second half of session. “The business we had during the virtual session was concluded in January. We didn’t leave anything hanging over the interim.”
“We started on a clean slate, and in the first week of March we’ve been working through the remaining committee bills,” Hunt explained, adding bills have also begun to come forward from individual legislators for consideration by the full body.
Related to the agriculture industry, Hunt noted there are a handful of important bills.
First House Bill (HB) 7, Air ambulance membership organizations – regulation, is a bill sponsored by the Minerals Committee which seeks to address concerns for rural citizens as it passed several years ago.
“Last year, those who were running air ambulances noted, with the previous language, it would be very difficult to continue their services, liability-wise,” Hunt explained. “We inadvertently made it more difficult for these services to contract to rural areas.”
However, through working together over the last year, those challenges have been corrected, allowing rural Wyomingites to subscribe to air ambulance services, and Hunt noted, “Rural citizens can rest assured those membership services aren’t going to go away now.”
HB 7 passed the House on the third reading on March 3, moving the bill to the other chamber of the legislature.
The Wyoming school protein enhancement project, HB 52, was heard by the House during the week of March 2 and was received for introduction by the Senate as of March 4. This bill extends the work of a pilot project started by Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) several years ago. The project seeks to extend the approval for schools to utilize locally raised protein in the school lunch program. Additionally, it allows the donation of livestock to schools for school lunches.
“This project sets up a permanent program allowing schools to purchase locally raised livestock to serve in school lunches,” Hunt noted. “There are quite a few school districts who have taken advantage of this program, and it’s been very successful.”
An additional bill, coming as a substitute bill to HB 54, Wyoming meatpacking initiative, has amended some of the requirements on the associated loan program. The bill had passed the second reading in the house as of March 5.
HB 118, Food freedom act amendments, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Duncan (R-Lingle), expands the authority of the Food Freedom Act to include eggs.
“The bill does not apply to turkey eggs, which is in alignment with Department of Ag rules, but it would allow home-raised eggs to be sold in retail shops and grocery stores by an ‘agent of the producer or third-party vendor,’” Hunt commented, noting the success of the Food Freedom Act makes this bill an important next step for Wyoming producers.
However, at the top of mind for all is the supplemental budget. Prior to the 2021 session, the Joint Appropriations Committee cut over $400 million from the state budget, extending beyond the recommendations from the Governor.
Beginning on March 8, the House and Senate will individually review and amend the budget, with Committee of the Whole scheduled for March 8-9.
“It takes two days to go through the budget, and they will likely be long, full days,” Hunt explained.
The second reading of the budget will be held on March 10, and the third reading will be heard on March 12.
Hunt noted, “We take a day off on March 11, going back to the other bills from committees and individual legislators.”
The budget process is always extensive, but Hunt emphasized that this year is a supplemental budget.
“Normally, supplemental budgets don’t garner as much discussion as a full budget cycle,” he said. “All things considered this year, though, the 2021 supplemental budget has taken the gravity of a normal budget year. It is very important for our state moving forward.”
Hunt also emphasized meeting in person is key to reaching the right results for the state of Wyoming.
“The budget is the engine of the state’s government, and it’s vitally important that we meet in person to have these discussions,” he explained. “We saw the limitations of a virtual session. While technology is great, it won’t ever replace meeting in person.”
Hunt emphasized, “This is the most important budget the state has seen in many, many years, even though it’s only a supplemental budget.”
Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.