Legislature roundup: Park takeover bill, tobacco tax, minimum wage, voter ID

By BOB MOEN, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Legislation that would allow the state of Wyoming to take over operation of Yellowstone National Park and other facilities during a federal government shutdown was approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

The measure passed 17-12 and went to the House.

Under the proposal, the governor of Wyoming would be authorized to spend up to $500,000 to operate any national park or other federal facility, except military installations, within the state’s borders. Wyoming would surrender operation of any facility once a federal government shutdown ended.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Charles Scott of Casper, said a government shutdown during the summer tourist season could wreck Wyoming’s lucrative tourist industry, which is second only to energy production in bringing in tax dollars to state coffers.

Most of Yellowstone, which has attracted about 4 million visitors in each of the last four years, as well as Grand Teton National Park and Devils Tower National Monument are located in Wyoming.

“We’re going to have several years of a divided government and goodness knows what they’ll find to fight over,” Scott said. “So I think this is a reasoned and measured approach to the problem and will enable us to preserve our economy in the face of what is now a very real threat.”

It’s been nearly two weeks since the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history ended, and there’s a looming threat of another shutdown if President Donald Trump and Democrats in Washington can’t reach an agreement on border security.

Opponents of Scott’s proposal were skeptical of the idea.

“I see this operation as us throwing our weight around and kind of beating our chest, and I think the rest of country will think we’re a little bit out on a limb here,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “And we’ll probably lose more visitors to Yellowstone park than we’re going to gain when this gets out.”

Case said the proposal “sounds more like seizure” of federal facilities by the state.

The legislation originally used the word “seize,” but those references were removed before the Senate approved the measure.

Other developments this week in Cheyenne

Tobacco tax

A bill that would have increased Wyoming’s tax on cigarettes by 50 cents a pack has failed in the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 282 was defeated Wednesday on a 33-24 vote.

Wyoming currently levies a tax of 60 cents a pack on cigarettes. As originally introduced, the bill had proposed to raise the state tax to $1.10 per pack.

In addition, the proposal would have subjected electronic cigarettes to state taxes.

A separate bill that would have increased cigarette taxes by $1 a pack also failed earlier in the House Revenue Committee.

Voter ID bill

The Wyoming House of Representatives has defeated a proposed measure to require voters to present photo identification before being allowed to cast a ballot.

House Bill 192 failed on a 30-29 vote Wednesday.

Under the bill proposed by Casper Republican Chuck Gray, voters would be required to show a “current, valid photo identification before voting.”

Proponents argued that the measure would help ensure the integrity of elections in the state by preventing voter fraud, while opponents said there isn’t a problem with voter fraud in Wyoming.

Separately, the chamber passed on a 41-18 vote a bill that would no longer allow members of a major political party to switch their party affiliation on the day of a primary election. Unaffiliated voters could still make the switch on primary election day.

Minimum wage increase

A measure that would have increased the minimum wage in Wyoming has died on the floor of the state House of Representatives.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that House Bill 273, sponsored by House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly, of Laramie, failed on its first reading by a 36-23 vote Monday.

In its original form, the bill would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. While state law sets the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour supersedes the state rate for the vast majority of workplaces.

Connolly argued that raising the state’s minimum wage would help restore the dignity of work for those struggling to get by.

But opponents say government should let the free market decide rates of pay.

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The Associated Press

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