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Legislative Twilight Zone

The sun has set on the 2021 Wyoming Legislature General Session. Another short session is expected in July to distribute federal funding from the America's Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). That infusion of funding allowed the Legislature to postpone addressing the structural funding shortfall for both Education and State operations. Final disposition of all 441 numbered bills along with summaries of Status, Category and Sponsor as Final 2021 Session Bill Tracker.

There were 12 bills outstanding at the start of the last day, evenly split between House Bills and Senate Files. The conference committee reports reconciling the differences were adopted for all but three. As expected, the K-12 Block Funding and non-traditional student programs had irreconcilable differences that reflected the separate approaches of each body.

The major differences that could not be overcome in HB0173 - School Finance Funding -2 were the rejection of the House's half penny conditional sales tax and the Senate's deeper cuts that included removing health insurance coverage for "ghost employees" while increasing the teacher pay levels. This leaves the block funding appropriation from the 2020 Budget session unchanged with an additional $303M from ARPA.

Two separate approaches to non-traditional student ended up in a single bill SF0127 - Wyoming learn while you earn program when Rep Harshman successfully amended in the entirety of his HB0165 - Wyoming's tomorrow scholarship program after it failed in the Senate. Both provided funding to support older working students in successful career changes. The endowment established for the Wyoming's Tomorrow Scholarship was unacceptable to the Senate.

There were notable successes in many areas including removing remnants of racism in real estate unenforceable covenants, limited but essential immunity amendments for businesses in public health emergencies, COVID business relief program for Agriculture and establishing Medicaid billing for school-based services. Wyoming was the only state that did not use federal funds for billable special education services but instead covered 100% from state funds.

And of course there were the usual host of bills on gun rights, abortion, elections, federal over-reach, protecting coal, oil and gas as well as the new topic of public health order restrictions. At least one bill successfully made it through to the Governor's desk in each of these. After several years of unsuccessful attempts, Voter Identification passed with collaboration from county clerks, AARP and other concerned parties. Changing the catch title from Voter Fraud Prevention to reflect the high level of election integrity in the state helped as did the boost from 2020 election dramas in other states.

The Supplemental Budget sailed through the legislature after word of the expected windfall from ARPA was received. The Governor's Recommended Budget included reduction of $500M; the final budget included $430M in cuts, eliminates 324 state positions and sets the size of state government at the lowest level since the early 2000s. The legislature restored funding in specific areas for the University of Wyoming, community colleges and the Wyoming Department of Health for seniors, disabled, low income and mental health services. Without addressing the systemic deficit caused by the reliance on the declining extractive industry, these cuts can be expected to occur at a later date.

The bills that failed in the process are as interesting as those that were successful. Perhaps the most controversial was the Medicaid Expansion bill that died in the Senate Labor Committee. For the first time in the perennial attempts for expansion, senior leadership in Appropriations, Revenue and the House supported the effort. An added fiscal incentive that reduced existing state share for current Medicaid by 5 points more than covered the additional costs to pick up 10% of the expansion for 25,000 working poor that fall in the gap. Wyoming hospital right off $100M in unrecoverable debt from health care provided in emergency rooms. They are prohibited from turning away patients without health coverage.

The Management Council (without the changes to membership that take effect on 1 January 2023) meets on Friday, April 16th to approve Interim Committee Topics. The meeting will be held in person and on line.

The 2022 Budget Session will convene on 2/12/2022 at 10:00am. Besides the budget, constitutionally mandated re-districting must be completed. The arduous task, albeit easier in Wyoming due to a single Congressional district, will be made that much more difficult due to the delay in 2020 Census data now expected in the fall rather than the spring.

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