Ag community sees overall positive direction in budget session
Cheyenne – The 66th Wyoming Legislature convened on Feb. 14 with the heavy task of setting the state’s budget for the coming year. Ag groups across the state have combed through draft legislation and are actively participating in committee meetings while observing sessions of both the House of Representatives and Senate to ensure the agriculture industry has advocates for its best interests.
“For the ag community, there’s always an array of bills we watch,” comments Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, adding, “but we try to stay away from heavy issues in the budget session.”
During a budget session, bills require a two-thirds majority vote for introduction, which means only items of immediate importance are considered.
Magagna noted WSGA is tracking approximately 40 bills for the 2022 Session.
While the budget bills, House Bill One and Senate File One – weren’t introduced until Feb. 21, the Joint Appropriations Committee worked intently to craft a balanced bill, along with the governor’s recommendations, which is the focus of this session.
Among notable increases, Magagna noted Gov. Gordon sought salary increases for state employees across the board, which is included in the bill.
“In the WDA, there is $5.8 million for predator management, some of which is carryover money. There is also $1 million for Weed and Pest,” Magagna commented.
Additionally, he highlighted Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom was funded $300,000, and $10,000 was provided for the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program. An additional $75 million was also budgeted to add to the corpus of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.
“The original goal was for the trust to be funded at $200 million, and this year, Gov. Gordon opted to add $75 million, which is a good gain,” Magagna commented.
He also noted funding has been provided for the University of Wyoming (UW) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, including $8.6 million for capital construction, targeted primarily at enhancing infrastructure at research centers and Extension offices, and $2.5 million in permanent funding going to the UW Foundation.
“This permanent funding has to be matched,” he explained. “Earnings off of the money will fund two new endowed professorships within the College of Ag.”
In addition to the general budget bill, there is also an appropriations bill related to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which provides funding in several arenas.
“There isn’t a lot in the ARPA funds bill directly related to the ag industry,” Magagna commented, but he noted funding has been recommended to go to the Wyoming Business Council which is intended for use in the ag industry. “But, it’s not earmarked.”
House Bill Six tags ARPA funds for water and wastewater projects, which could potentially be tied to agriculture, remarked Cathy Rosenthal, interim executive director for the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts. The bill passed third reading in the House as of Feb. 24.
Other funds are tagged for matching grants to be used to continue to build out the rural broadband infrastructure in the state, which is highly supported by the ag community.
Over the interim period in 2021, the legislature’s ag committee also worked closely with Wyomingites to craft a number of bills important to the industry, some of which were introduced during the session.
“We worked on several bills during the interim,” Magagna explained. “There is one bill on water permits for livestock on federal land, which puts into statute something the state has been doing for many years.”
He continued, “When there is an application for a water project on federal lands, both the agency and the grazing lessee are included on the permit application.”
The bill is similar to a bill introduced during the 2021 General Session.
State lands bills
WSGA worked closely with the Office of State Lands to craft deals with amendments to the process for leasing vacant lands.
“Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate, then was amended in the House and passed. The bill was vetoed by the governor, and this year, a better bill was released,” Magagna noted. “In committee on Feb. 15, the Office of State Lands presented their perspective, and WSGA presented another perspective, so we were directed to work together to submit proposed amendments.”
Overall, Magagna noted both groups worked together to provide clarity in the statute on the requirements versus preferences for leasing state land.
“It is a requirement there has to be a necessary use and lessees agree to pay a minimum rental fee. The only preference to lease state land goes to people who own or lease adjacent land,” he explained. “There is clarity in the bidding process to lease vacant state lands.”
“There is also a bill directing the State Lands Office to seek reimbursement from the federal government for forage being consumed on state lands by wild horses. We strongly support this bill,” he noted.
Because of the importance of private lands in the state, there are also several bills related to trespass appearing this year.
“Rep. Flitner introduced House Bill 19 which says, if you paint a rock or fence post a certain color – in this case fluorescent pink or orange – this is a message to anyone the land is private and to not trespass beyond this point,” Magagna explained. “Years ago, other states were passing similar bills, and we’re going to strongly support it.”
An additional bill, House Bill 109, will allow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to issue citations for trespass under their rules to anyone who crosses private land to hunt, fish or collect horns. The bill does not specify the activity has to be conducted on private land.
“House Bill 109 has nothing to do with corner crossings,” Magagna added, “though it has been misinterpreted by some to say it does.”
Magagna also commented, however, budget sessions are always very fast-paced, with bills not related to the budget dropping quickly.
“There are a whole bunch of bills, but votes for introduction had to be completed by Feb. 21. They also need a two-thirds vote for introduction, so anything not hitting those thresholds has died until next year,” he said.
Look for updates from the Wyoming Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and more in the upcoming weeks.
Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.