Legislative Update – Feb. 28, March 1-2
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Sunday, the 28th of February, the eve of our month-long, in-person segment of the 2021 General Session. We will be debating a multitude of bills in the next month, but our state agency budget and K-12 funding will be the most important topics we discuss.
The new administration in Washington, D.C., has put a moratorium on leasing of mineral rights on federal lands and has even made it tough to work existing leases on federal land. Rightfully so, Wyomingites want to push back on these new federal policies. HB0141, Transfer of Federal Lands, was likely drafted in response to this federal overreach. HB0141 would require the federal government to extinguish title to all public lands in Wyoming and transfer title of those public lands to the state of Wyoming.
While this may seem like a just response, it would never happen and it would have unintended consequences for all of us who live, work and recreate on or near federal lands. Forcing the federal government to transfer all public lands to the state has no basis in law. In fact, Wyoming’s Act of Admission to statehood and our Constitution explicitly prohibit this concept.
The Wyoming Act of Admission, Section 12, states, “The state of Wyoming shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided in this act; and the lands granted by this section shall be held, appropriated and disposed of exclusively for the purposes herein mentioned, in such manner as the legislature of the state may provide.”
There is a conflicting statement in Section 7 of the Act of Admission, but legal experts believe that this Section 12 would rule.
In the unlikely event that a court holds that Section 7 of the Wyoming Act of Admission requires the federal government to dispose of all federal public lands within the state, state legislation requiring that the federal government transfer that land to ownership of the state of Wyoming would likely be unconstitutional under Article 21, Section 26, of the Wyoming Constitution.
This section in part states: “The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof, and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes, and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States and that said Indian lands shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the Congress of the United States.”
Even if Wyoming were successful in this effort, how would we maintain all the existing rights and privileges that exist on the public lands by Wyoming citizens and companies? What would happen to federal grazing privileges, oil and gas exploration rights, public access rights and a myriad of other special use permits that have been granted on these lands? Could the state afford to manage these lands, or would it be forced to sell them? Too many unanswered questions in my mind.
This bill seems clearly unconstitutional, even though I understand why the sponsors wanted to push back against our federal landlords.
Today was the first day of our in-person segment of the 2021 General Session. It felt good to be back in the Capitol with the rest of the 66th Legislature. Today, Leadership of the House gave speeches to set the tone for upcoming days. These speeches are usually given on the day of the leadership elections, but we chose to wait until we were in person. Read my speech on my website, www.albertsommers.com, under 2021 Legislative Updates.
We debated 17 bills in Committee of the Whole today. Among them was HB0020, Driver's License Requirements - Visual Acuity, which will allow the Wyoming Department of Transportation to create visual requirements for drivers through rule making, instead of having the requirements in statute. This will allow the Department more flexibility to react to situations that may arise.
HB0041, Intrastate Crowdfunding Exemption - Amendments, expands the amount of money that can be generated in Wyoming through crowdfunding.
I cosponsored HB0075, Voter Fraud - Prevention, which establishes that an ID is required to vote. The bringer of this bill worked with county clerks, Secretary of State and the AARP to get an acceptable bill drafted. Past attempts have failed, because past bills did not account for older people who do not have Wyoming IDs. Some work still needs to be done on this bill, and it is a long process to the finish line.
HB0086, Off-Road Recreational Vehicles Registration Authorized, would allow dirt bikes to get license plates similar to ATVs, for use on public roads, if they meet certain safety requirements. All 17 bills passed COW today, including the ones mentioned above.
Wyoming and this nation have gone through a tumultuous time during this pandemic. Today, Gov. Gordon and Chief Justice Davis gave the State of State and State of Courts addresses. Both are leaders of their respective arms of state government, and they spoke to the challenges and opportunities that Wyoming is facing and will face in the years ahead.
Tomorrow, March 4, will be the last day bills can be numbered and made available for introduction in House. As of tonight, there are 230 House bills or joint resolutions numbered for potential introduction. The types of bills runs the gamut including social issue bills like abortion, gun rights and marijuana legalization. There is a full spectrum of tax bills including sales tax, property tax and income tax. There are also bills that amend how public health emergencies would be handled in Wyoming.
There are more types of bills than I have space to discuss, but I encourage Sublette County citizens to visit https://www.wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2021 to view the legislation that is before the Legislature.
The House passed only two bills out of Committee of the Whole today.
HB0038, Community Behavioral Health - Priority Populations, creates a priority list for community mental-health providers who rely on state funding. Should Wyoming force community health providers to prioritize certain populations over others, or should the state allow those experts in the communities to make those prioritizations? Should Wyoming focus on the most challenged mental-health clients, or does treating patients with the early signs of mental-health trauma provide a bigger bang for the buck?
I have not decided what my final vote on this bill will be, but I am leaning against the state making those prioritizations and in favor of the judgment of local mental-health professionals. HB0039, which is my Optometrist Practice Act Amendments bill, would expand the practice act for optometrists and allow them to do certain noninvasive laser surgeries. Rural Wyoming needs to give these eye-care professionals as many tools in their toolbox as their education provides for. The bill passed COW, but there was considerable debate about whether optometrists should be given authority to conduct laser surgeries.
I can be reached at [email protected] with questions or comments