This page will provide updates of what I am doing and what is going on in the Wyoming legislature.
I hope you're all enjoying Frontier Days. Last week the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) met in Rawlins to discuss some of our interim topics, primarily the prison. Some background: The Wyoming Constitution requires a penitentiary to be built in Rawlins, and the original State Penitentiary (the "Frontier Prison") was opened there in 1901. In 1978 the voters authorized a new building, which was built in 1980 on the current site, but due to structural problems and some security inadequacies, it was vacated in 2000. The "South Facility" and the other new buildings were built in phases between 2000 and 2009. Although the geology on that site was challenging, it was felt that it was an acceptable place to build, with proper engineering and construction. Unfortunately, within a decade of its construction, the new buildings began to show signs of damage due to slab and foundation movement caused by water and unstable soils. (At this late date, basically 20 years later, it has not been possible to determine the roles played by unforeseen movement, unsatisfactory construction, and inadequate supervision of the process.)
At the July 17-18 meeting, we heard from two separate engineering firms, who did not agree on the causes and appropriate remediation of the damage. (One firm felt we needed to spend about $60 million to re-do the foundation because the slabs will continue to shift. The other firm assured us that most of the settling could be assumed to have happened already, so simple repairs to the tune of about $7 million would solve the problem!) We also toured the penitentiary. There are cracks in the walls, floors, some parts of the ceiling, security window glass, and off-kilter door frames, which also impact the electric and plumbing systems. Both engineering firms, however, assured us that the facility is structurally safe for the inmates and employees.
The JAC decided to instruct the Governor to access the appropriated funds to address the drainage and grading issues, which have been ongoing and have contributed to heaving and cracking of floors and courtyards. We felt that this approach, plus close monitoring of the elevations, would address the problem in the short term. In the future, we may want to relocate the entire facility to another site in the Rawlins area where the soils are more stable, but both sets of engineers seemed to think we could patch our way to the penitentiary's original 50-year life span. The Committee will continue to evaluate the situation.
I was honored to receive a 2017 AANP State Award for Nurse Practitioner Advocate from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners at their annual convention in Philadelphia. This award is given to non-nurses who have worked to increase the awareness and recognition of nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners are a key part of our healthcare services across Wyoming, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as we try to improve healthcare in our state.
I gave a presentation to the Wyoming Military Officers' Association on the proposed conveyance of the Quebec 1 Missile Alert facility from the U.S. Air Force to the State of Wyoming. I sponsored HB 195 during the 2017 legislative session, providing final authorization from the State. We are awaiting congressional approval, hopefully as part of the Defense Authorization Bill. I have prepared a Power Point about the project and its history, and will be glad to present it for any community or business group.
I was appointed to the Appropriations Committee for the 2017-18 term. At the beginning of the session the Appropriations Committee tends to work 12- or 13-hours days. Certainly it's more fun to give people money than to take it away, but on average (adding the governor's reductions over the summer and the legislature's additional cuts during the 2017 session) we reduced the state's General Fund expenditures by just over 9% from the original 2017-18 budget that we passed in 2016.
Here is a chart of the cuts made to the state agencies.
The only agency that was not cut was the Office of the Public Defender. That agency actually had a slight increase, owing to the requirements of a court decision regarding their stated (in)ability to properly represent a defendant in a capital murder case.
State funding for operations of K-12 schools was cut 3.7% from the previous budget, on average. Most of the money goes to the 48 school districts in the form of block grants. The net increase in state funding for K-12 schools is about 5.5% since 2012, which is slightly below the cumulative rate of inflation for the same time period. Here is a link to the summary of K-12 school funding and capital construction on the legislature's website. If you are interested in how we got to this place in school funding, and only were released from the Court's jurisdiction in 2008, here is the Wyoming Supreme Court's summary of the education lawsuits in Wyoming.
The main focus of the Appropriations Committee during the interim will be evaluating the need to repair or rebuild the state penitentiary in Rawlins. Our committee will meet in Rawlins on July 17-18. Our other interim topics are the status of the Enterprise Technology Services agency, state employee benefits, federal funding for the Department of Family Services, and state water and permanent land funds.
The one bill that I sponsored that passed this session was HB 195 Quebec 1 Transfer. This bill enables the final transfer of the Quebec 1 Missile Alert Facility site from the federal government to the state of Wyoming. Here is a link to a brief explanation of this future state historical site. I have been participating in the planning process for the site development.
During the interim I also will continue to pursue my interests in expanding access to primary care and mental health services, monitoring challenges to freedom of speech, reducing regulatory impacts on small businesses, and encouraging entrepreneurs and international trade in Wyoming. I also hope to work with Representative Madden to bring back a bill defining the parameters and spending policy for the "rainy day fund" (the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account). This would be based on his bill HB 105, which did not make it out of the Appropriations committee this session.
I regularly meet constituents for coffee and attend local events. Since the end of session I have attended a school board meeting, "Pancakes and Politics" (Chamber of Commerce), Quebec 1 planning session, Behavioral Health Advisory Council, Capital City Republican Women, SLIB asset allocation work session, public input on the proposed Prairie Avenue roundabout, Laramie County GOP central committee, Laramie County Cowbelles, Vietnam Memorial dedication at the VA, tour of Meadowlark Elementary School, Women's Entrepreneur Roundtable, LCCC celebration of Navistar's donation of trucks, and the groundbreaking of the new terminal at the Cheyenne airport. If there is an event that you would like me to attend, please send me an email or give me a call.
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Don't forget, a bad day in Wyoming is still better than a good day anywhere else!
Thank you for re-electing me to represent House District 7. At the Republican Caucus earlier this month I was assigned to the Appropriations Committee for the 2017-18 term, so I will move off of Labor and Revenue, and tackle the state's budget instead. It will be painful, no doubt, but I will do the best I can for the people of Wyoming.
It's back to school for Cheyenne kids, and back to work for me. Not that I haven't been busy all summer ... campaigning 6 days a week from mid-June to the August 16th election. In May I attended the Revenue Committee meeting in Douglas. The hottest topic was whether or not to consider increasing our tax on wind energy. The next week I got an earful from people at the Energy Summit, and heard about the role that wind projects are playing in Sweetwater, Carbon, and Converse Counties, especially as the oil and gas industry has suffered a decline.
In June I took a family trip to California to see my new granddaughter, but came back and attended the Joint Appropriations Committee to hear from the Governor and state agencies about the cuts that will be made to this year's budget, due to lower revenues than anticipated. You can read the list of cuts on the A&I website.
At the end of June I went to Casper for the Select Committee on Capital Financing & Investments for an overview of the state's investment portfolio.
In July, of course, we all had fun during Frontier Days, and the month was full of visitors, campaigning, and board meetings. On August 2nd I attended the Marijuana Conference in Laramie to hear from other states, Wyoming law enforcement, healthcare personnel, and other interested parties about the impact of legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana. Although in the past I have voted to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana (and will do so again), I had not bothered to read the marijuana petition that is being circulated. To my dismay, I saw that it is--to my mind--very poorly designed, without even the tax benefits that other states have received, and assigns the regulation of medical providers' recommendations to the Department of Revenue. As the petition's structure would prohibit the legislature from modifying the resulting law for two years, I will not be supporting the petition.
I just returned from the Sovereign Wealth Forum (August 23-24 in Jackson), where I heard a very interesting discussion of the role of funds like our Permanent Mineral Trust Fund, how they can best be invested, and how to identify goals of the fund. There were speakers and attendees from Alaska, North Dakota, Europe, New Zealand, Mexico, among other places. Then I drove to Lovell (bypassing the many forest fires in Yellowstone and Grand Teton) for the Labor Committee meeting. I was able to get the committee to agree to sponsor a bill to improve telepharmacy options in the rural areas of the state.
Since the session ended I have been relaxing with family, answering constituent emails, and filing a lot of paper. I attended the fund raising banquet for the Cheyenne Life Choice Pregnancy Center on April 7th. The following Tuesday I went to Casper for the board meeting of the Wyoming Coalition against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, headed back to Casper on the 15th for a meeting of the Behavioral Health Advisory Council, and stayed on in Casper over the weekend for the State Republican Convention, to which I was a delegate from Laramie County.
I will head back to Casper again this week for the first interim meeting of the Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee. You can see the agenda here.
Wow, there's a big gap! So here's an update.
January 2016: The Labor Committee had its final interim meeting. We heard from the Health Facilities Task Force (unfortunately, a lot of our state facilities are really old and falling apart), and discussed committee bills on health facility receivership, OSHA fines, direct primary care, public health nursing and their contracts with the counties, and Title 25. We also talked about payment rates for providers to people with developmental disabilities (no raise since 2008).
I continued working on the Health Care Access bill, along with two other bills that I probably won't bring this session after all (charter school appeals process and increased penalty for providing alcohol to minors). Those are worthwhile issues, but they seemed to grow too complex for the 20-day budget session. In January I also attended the meeting of the Wyoming Taxpayers Association and the Right to Life banquet.
December 2015: Back to Washington DC for another meeting of NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures). The Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force had a tour of Quantico Marine Base, in addition to presentations on temporary licensing for military spouses, and worker's compensation for federalized National Guard members. The conference itself had good presentations on innovations in healthcare, Utah's religious freedom bill, fire suppression in the West, and telehealth opportunities.
November 2015: Up to Casper for the Select Committee on Capital Financing and Investments. We discussed the goal of "inter-generational equity" for the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund (PWMTF). This is the fund that was started in 1975 shortly after the initiation of the first severance tax in Wyoming. The goal of the fund is to set aside money so that future generations will get roughly the same benefit from our mineral and energy resources as we get now--in other words, we aren't going to use up everything on ourselves and leave our grandkids with an income tax. According to the economists who gave the presentation (with a lot of formulas), we have a 58% chance of maintaining the economic value of the PWMTF, after inflation and population growth, fifty years from now. I though a 58% chance sounded pretty bad, but they said that a 50% chance was considered a good deal. However, in answer to my question, it turns out that the 58% chance is WITH the 1% contribution of severance tax funds (the "statutory diversion") that is in addition to the constitutional requirement of 2.5% of all severance taxes (we spend the rest).
So, I am opposed to using that 1% of the severance taxes to fill in our current revenue gap, because that would reduce our ability to provide for future generations.
Later in the month, the ribbon-cutting for the Wyoming Air National Guard 153rd Airlift Wing headquarters building, participation in the Marriage Conference in Casper (I presented my "Working with your Legislator" Power Point), another meeting of the Behavioral Health Advisory Council, and then a meeting of the Revenue Committee. We discussed our committee legislation on mineral property liens, monthly payment of ad valorem taxes, and local government distributions. There was a lengthy presentation on education funding, which relies heavily on the coal industry and property taxes (most of which come from the mineral/energy companies). Senator Nicholas visited the committee and encouraged us to pass an additional 1% statewide mill levy. The committee voted against taking that up this session.
October 2015: I went to the signing agreement event for the transfer of the Quebec 1 Missile Alert Facility from the feds to the State of Wyoming. This facility is in my district, alongside I-25, and should be a fantastic historical site (eventually, when we have more money). I participated in the Life Choice walk at Lions Park, and then went up to Buffalo for the Labor Committee. There we discussed the State's payment rates for Developmental Disability providers, prioritized programs funded by the Tobacco Settlement Fund; considered legislation for interstate nurse licensure compacts and rural healthcare districts. Along with Reps. Barlow and Schwartz, I presented a bill that we had been working on all summer to set up a grant program for communities to consider the healthcare needs and access problems of the low income population in their service area, along with resources available, and design approaches to improve access and reduce uncompensated care. Although committee leadership decided not to pursue this approach as a committee bill, owing to the State's budget situation, several of us decided to continue working on the bill as an individual bill, as it was our #1 assignment from Management Council at the end of the 2015 session.
September 2015: OK, up to Buffalo for the Revenue Committee. More on liens on mineral property, local government finance, and a report on how to determine a savings target for the "rainy day fund" (Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account). Wyoming has the 2nd most volatile State revenue stream in the nation (after Alaska). This presentation was very pertinent to our discussion about the next state budget. The LSRA has $1.8 billion in it; if we hypothesize a 10-year revenue downturn (that's just my thought--could oil, gas, and coal be down for a decade? It's happened before) then we could take 1/10 of the LSRA each year ($360,000/biennium) to fill in the gaps. At the end of the decade there would be no rainy-day fund left, and we've have to start funding it all over again. So ... my suggestion is to NOT take that much out of the fund for our current downturn.
Then, from the Revenue Committee meeting I went to the State Treasurer's investment conference in Ucross, where I heard from the state's various investment advisors. Topics were investing in a "low-return" environment, the energy outlook in Wyoming, the global economy's impact on Wyoming, and federal regulation.
Back in Cheyenne I helped with the Ag Expo out at Archer and Sight-in Days at the Cheyenne Rifle and Pistol Club.
August 2015: I attended the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle. I serve as vice-chair of the Military and Veterans Affairs Taskforce, and also am on the Labor & Economic Development Committee. Main topics of interest were updates from DOD on base closure considerations, a presentation on the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic trade agreements, a discussion of how to invest state funds, how to measure the costs and benefits of economic incentive programs, and a presentation by the Pew Charitable Trust on evidence-based policymaking. I think the latter is something that Wyoming needs to focus on.
Back in Cheyenne, the long-awaited ribbon-cutting for the new Prairie Wind Elementary School in my district, a meeting of the Behavioral Health Advisory Council (I have been appointed as a member), and then the Labor Committee met in Lovell. The main topics there were: more discussion about health insurance in Wyoming; updates on worker's compensation rates; medical education, Title 25 spending (this is the process for involuntary hospitalization of people who are a danger to themselves or others--way over budget!), and hospital Medicaid rates. Then we toured the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin. Back in Cheyenne again I attended a presentation about the Wyoming Public Employees retirement system. (By the way, in case you wondered, legislators do not get health insurance or retirement benefits from the State.)
July 2015: My daughter got married! She and her new husband now live in California, where he is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. That explains most of the lengthy gap in my updates. Later in July, I went to a meeting to learn more about direct primary care, and then it was Frontier Days.
June 2015: The Labor Committee met in Casper. We discussed the process for the State to operate nursing homes that are in receivership (in response to the bankruptcy of nursing homes in Saratoga and Rock Springs); discussed nursing home rates; workforce safety incentives; worker's compensation rate adjustments; statutory changes necessary to allow for direct primary care practice models; and the availability of health insurance in Wyoming.
Then I went to the Wind River Reservation for the Health Equity Conference, and toured the Wyoming Medical Center on the way home. In June I also went to a meeting held by the County Commissioners to discuss groundwater remediation at the Laramie County missile sites.
May 2015: The Revenue Committee met in Rawlins. We discussed the investment of the funds held by cities, towns, and counties; a review of excise tax and property tax exemptions; sales tax exemption for meals served by senior centers to people who are not senior citizens (complaint from restaurant owner); and liens on mineral property. I toured the Rawlins hospital on my way back to Cheyenne.
In May I also gave a presentation to the Wyoming Health Care Association (nursing homes) and attended the change of command at FE Warren AFB.
In recognition of and appreciation for all those who died in the service of our county here is a link to a YouTube video of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We are two weeks into the legislative session. My bills for an interstate compact on physician licensure and to update our healthcare provider recruiting programs are on the schedule of the House Labor committee (the latter on Monday and the former on Wednesday). The charter school bill has been assigned to the Education committee, but has still not been scheduled for a hearing. I expect the POLST bill to be introduced next week.
The big topic for the Labor committee, of course, is Medicaid expansion. The agency-produced proposal was not sponsored by the Labor committee (as a result of a 7-7 vote of the interim committee). The committee-sponsored bill has higher administrative costs because it is more complex. That bill is currently under consideration in the Senate. My presentation of general pros and cons is on the "Issues" page.
Yesterday in the Revenue committee we considered two bills regarding a federal balanced budget amendment. The first bill would put Wyoming into an interstate compact (that now has two other states) to call for an Article V convention to add a pre-written balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The second bill would put Wyoming on a list of 24 other states asking Congress to call a convention to consider amending the Constitution (no pre-developed amendment). Ohio's governor Kasich was actually at the Herschler building for an informational meeting (see this news article).
I have significant concern that a convention called per the second bill could expand to other topics that would not be beneficial to Wyoming (for example, there are a lot of people who want to do away with the Electoral College or assign senate seats based on population--see this article). I think the compact bill is the safest, as the topic under consideration and the procedure are established by the compact, but with only 2 states signed on to the compact I felt that we could take another year to consider the unanticipated consequences, so I voted against both bills (although both passed the committee 7-2 and are headed to the floor).
On a lighter note, on Monday we will consider whether to raise the beer tax or, failing that, whether to do away with it entirely. (It would still be subject to sales tax in any case.)
The Cheyenne Right-to-Life march and banquet are today, and I will be attending the banquet to support the efforts to promote a culture of life in Wyoming.
I have five bills in progress at LSO (the Legislative Service Office that drafts bills). They are my charter school bill, an interstate compact on physician licensure, a bill to tidy up and enhance our healthcare provider recruitment and loan repayment programs, a "POLST" bill to make sure advance healthcare directives are portable and can be carried out by healthcare providers, and (just since the Labor Committee meeting this week) a bill setting up a taskforce to come up with a plan using state General Funds (if legislators and citizens don't want to expand Medicaid) to enable people to access preventive and primary care services and to make sure our taxpayer-funded hospitals can survive financially.
I have two committee assignments for the 2015-16 session: Labor, Health and Social Services, and Revenue. The 63rd Legislature will be sworn in on January 13th, and we will be in session for up to 40 days.
My proposed budget pie charts are still in a big pile on my desk. However, I refuse to give up, and am still planning to get them out to constituents. Other than that, I have been organizing my Work Group focusing on access to primary care and mental health services, drafting a charter school bill, and looking into revising the state's health provider loan repayment program. The first interim Labor Committee meeting was in Casper at the beginning of May, and I was on a legislative/policy panel at the Rocky Mountain Alzheimer's Conference at the beginning of June. I commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day at Cheyenne's American Legion Post 6; the veterans (my husband among them) were visited by the European Union's Ambassador to the United States, João Vale de Almeida, who made a short speech recognizing the important contribution and sacrifice made by American soldiers during World War II, and the role we have played in the development of democracy in Europe. Here's a photo: I'm in the turquoise jacket, the ambassador is the tall guy with the tie, and my husband is the handsome one second from the left.
My main project since the end of the Budget session has been to develop a simple set of pie charts to illustrate the sources of revenue and the expenses for the State’s activities. This has turned out to be quite complicated. The budget proposed by the governor and passed by the legislature does not include everything: the Game and Fish Commission and WYDOT both receive most of their budgets from other sources and those amounts do not go through the legislature. WYDOT has a summary on its website; Game and Fish does not. WYDOT actually develops its budget according to the federal fiscal year, rather than the state fiscal year, because so much of its money comes from the federal government. Game and Fish budgets on an annual basis, rather than on a biennial basis like the rest of the state, because most of its money comes from license fees which, as you hunters and fishermen know, are mostly paid on a yearly basis. I intend to have accurate pie charts up on this website before the end of April, but I decided I’d better get something posted before that.
We did not manage to hold the line on the budget as much as I would have liked. The governor sent the legislature a budget that was $208 million lower than the expected revenue. The Joint Appropriations Committee designated $173 million of that for legislative priorities and during the legislative session we managed to find uses for the remaining $35 million. So, we produced a balanced budget, as we are required to do, but it sure was a lot of money.
Altogether the budget and the approved amendments made a stack of 8.5”x11” paper that is 1 ½ inches thick! The House came up with 133 proposed amendments to the budget; I voted “aye” on amendments that would have resulted in a total increase of $15 million, and voted “no” on amendments that would have resulted in an increase of $66 million.
Large expenditures authorized in the 2015-16 budget or in other bills were the 2.3% increase in state employee pay (this includes UW, community colleges and local schools, and allows for merit pay and market adjustments); setting aside an additional $159 million over four years for the restoration of the capitol building and the renovation of the Herschler building just north of it; $175 million to cities, towns and counties; $28.4 million (+$36 million federal) for mandatory Medicaid expansion to cover children up to 138% of the poverty level; and $10 million (+$10 million federal) to bring people off the waiting list for the developmental disability Medicaid waiver.
A big source of concern was the future of the school capital construction budget. In the 2011-12 biennium, coal lease bonuses made up 27% of the budget ($174 million), in the 2013-14 biennium we received $294 million in coal lease bonuses, we are projected to receive $265 million this biennium, but because of the impact on changes in the economy and federal regulation we only expect to get $34 million in the 2017-18 biennium. A decrease of more than 80% will certainly have a big impact on our ability to maintain our current schools and replace aging buildings.
I co-sponsored four bills this session: HB 73 “Work First” Employment for people with disabilities, HB 138 Waiver of governmental immunity for hospital employee whistleblowers, SF 91 Digital information privacy, and SF 105 Hospital licensure moratorium. The first and third of these bills passed. In addition, and of particular interest to my fellow parents, I was House chairman of the successful conference committee for SF 3 School facilities collaborative committee process, requiring school districts to involve the community when planning for school locations and design.
During the Interim I will be working on the following topics: Access to primary care and mental health services, charter school/school choice legislation, college credit for military training, and a bill strengthening the penalties for provision of alcohol to minors. I also will be following the education standards approval process and restrictions on student data mining. I am a member of the Capitol Restoration Task Force, and we will be meeting numerous times over the Interim to finalize plans for the Capitol and the Herschler Building.
On April 17th I had the opportunity to help the LCCC Republicans kick off their new campus chapter (see photo on the right).
I will be running for re-election this year. I have been able to use my experience in healthcare, education, and small business to have an impact on some of the decisions we make in the legislature--not only regarding those areas of the State’s budget, but also as we impact or encourage the private sector. I would like to continue serving House District 7 and Wyoming for another term. If you have made it this far down the April 19th entry I congratulate you on your perseverance! You will see a more formal announcement in the Tribune-Eagle next month.
-- Appropriations (2017-present)
-- Rules & Procedures (2017-present)
-- Select Committee on Capital Financing & Investments (2015- present)
-- Select Committee on Legislative Facilities, Technology and Process (2015-present)
--Legislative Artwork Donation Program Committee (2017-present)
-- NCSL - Labor & Economic Development (2013-present; vice-chair 2015-16)
-- NCSL - Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force (2015-present)
Labor, Health & Social Services (2013-2016)
I also serve as a legislative member of the Governor's Behavioral Health Advisory Council, and the Board of the Wyoming Coalition against Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse.
House District 7