This month, I challenge you to look ahead to the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 Budget Session.  I also want to touch briefly on uncollected ad-valorem taxes due to counties (I’ve covered this in detail before).

One thing I have always appreciated about Wyoming is that we have a citizen legislature that doesn’t meet all year – our legislators are expected to have regular jobs and careers just like the rest of us.  Contrast this with Washington, D.C., where each day brings a new legislative crisis, or the many states that meet for months, and it makes you appreciate the state we all call home.

The Wyoming Legislature meets each year, with odd-number years being General Sessions (think general bills/law consideration) and even-number years being a Budget Session.  As a rule, General Sessions are 40 days and Budget Sessions are 20.  In actuality, it is stipulated that the Legislature can meet for “not more than 60 days every two years”, but the 40/20 rule is pretty well understood.  This year’s Budget Session begins at 10 a.m. on February 12, 2018 with the Governor’s State of the State Address.  Those interested in listening to the Legislature deliberate, or to any of the many committee meetings, can find information for streaming audio on the Legislature’s website at legisweb.state.wy.us.  There, you can also find a listing of your Senators and Representatives and submitted bills, with a history of the activities of each.  Given that this is a Budget Session, non-budget bills require a two-thirds (2/3) vote to be introduced.

As I write this piece, there are only 122 bills listed, with the majority of those bills being sponsored by committees.  However, given that we are still a month shy of the Budget Session beginning, you can expect that there will be a lot of additional bills dropped in at the last minute.

For this month’s publication, I want to briefly discuss some of the bills available now and offer My Thoughts on each.  With that said, as citizens of Wyoming, we each have a civic responsibility to be involved in our government.  Here, I only touch on a few bills… take the time to see what else is out there.

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This month’s “Markism”, not to be confused with “Marxism”, is about citizen involvement in government.  “If you don’t participate, you don’t show up, you don’t comment, and you don’t talk to your representatives, then you don’t get to complain.”  I have substituted ‘complain’ for a word that doesn’t belong in this publication.  The following bills are ones in which I have some personal interest, or find to be unique.  It’s up to you to research any others.

HB0008 Stalking revisions.  This bill was introduced by the Judiciary Committee and adds language to the crime of stalking to add fear for the stalked person’s safety or another person’s safety, and fear for the destruction of property.  It also bumps up the maximum imprisonment time from six months to one year, and provides that if the court were to put the person on probation that probation could extend for up to three years.  There is additional language to determine where the crime was committed and what entity has jurisdiction, as well as some changes to language for orders of protection.  This is a good bill.  Since Wyoming has limited laws related to bullying and/or intimidation, with the stalking provisions being the only laws that can sometimes be applied, the revisions to this statute could help.

HB0012 Speeding fines amendments. This bill was also introduced by the Judiciary Committee and its primary purpose is to simplify the code used to calculate how much a speeding fine costs.  According to research by the Casper Star Tribune, “The current bond schedule consists of nine different speeding categories, depending on where the driver is clocked.  Those categories range from unpaved roadways to urban districts to school zones and a single category can consist of up to 40 different bond amounts.”

The proposed language would replace the existing schedule with a new one of just three categories and adjust the amount paid based upon the speed over the limit that was being traveled.  It has a general category, construction and school zone categories, and an additional section related strictly to repeat offenses in school zones.

Though I believe in simplifying a ridiculously complex system, I’m not sure I personally like the end result.  The new setup is based upon the miles per hour over the limit you are going, without an adjustment for whether that is in town or on the highway.  If you’re driving 10 miles per hour over the limit in a town with a 30 mile per hour speed limit, I believe it has a bigger effect than driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit on an interstate with an 80 mile per hour speed limit.  Independent analysis has shown that, in most situations, the fines for speeding will go down.  As someone who has sped in the past – and been ticketed – I can appreciate paying less money.  However, I also believe that part of the incentive not to speed is not to have to pay a high fine.  For some categories, fines will remain pretty close to the same, though fines where people are speeding in lower speed areas, like cities and towns, will go down.

Mark’s Recommendation: add something to account for differences between highways and town streets.  Then, move forward with simplification.

HB0013 Municipal extraterritorial jurisdiction – repeal. This bill was introduced by the Corporations Committee, but I should also note that the extraterritorial jurisdiction for cities has been limited substantially within the last five years.  This particular bill eliminates the extraterritorial jurisdiction entirely.  For this bill, we also need some history… and I feel I should let you know that I’m a little biased as issues of extraterritorial jurisdiction are often one of the bigger disputes between cities and counties.

Now, imagine that you live in Wyoming during our territorial days, back before statehood, and you’re the mayor of a town.  Extraterritorial jurisdiction provided you the flexibility to say, “Hey, your wagon train has Spanish Flu and you are prohibited from entering within five miles of town.”  The jurisdiction was originally necessary to protect towns from other people bringing in disease, and for other oversight reasons.  Moving forward to the 2000s, we have seen pretty significant advancements in health care and medicine.  We also no longer have wagon trains… Unfortunately, these old rules within the Wyoming Statutes regarding extraterritorial jurisdiction are still on the books.

Enter a very creative Wyoming city.  Given that broad language exists concerning an area of five miles around the city limits, let’s pass an ordinance that says those landowners have to handle their garbage in a particular way – a particular way that is very beneficial to us.  Of course, there was a lot of feedback on this proposal.  However, the laws in the books allowed for it to happen.

 

Because of this, in 2013, the Wyoming Legislature eliminated the broad five-mile health and safety extraterritorial jurisdiction.  Rules which required joint subdivision approval within one mile of an incorporated city remained on the books, as well as an option that allowed property within one-half (1/2) mile of the city limits to be subject to city ordinances on all but taxation, so long as those ordinances and their application to non-city residents were not overruled by the county commissioners.  This still didn’t sit well with some because people who are subject to the ordinances with one-half (1/2) mile aren’t allowed to vote for the people who are creating the ordinances that govern them.  It is also similar with regards to subdivisions, because the cities can effectively veto a subdivision within one mile of the city limits, and the owner isn’t allowed to vote for the people running that organization.

I believe there are benefits to joint planning with regard to allotting space for major roadways, options for common infrastructure, infrastructure efficiencies, and subdivision review.  Though, I will say that in the past some of our city cousins have pushed too far.  Unfortunately, the momentum is now against them.  This bill would eliminate all city extraterritorial jurisdiction, and I’m guessing it has a pretty good chance of passing.  Personally, I would prefer a bill that eliminated the extraterritorial jurisdiction, but requires consultation between cities and counties for property within the one-mile radius of the city.  Consultation is good – veto powers over an area where the people affected are unable to vote for their representatives is not.

HB0014 Municipal jurisdiction. Another bill, introduced by the Corporations Committee leaves in place law that allows for city extraterritorial jurisdiction in all matters except taxation, so long as they have approval for the ordinance from the county.  It also says that cities no longer need to approve development plans within one mile so long as the county has an officially-adopted, comprehensive plan.  Though a different way of getting there, this bill has the same end result as HB0013 – it eliminates extraterritorial jurisdiction.  To this point, many counties have been attempting to negotiate a compromise for months, perhaps something like I have proposed above, but these talks have been stalled.  It is my belief the cities want to try and prevent the proposed bills from becoming law so nothing changes.  Of course, I would recommend they look for a compromise instead.  I think there is a very good chance one of the two proposed bills will become law, and under both scenarios, cities are in a much worse position than that which could likely be negotiated if they were sitting at the table.

HB0019 Wyoming Money Transmitter Act — virtual currency exemption. Sponsored by Representatives Miller, Biteman, Brown, Clem, and Lindholm, and Senator Bebout, this bill provides exemptions from Wyoming’s Money Transmitter Act for virtual currency.  I’ve not yet personally jumped on the virtual currency train, ultimately wanting to see how it ends up being regulated and which of the hundreds of different currencies currently traded end up king.  That said, I do think we need an exemption to allow people to buy, sell, and hold it in Wyoming.  The Cowboy State is one of very few states whose laws currently make it impossible for people to do so, and because of that, some of the more reputable virtual currency firms and exchanges will not operate or engage in transactions with people from Wyoming.  Therefore, exempting virtual currency makes sense and should be done.  In something as quickly changing and unregulated as virtual currency, we want to make sure our citizens can do business with the most reputable firms.

HB0045 Mountain daylight time. This bill, sponsored by Representatives Laursen, Allen, Clem, Lindholm, and Miller, and Senators Case, Driskill, and Von Flatern, would have Wyoming apply to the federal government to move from Mountain Standard Time to Central Standard Time, and then no longer observe Daylight Savings Time.  Basically, Wyoming would be in Daylight Savings Time all of the time, but it would be accomplished by switching time zones.  I think it could be weird for people for a small period of time, and that we will likely get a lot of national news, but this is something I would love to see done.  Personally, I hate moving from Daylight Savings Time back to standard time.  Previous attempts to accomplish this didn’t go anywhere.  Hopefully, this bill has better luck.

HB0048 Cruelty to animals — penalties. Upfront, I must say that this is a good bill.  Sponsored by Representatives Gierau, Barlow, Blake, Bovee, Brown, and Connolly, and Senators Anselmi-Dalton and Baldwin; the bill would raise the maximum fine for cruelty to animals from $750 up to $2,500, with the existing potential imprisonment of not more than six months, and change the fine for any subsequent offense from not more than $5,000 to $10,000, with the same existing potential imprisonment of not more than one year.  Aggravated cruelty to animals is a felony, and for that the potential fine would be raised from $5,000 to $10,000, with the existing potential imprisonment of not more than two years being left unchanged.

SF0029 Education-computer science and computational thinking. Sponsored by the Education Committee, this bill would add Computer Science to the common core of knowledge for Wyoming students.  Computational thinking and computer applications would replace keyboarding and computer applications within the common core skillset.  The addition of Computer Science to Wyoming’s curriculum is a positive.  My hope is that the school districts do it right.  Computer Science should be taught as concepts and skills: how to think and how to write code, and how code should be architected.  My fear is that school districts will interpret this as teaching HTML – which isn’t coding, and also not what our students need. They need skills that translate into gainful employment opportunities.

Though I have no problem with the bill’s proposal to allow for a year of Computer Science to count towards one year’s science requirement, I disagree with allowing it to count towards one year’s math requirement.  Studies show that skipping a year of math before college slows a student down, and puts them behind for college-level math.  Also, sound training in this field recognizes the importance of teaching mathematics.  Mark’s recommendation: take out the ability to offset a year of math with computer science and move it forward.

SF0037 Purple Heart Day and State. Submitted by the Transportation, Highways & Military Affairs Interim Committee, this bill would recognize August 7 as Purple Heart Day.  A nice tribute to Purple Heart recipients, I believe that this bill should be moved forward.  In addition, it would designate Wyoming as a Purple Heart State.

Often, bills are introduced which leave me going, ‘hmmm’.  Given that we are in the midst of an economic decline and have had to make major adjustments to state budgets, I was surprised to see a bill declaring pornography within the State of Wyoming as a public health crisis and a similar bill to designate the Model 83, .454 Casull, as the State Revolver of Wyoming, under consideration – especially during a Budget Session.  I realize these bills are largely symbolic, but…  A bill that is missing, which I have repeatedly advocated for in the past, would help to fill the gaps so counties could better collect ad-valorem taxes due from mineral producers.

Ad-Valorem Taxes Due Counties. As my regular readers know, I have repeatedly addressed within this editorial the need for revisions to mineral statutes for ad-valorem taxes.  To this end, a few weeks ago the Powder River Basin Resource Council put together a report showing over $42 million in unpaid ad-valorem taxes due counties in Wyoming.  This was contrasted with the State of Wyoming being owed less than $3 million.  Much of the reason for this difference in amounts collected has to do with timing of payments and differences between when payments are due to the state for severance taxes and when payments are due to counties for ad-valorem taxes.

One attempt was made last year to improve the position of counties, after having been brought for consideration previous years as well.  This bill would have put counties at the same level for mineral tax liens as they are for other property.  Right now, the property taxes on your real property (e.g. your home) are superior to every other lien, with the exception of liens from the federal government and the State of Wyoming.  Ad-valorem taxes on minerals (the property tax on minerals), however, are subordinate to interests of a bona fide creditor (i.e. financier).

The Powder River Basin Resource Council actually makes a number of solid recommendations – some of which counties and others have suggested previously.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the source of the information may hurt the effort of the data’s research, and its recommendations.  Everybody knows that the Powder River Basin Resource Council is not friendly to minerals, so very few in state government look seriously at their recommendations on mineral taxes.  I hope that other groups will take an interest in this information – recognizing the importance of these funds to local government and schools.  But, for the time being, the current report and recommendations from the Powder River Basin Resource Council makes for potentially strange bedfellows.

With another Legislative Session on the 2019 horizon, I remain optimistic that the legislature will find and move forward good bills addressing this issue at that time.  Until then, we can only hope for our mineral companies to pay their ad-valorem taxes in a timely manner.

I hope that you enjoy reading this editorial.  This issue of 82717 is all about “love” and I want people to know, that while we may disagree on topics and points of view from time-to-time, I do truly love this community and want it to succeed.  I believe you all feel the same way.

Mr. Christensen is a Gillette real estate developer, owner of a holding company which owns this publication, and member of the Campbell County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Christensen is married with two children and lives in Gillette. He has a B.S. in Finance from the University of Wyoming and a M.S. in Real Estate and Construction Management from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

Mr. Christensen’s opinions do not reflect the opinions of this publication, the boards upon which he sits, or any organizations or agencies referenced within his comments.