The Value of Engagement
By Jim Magagna
The 67th Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 General Session is underway. This promises to be a learning experience for both legislators and lobbyists as nearly one-half of the members of the House are newly elected legislators.
The importance of the agriculture community building relationships with these members cannot be overemphasized. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Legislative Reception, held on the fifth day of the session in partnership with the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Stock Growers Land Trust, Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing, provided an early opportunity to emphasize the critical role of our industry and our work to Wyoming.
Subsequent events scheduled by other agricultural organizations will continue this effort.
The staunch support of members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will be essential in moving forward agriculture’s agenda.
Three of the five members of Senate Ag are new to the committee, with one of these being a newly elected senator. Additionally, seven of the nine members of the House are new to the committee, with six of these being newly elected representatives.
WSGA initiated contact with each of these new members prior to the start of the session.
While many of the players are new, the work they undertake in the early days of this session will not be new. During this past interim period, the Joint Ag Committee effectively moved forward a total of nine bills, which have been received for introduction early in this session.
WSGA was an integral player in this process.
Our priority in working with the interim committee was focused on legislation related to the management of state trust lands. This priority arose in response to evolving management practices within the Office of State Lands and Investments, which have been detrimental to the interests of long-time grazing and agricultural lessees.
House bills (HB) 16, 17, 20, 21 and 22 address trust land management. Four of these bills were brought forward at the direct request of WSGA. We have provided input on all the legislation being introduced regarding this matter.
A second area of focus for WSGA and other ag organizations continues to be on trespass, a ballooning threat to our private property rights.
While the high-profile issue of corner crossing remains tied up in court, legislation is coming forward to address trespass with drones and to expand the authority of the Wyoming Game and Fish to issue trespass citations for crossing private lands to access hunting and fishing opportunities.
An additional bill has been brought forward which would enable structures painted florescent orange or yellow at a point of entry to private property to serve as a notice for criminal trespass purposes.
Several Wyoming ag organizations have recently adopted policies addressing the threat posed by ownership of land and other natural resources in the state by foreign governments or entities controlled by such governments. Two bills have been offered to address this issue.
WSGA will be supporting legislation targeting nations deemed a threat to the interests of the U.S.
Finally, an array of legislation has been introduced related to property taxation. Several bills and proposed Wyoming Constitutional Amendments are targeted at property tax relief for homeowners. However, at least one bill strongly opposed by WSGA – HB 72 – would impose the property tax on livestock, feed, farm equipment and a variety of services.
As we build these essential relationships with legislators, the engagement of Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers is essential.
I encourage those who are a constituent of a new senator or representative to reach out to them by phone or e-mail on these and other issues of interest. Make them aware lobbyists representing WSGA and other ag organizations can be a valuable resource to them in providing information and perspectives on issues before the legislature.
And, please share with us their response to the issues of concern.
The tools for engagement in the legislative process have broadened dramatically in recent years. The public has access to the e-mail of every legislator. They welcome meaningful, substantive input from their constituents.
Be focused, be polite and, above all, be brief in conveying messages.
Individuals can follow the work of each committee as well as the House and Senate sessions each day on YouTube.
When having meaningful communications with legislators regarding legislation affecting Wyoming agriculture, share this information with an ag lobbyist.
While I and other ag lobbyists will be at the legislature on the ag industry’s behalf each day, the Wyoming legislative process demands citizen engagement.
Jim Magagna is the executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.