Ag organizations, farmers and ranchers plenty busy with Wyoming Legislature in session
The Wyoming Legislature convened in Cheyenne, Feb. 10, for the 2014 budget session. With 184 bills introduced by the Valentine’s Day deadline on the House side alone, agriculture organization representatives are staying busy with those that made it out of committee with the two-thirds majority vote required in a budget session.
“They moved fast through the bills in committee and introduced the budget bill on the morning of Feb 17,” began Wyoming Stockgrowers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “As a result many of the bills of interest to us were lost in committee along the way, which is alright because in my view a budget session ought to focus on the budget and those committee bills that clearly have some priority, or are of an emergency nature. The rest should wait for a general session, and there are some key issues we look to see come up next year for that reason.”
That said, a variety of agriculture relevant bills were brought before Senate and House committees in the first week of the session that the WSGA, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB) and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) weighed in on.
“One we are watching and supporting strongly is HB (House Bill) 23, which is the landowner’s duty to trespassers bill. This bill attempts to preclude the recommendation from the Third Restatement of Torts, which basically says a landowner is liable if a trespasser harms himself while on private land. Instead, this bill would utilize current Wyoming case laws for trespassers, which do not extend duty of care to those trespassers,” explained WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton of one top priority WyFB is following.
Magagna echoed Hamilton’s statement of the duty to trespassers bill being among WSGA’s top two priorities as well. Their second focus, SF8, would cap the amount of land state agencies could hold.
“This bill would have put permanently into statute a cap on the amount of land the state of Wyoming could acquire as a net at 10,000 acres. Other state agencies would have been capped at the same 10,000 acres. Interestingly enough, last session it passed out of the Senate on a 28-2 vote, then was amended on the House side in a way that we asked them not to consider it, and they didn’t. It was brought back this year and the same Senate defeated it 12-17, which was a shock to me,” explained Magagna.
Among bills that successfully made it out of committee was SF7, which allows the Wyoming Livestock Board to fund brucellosis surveillance outside the designated surveillance area (DSA).
“This responds to the Game and Fish identifying some brucellosis zero positive responses in elk in the Greybull area of the state. Under current law, the livestock board cannot pay for livestock testing outside of the DSA. This bill says they want to be able to fund testing in an area where there are cattle possibly in contact with brucellosis infected wildlife,” explained Scott Zimmerman, who handles RMFU Government Relations for Wyoming
Zimmerman continued, “We support this bill in part because we see it as something other states will consider important when determining what restrictions to place on livestock moving from Wyoming into their state, and because we don’t want the DSA expanded to increase the area where cattle testing can be paid for by the livestock board. We see this as a viable alternative.”
Limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority within the state has also been included within multiple bills following the agency allowing the Wind River Reservation to take over management of air quality not only on the reservation, but on surrounding private lands as well.
“HB 78 and SF (Senate File) 75 are a couple of those bills,” said Hamilton. “They were all brought forth as a result of concerns held by multiple members of the legislative body over the EPA’s decision regarding air quality management on the reservation.”
Zimmerman added that some of the EPA directed bills also tie into other aspects of “overburdening federal government involvement at the state level.”
“HB 105 defines what drones can be used for, and limits what an individual can be sued for. The bill deals strictly with law enforcement, but we are paying attention to because of our interest in ensuring drones are not used by a government entity to go over somebody’s ground and survey them in a fashion they should not be doing. That is something we have concerns about, and is an example of a non-ag bill that we are watching because of the possible implications within the ag industry,” added Hamilton of an additional bill that could potentially affect government oversight of individual ag producers.
Another issue not directly related to agriculture, but remaining in the spotlight at this year’s legislative session is talks and bills related to the authority allowed to the superintendent of public instruction. Last month’s Wyoming Supreme Court voted 3-2 that a bill passed in the 2013 Wyoming legislature, SF104, stripping Cindy Hill of most of her duties as superintendent of public instruction, was unconstitutional.
“There are couple bills that did not get the necessary two-thirds majority last week that would have dealt with various aspects of that issue,” said Zimmerman, adding that while there has been much talk on the subject, legislatures remained focused throughout the first week on efficiently moving through bills and on to the budget.
Magagna echoed that he has been pleased to see the issue not pervade the session and slow progress on other topics.
“The bills to legalize medical marijuana, create a state cookie and use a firing squad for execution were also all quickly defeated in committee,” he added with a chuckle as he backed his statement of the members of the legislature working hard to stay on focus with topics primarily related to the state’s budget.
All three entities agree that they will be able confidently state how the session as a whole went for their organizations, “in about 44 days.” ❖