CHEYENNE – State lawmakers turned off the lights, packed up their desks and headed home last week after just a little more than 35 days in session.
In the midst of covering more than 500 bills, joint resolutions and some contentious late-night debates, there were more than a few important pieces of legislation that weren’t covered as thoroughly as we’d have liked.
What follows is a few bills from the 65th Wyoming Legislature’s general session that might not have made it into the daily wrap-ups, but still were of significance.
House Bill 171 – Hemp, cannabidiol and other controlled-substance regulation
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, will put Wyoming on track to be a part of the burgeoning hemp industry. Passed in the last week of the session, the bill allows for hemp to be grown in the state, along with the production and sale of hemp-based products, including ones containing CBD oil.
While hemp is a cannabis plant, unlike marijuana, hemp doesn’t contain significant amount of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. HB 171 sets the limit for the amount of THC that can be in hemp grown in Wyoming at 0.3 percent, the same limit included in last year’s Farm Bill passed by Congress on the federal level.
If Gov. Mark Gordon signs the bill, the next step would be for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to create regulations and testing methods for hemp and hemp products.
Senate File 134 – Severance tax-exemptions
A bill to give tax breaks for oil companies looking to rejuvenate closed wells died on the final night of the Legislature.
Senate File 134, sponsored by Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, underwent a series of significant changes between the Senate and House versions, trying to gain enough support for passage.
But in the late hours of the final day of the session, the bill died when the two bodies couldn’t come to an agreement on just how much of a break oil and gas companies should receive to encourage development.
Supporters said the bill’s intent was to give tax breaks to encourage energy companies to invest in reopening closed wells. Oil has long been one of the biggest drivers of the state’s revenues, and backers of SF 134 said the breaks could help eventually bring in new revenues to the state.
But opponents saw it as a way to cut energy companies a break without much of a benefit to the state’s bottom line.
House Bill 60 – Underage marriage-exceptions repeal
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, would have made Wyoming one of only a few states that bans marriage for anyone under 18. But the legislation failed on a final vote in the House of Representatives by five votes at the end of January.
HB 60 would have prevented anyone under the age of 18 from being married. Wyoming law sets the legal age for marriage at 16, but allows for a child younger than that to get married if given approval by a parent or guardian and approved by a judge.
But the bill met significant resistance from some legislators and outside groups who were worried about infringing on parental and religious rights. Some arguments against the bill centered around teenage pregnancy, children born out of wedlock and preventing governmental overreach.
Supporters of the bill pointed out that in the vast majority of cases, underage marriages are between girls and men over 21, and lead to instances of abuse and poverty.
House Bill 235 – Care of Animals
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, HB 235 creates felony charges for animal abuse that result in death or euthanasia of the animal. Currently, felony charges only exist for abuse tied to animal fighting.
The bill experienced some significant changes temporarily in the back-and-forth between the House and the Senate. During the Senate process, all of the felony charges for abuse were stripped out of the bill, only leaving in a provision that if someone was convicted of domestic abuse, a judge could prohibit that person from owning or caring for an animal.
But the House rejected the removal of felony animal abuse charges, and eventually both sides were able to agree on a narrowly tailored felony charge for serious incidents of animal abuse.
Senate File 49 – County zoning authority-private schools
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, and passed this past week, will prevent county commissioners from creating special zoning regulations for private schools. The legislation means private schools will be allowed the same zoning exemptions public schools have from county regulations.
Senate File 49 was one of the big bills pushed by Foster Friess, the GOP mega-donor and former gubernatorial candidate. His son, Steve Friess, funds the Jackson Hole Classical Academy, which had been prevented from building a new campus by the Teton County commissioners. The plans had been rejected based on the size of the planned campus.
The Wyoming County Commissioners Association had opposed the bill on the grounds it took control away from locally elected officials. Supporters saw it as a way to keep private and public schools on a level playing field.