Spring Committees, Part 2
By: Pete Obermueller, Executive Director
As promised, here’s a quick update of the activities of other interim committees that have met this spring.
Joint Corporations met May 21 – 22 and covered several topics of interest, including elections, open meetings, and others. As usual with this particular committee, they voted to draft something like 15 or more bills (I lost count) to look at in the fall. There are a few bills we will need to watch closely. First, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM) testified regarding their desire to treat storm water drainage similar to a municipal utility like water and sewer. With that authority municipalities could begin to charge municipal residents a fee to pay for capital improvements to deal with storm water drainage.
From my perspective, WAM makes a strong case for the municipal need to cover a public health and safety issue of storm water drainage. If that discussion revolves around allowing municipalities authority to assess appropriate fees, that may be something we could support as it would be a city assessment only. Unfortunately, the committee veered into discussion of a municipal only optional sales tax as a method for municipalities to pay for these projects. To date the WCCA has opposed municipal only optional taxes because doing so would likely result in local option revenue consolidating into large population centers to the detriment of counties and small towns.
Senator Scott (Natrona) offered a motion to bring a bill to allow municipalities to assess fees for storm water drainage. The motion carried on a split vote. Rep. Lindholm (Crook) offered a motion to bring back for further consideration the bill that failed last session regarding a community development district inside municipalities as another means to cover these municipal capital construction projects. The motion carried on a split vote. Senator Case (Fremont) offered a motion to bring back for further consideration the bill that failed last session allowing a municipality its own optional sales tax. The motion carried on a split vote. Recall from last week’s blog that a municipal only optional tax bill also passed in the Revenue committee, also at Senator Case’s request, so this issue is moving currently in two committees.
The Wyoming Liberty Group presented to the committee a dark clouds scenario of secret local governments all across Wyoming unwilling to share records with the public. As many of you know, a national organization flooded Wyoming’s local governments, school districts, and special districts with open records requests on salaries and vendor contracts. During the previous session HB178 was introduced late in the process – and ultimately not voted on for introduction – that, among other things, would require local governments to meet a 7-day time clock for responding to public records requests. Several NGO’s on the opposite end of the political spectrum aligned with the Liberty Group arguing that records should be both free, and available on an accelerated timeline. Some special districts, including Conservation Districts and Fire Districts argued that we must find a balance between providing documents for transparency and spending staff time and resources on large requests. Rep. Lindholm moved that the former HB178, mentioned above, be brought back for further consideration by the committee. That motion passed.
Bob Bonnar of the Wyoming Press Association and Editor of the Newcastle Newsletter Journal presented regarding WAM’s request to move local government legal notice requirements to an online format instead of paying to print them in local papers. In a clever, turn-the-tables, passionate retaliation, Mr. Bonnar argued that instead of looking at passing new legislation that allows moving notices to websites, WAM and the Wyoming School Board Association (WSBA) should be subject to open meeting and open records laws, and that the associations should have to publish agendas, minutes and their own staff salaries, etc. According to Mr. Bonnar, WAM and WSBA have become too powerful, and that their associations spend taxpayer dollars in ways the local communities don’t support, specifically advocating for new taxes.
Rep. Lindholm: I support this idea, but why not include the Wyoming County Commissioners Association?
Answer: Quite frankly it was the work of the WCCA and their former E.D. Cindy Delancey that brought these associations together to get to a compromise before, and the WCCA has not been consistently arguing to increase taxes on Wyoming’s citizens so I left them out.
Senator Scott: Its unlikely that we can just pick out a few groups. If we simply said that associations representing elected officials are subject to these acts, who else would this capture besides the cities, school districts and the counties?
Answer: I’m not certain, but possibly the County Clerks, Assessors, etc.
Senator Nethercott: It seems like it would be difficult to distinguish between groups like this and 501(c)3 organizations. Maybe its better to say that no state money can be used for lobbying.
Senator Scott offered a broad motion to have authority to draft several public meetings and records related bills, including one to require associations of elected officials to be subject to those laws. The motion passed. The motion, if drafted as suggested, would capture WAM, the WCCA, The WSBA, the other 7 county elected associations, WACO, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, the Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, and probably others I’m not considering right now. As you all know, our association meetings are already open to the press and they are welcome to our meetings anytime. Mostly they don’t come because they don’t want to be put to sleep by our umpteenth discussion about WyoLink. Regardless, they are welcome. As you all know, open meetings laws require very specific notification and timing requirements that would be difficult for the association to meet. We will look at the draft bill closely when it comes out.
Joint Minerals Committee met May 31 and June 1 in Gillette. This meeting was largely informational, but they spent a great deal of time on the permitting requirements on Limited Mining Operations, Small Mines, and Large Mines. Small and Large Mines are regulated entirely by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The Committee asked that I offer comments regarding the counties’ role in regulating Limited Mining Operations – which are mines under 15 acres and non-mineral like gravel and sand. As you know, counties can outright ban these mines through zoning, and can also regulate their activities through zoning and planning commission regulations. Beyond that, the DEQ certifies that the mining operation is meeting minimal standards. While no motion was made, it appears there will be a draft bill that further limits DEQ’s oversight of Limited Mining Operations.
Finally, the Joint Appropriations Committee met in Cheyenne on June 11 and 12. They spent considerable time discussing the possibility of creating a State Gaming Commission in order to regulate all gaming in Wyoming (pari-mutuel, bingo, pull tabs, horse racing, “games of skill” slot machines, and others). Recall that the Management Council did not give the Appropriations Committee the authority to add the Wyoming Lottery to that discussion. Given that every regulated gaming opportunity in Wyoming includes a revenue stream to local governments, we will continue to monitor this.