The Alliance has been improvising new ways to gather people together while we’re all sheltering in place. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we had planned our first Quarterly Picnic Briefing to be a State Bills Happy Hour to update our community members about the recent budget session in Cheyenne. Last year, we had a packed house at Picnic.
This year, we had to come up with a new plan as the COVID situation was changing on a daily basis. Luckily, our Operations Director Dawn Webster and her husband, Patrick Millard, helped us stream a Zoom meeting through Facebook Live, so viewers could ask questions through the comment portal. Big thanks to them for their technical expertise!
The panelists started by introducing themselves and offering a brief synopsis of their time in Cheyenne. Senator Mike Gierau, who serves on the Senate Appropriations committee, spoke about the myriad effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a sudden drop in sales tax and natural resource revenue coming into the state. Representative Andy Schwartz, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, mentioned the lodging tax bill which did pass and will bring funds into the state once tourism season is up and running. Representative Yin talked about his innovative ideas for diversifying Wyoming’s revenue stream, citing his second homeowner’s tax bill, which ultimately failed. It’s clear that our state legislators are concerned about the lasting effects of revenue losses due to COVID-19.
County Commission Chair Natalia Macker visited the legislature this session to lobby. Many of us at the Alliance were concerned about HB 22, a bill that would threaten our ability to craft local housing mitigation measures. Macker reported that this bill was dead on arrival. She also worked to ensure adequate mental health and suicide prevention funding. Commissioner Luther Propst hailed the failure of HB 22 and talked about two other bills that targeted Teton County. SF 110 would have allocated funds to assess the value public lands and potentially position them for private acquisition. Thankfully, SF 110 failed!
Unfortunately, HB 162 did pass, which requires the State Land Department to consider proposals for development on state trust land parcels near Kelly and south of Teton Village. Representative Schwartz helped amend this bill by adding a clause to ensure that any development on trust lands aligns with local Comprehensive Plans. Local conservation groups may be able to fundraise and permanently protect these parcels – stay tuned.
Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen spent his time in Cheyenne listening to debates and finding common ground with legislators from across the state. He also spoke of his work on a local stormwater management bill. Finally, Kristen Gunther from the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Jenny DeSarro from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition talked about their work on a multitude of wildlife bills affecting ungulates and sage grouse. For example, HB 69 passed and creates a fund for wildlife through the sale of wildlife-themed license plates.
A common theme throughout this conversation was making new connections. Teton County is tucked away in the very northwestern corner of the state, and more of us can make the effort to visit other parts of Wyoming and forge connections. I know I was planning on taking myself on a Wyoming field trip this April—I’ve never even been to Casper or Cody—but that plan will have to wait until post-pandemic existence sets in.
Even though the State Bills Happy Hour had a different format this year, I’m grateful that we were still able to host an event that brought local legislators and the public together. We’re fortunate to have such dedicated lawmakers representing us at home and in Cheyenne. Stay tuned for more updates regarding the interim session, and a potential special session to deal with dropping revenue!
In case you missed it, this conversation is available on our Facebook page so community members can view the content at their own convenience.
By Clare Stumpf, Alliance grassroots organizer