The 2019 Wyoming Legislative General Session came to a close in the wee hours of last Thursday morning with the legislature adjourning Sine Die around 2:00 am. The delay in adjournment was due to a number of issues between the House and Senate including state funded capitol construction, the bill to allow for community colleges to award bachelor of applied science degrees, party ratios on the Legislative Management Council, and a debate over funding for new dorms at the University of Wyoming. Both Houses suspended their rules (in the case of the House, multiple times) to get through their work.
Governor Gordon approved the supplemental budget funding bill with 14 line-item vetoes. In his letter to the Legislature, the Governor clearly laid down markers on what he expects from future budgets. Of the 14 vetoes, the body overrode 4.
“Recognizing that legislators are knowledgeable about the Constitution, I will take the 26 examples of the use of ‘shall’ or ‘shall not’ that are contrary to Article 4, Section 4 encompassed in this bill to be reasoned suggestions as I cannot imagine any legislator intentionally meant to infringe on the authority of the executive branch,” Governor Gordon wrote, in a letter to the legislature. “I have attached a list of the 26 examples. I imagine reviews of future budgets will avoid this sort of awkward vocabulary.”
The Wyoming State Chamber of Commerce’s priority this session was career and technical education (CTE), and three bills were passed that will go far in addressing industry need for skilled worker education. In the end, the bills adopted will provide work training and degree options for those who did not finish high school to those who plan to earn an advanced degree.
SF43 expands the Hathaway Scholarship program to include taking 2 CTE courses to qualify in addition to the foreign language and fine arts requirements.
SF111 authorizes a bachelor of applied science degree program to be offered by any of Wyoming’s 7 community colleges. Concentrations are to be determined by each college individually, based on the workforce needs of their respective communities.
SF122 authorizes Community Colleges to stand up short courses to train CTE workforce employees to meet industry demands. This will include grant funding for student tuition.
The Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition’s primary goal heading into the session was HB 66, the Statewide Lodging Tax. For more than 2 years the WTIC board of directors in collaboration with the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association Board and Wyoming Tourism Board have been working on an alternative funding model to get Wyoming’s statewide marketing program off of the state’s general fund and onto a more dedicated, stable funding stream.
While a statewide lodging tax was not the first choice, there was significant drive within the legislature last session to pass one. The boards met this past spring and decided that a 3% statewide lodging tax would generate about $19 million annually, placing Wyoming on significantly more competitive footing with our competing neighboring states.
HB 66 also had a 2% guarantee back to local option lodging tax boards to act as a safety net the next time the local tax went before the voters. While the bill was not perfect, it was better than the status quo associated with being on the state’s general fund. Despite the support of leadership in the legislature, after passing the Wyoming House of Representatives fairly easily, the bill was met with some unfortunate opposition in the senate, ultimately killing the effort.
Efforts to pass legislation to allow the creation of Tourism Improvement Districts also fell short. The concept was presented to the Joint Revenue Committee for consideration as an interim topic. The WTIC board of directors will meet later this spring to discuss the path forward.
Governor Gordon’s recommended supplemental budget request of $2.5 million for the Wyoming Office of Tourism was approved. Wyoming’s marketing program currently ranks 29th in the nation, well below most of our competing surrounding states. This funding is a stopgap that will aid in elevating marketing resources and driving more visitor traffic to Wyoming until an alternative funding source is passed. Status-Joint Appropriations Committee denied the $2.5 million request and approved adding $500,000 per year to the budget.
Some of the supported bills that passed:
HB0097 Taxation of broadband internet infrastructure. Maintains the opportunity for telecom to stay in the right aways as they become a deregulated industry (as current right away is for public utility). This does NOT mandate what they pay or allow anyone in for free as that is up to the local control.
HB098 Right of ways-communications services. Is a sales tax exemption on equipment and incentive for broadband providers to serve unserved areas (as by our unserved definition). Another incentive to get connectivity to unserved areas. Both this and HB97 were sponsored by Crook County representative Tyler Lindholm.
HB 99 Public Lands Day. Creates a Public Lands Day state holiday. Currently proposed for the fourth Saturday in September.
Bills that failed:
HB 67 Sales Tax Revisions. Would have removed the sales tax exemption on home-prepared foods, data centers and manufacturing. The bill would have reduced the state sales tax to 3.5% and create a tax on most services.
HB 72 Wage Transparency. Would have prohibited employers from barring employees from disclosing wage information and employers from requiring employees to waive wage disclosure rights.
HB 164 Wyoming Film Production Incentive. Would have allowed the Wyoming Office of Tourism to offer incentives to film companies that shoot in and feature Wyoming in their productions. The bill had no appropriation attached and would have enabled legislation to give the Office of Tourism an additional tool in the event that an opportunity presents itself.
HB 273- Minimum Wage. Would have increased the state minimum wage to $8.50/hr and increased it to $10.00 over a 5-year period.
Legislative committees are now working to determine topics for the interim. It is important to stay in touch with your local legislators throughout the year, as they continue work in government. You can meet with Senators and Representatives March 19 at our Legislative Wrap-Up.