Extended legislative session is a wrap, Wyoming has a budget for two years   Buckrail - Jackson Hole, news
Governor signing session. (Stan Blake Facebook)

WYOMING – The 64th Legislature adjourned yesterday and the highlights were many during the budget session marked by bitter debates over education funding, breaking new ground with blockchain technology legislation, and steps taken to diversify Wyoming’s economy.

“We have accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time to support economic diversification, advance opportunities for innovation through blockchain technology, support critical state agency priorities, and meet our constitutional obligation to balance the budget,” said Senate president Eli Bebout. “Now we need to turn our attention to decreasing our $900 million deficit and solving our long-term spending problem. I have every confidence that the next Legislature will hold fast to our conservative values and work toward solutions that responsibly broaden our tax base and create a transparent spending policy for Wyoming agencies.”

Education falls victim spending cuts made in effort to rein in spending

The session was extended for four days after an impasse on school funding and state construction bogged down lawmakers. In the 11th hour, lawmakers pushed through a compromise where the Senate agreed to a bit more spending on state construction than it wanted, and the House had to make deeper education cuts than it wanted to.

House Bill 140 was passed yesterday and headed to the Governor’s desk. It essentially made about $27M in cuts to education over the next two years—less than half of what the Senate wanted slashed.

“This year we showed our commitment to public education, our most vulnerable citizens and to representing the conservative values and priorities of Wyoming people,” said House Speaker Steve Harshman. “It is wonderful to see important legislation for our students like statewide computer science standards, adequate funding of our K-12 and higher education systems, and important economic diversification initiatives secure passage—and we’ve solved K-12 major maintenance capital construction.”

Blockchain tech and digital money

Phew! they’re done. (Majority Site of the Wyoming Legislature)

Wyoming went a long way toward legally defining what it thinks cryptocurrency is in paving the way for blockchain technology. While most Wyoming citizens would be hard-pressed to explain Bitcoin, state lawmakers made great strides in creating a playing field for new technology even when creating some laws in opposition to federal government policy.

“We went from zero to 100 this session in the field of blockchain technology,” said House Majority Floor Leader David Miller. “This package of economic diversification legislation will cost the state nothing while bolstering our technology industry, bringing new startups and established businesses to our state and putting Wyoming on the map as a global leader in one of the most exciting and cutting-edge fields in tech. Republicans worked diligently to advance a wide set of economic diversification measures this session that will put Wyoming’s small business owners and entrepreneurs in a position to enjoy a prosperous future across a wide set of industries.”

Lawmakers stand their ground

While Wyoming may not be known as a leading innovator on the tech front, it is a state loves its guns. State lawmakers passed legislation this session to strengthen citizens’ rights to personal liberties and protection.

Republicans in particular point to the “Stand your ground” bill that passed through the House 47-11-2 on final reading, and the Senate 26-4. HB 168 establishes and modifies when defensive force can be used, when no duty to retreat exists, and provides immunity immunity from civil liability for a reasonable use of defensive force.

Governor Matt Mead yesterday announced he would neither sign the controversial bill or veto it, meaning it will become law by default on July 1, 2018.

Power of veto

It’s rare, but sometimes a bill doesn’t become a law even when a majority of those in the legislation voted for it. Governor Mead chose to exercise his power of veto once so far, nixing Leland Christensen’s SF 74 that was fashioned to protect the state against damages and cleanup costs from an incident similar to the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Pipeline.

Gov. Mead called the Critical Infrastructure bill “flawed” and “imprecisely crafted.” The Legislature was unable to override the veto after the House failed to come up with the necessary two-thirds majority to do so.