Wyoming Legislature’s General Session wraps up
Cheyenne – After convening the 2023 General Session of the Wyoming Legislature in early January, Wyoming’s citizen legislators have returned home, and a handful of bills await the signature of Gov. Mark Gordon.
Members of several of Wyoming’s agriculture organizations agreed session was different than normal, with a large portion of new legislators.
Overall, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna noted, “This year was a successful session from the agriculture perspective.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline agreed, saying, “Overall, it was a pretty positive session. The mood was pretty good, but this is the way it often is when we have the money to fulfill our needs and some of our wants.”
Tax relief bills
“I was disappointed in the tax relief bills that did not come forward,” Moline commented. “Out of all those bills, only two passed.”
He noted the constitutional amendment making residential property its own class is also concerning.
“Residential property will be its own class, and they will be able to make subclasses on it,” Moline said. “I’m not keen on this idea because I think it will set up classes, which will be targeted to increase taxes when the state has less money.”
“I was also hoping other tax bills would go forward to lower the rate on residential property taxes, at least temporarily,” he said.
For the agriculture industry, Magagna and Moline cited state lands as the prominent issue under discussion.
“The biggest overall thing was bringing significant changes to the management of state land as it relates to agriculture and grazing use,” Magagna explained.
Moline agreed state lands proved to be an important and pressing topic for the session.
“Part of the frustration is it is difficult to get an answer on why there are so many parcels not leased,” Moline explained. “This year, we were able to take care of some of those issues.”
“We have had quite a number of problems surface in recent years, so we made them our priority,” Magagna said, noting there were seven bills related to state lands this year, all of which moved forward and are awaiting the governor’s signature. “Many of the bills have to do with process, particularly when grazing leases are up for renewal.”
Magagna further explained because grazing leases are up for renewal every 10 years, the process can be very confusing. Minor procedural errors resulted in the loss of leases, which was problematic.
“It really created a lot of uncertainty and discomfort in the industry,” he explained. “A lot of the changes have to deal with the process, specifying more intense notice provisions and grace periods.”
He continued, “The state seems to be looking more at other uses for these lands, like development and housing, to make sure those things, as well as exchanges and sale of lands, are all done in a manner which respects and provides an opportunity to current lessees to take advantage of them, to the greatest extent possible.”
Magagna also noted bills addressed non-owned livestock on state lands.
“The way the law was written, and the way it was being interpreted, anytime someone brought in any unowned livestock, even if it was a few head of their kids’ animals, it was considered an action needing prior approval from the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI),” Magagna explained. “Any income derived from those had to be divided 50-50 with the state.”
He continued, “If one is truly subleasing their place and someone else is running it, it’s fine. What we pushed for, and what we were relatively successful in getting, is the person managing the livestock is responsible and in care of the state lands – the brand on those livestock shouldn’t make any difference.”
The final bill reflected lessees could run 50 percent non-owned livestock eight years out of the 10-year lease. In the final two years, lessees would have to get permission from OSLI and share revenues.
“This was a compromise to satisfy folks who thought ranchers were getting wealthy running other people’s livestock,” he said. “This bill was a huge step in the right direction.”
Moline, more cautious, said, “The proof will be in the pudding to see whether we can get it to work or not.”
Moline commented another win from the session came in a trespass bill targeting hunting, fishing and collecting antlers.
“We were happy one property rights bill went through,” he said.
Magagna added, “We were also successful with a bill allowing game wardens to issue citations for crossing private land to access other land for hunting, fishing and collecting antlers. Before, they could only cite someone for hunting on private land. They could not cite them for trespassing across land to get it.”
Discussions continued about trespass with drones on private lands. However, Magagna noted a defensible bill was not created and work will continue to be done on the topic.
Moline also noted he was unhappy to hear Gordon vetoed a bill placing a moratorium on eminent domain for wind collector systems.
“I find it ironic companies say they don’t use eminent domain, but if they don’t have it, they’re worried they won’t be able to use it,” he commented.
This year, the Wyoming Legislature also started conversations about ownership of land by foreign entities, specifically adversarial foreign entities like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, through three bills, all of which failed.
“This is a topic needing more work,” Magagna said. “But, we’ve asked to have this topic discussed more in depth.”
Moline said it will be important to address the constitutionality of such bills moving forward, commenting, “I think we’ll look at foreign ownership of land in the interim. This is a pretty important question, and the interim is the proper time to do it.”
“All in all, this was a good session, with no great, big issues,” Moline commented. “They were able to save a lot of money. Overall, they did a good job and didn’t establish new programs or things like that. We’ll see how the budget session works out next year.”
Gordon has until March 17 to sign any bills remaining on his desk, two weeks from the adjournment of the Wyoming Legislature.
Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.