Feb 19, 2015

Northrup, Laursen support $12.5M in assistance for local governments

A pair of Powell legislators said they are confident a $12.5 million infusion of state dollars will be provided to counties, cities and towns this year.

State Reps. David Northrup, R-District 50, and Dan Laursen, R-25, both Republicans, said Gov. Matt Mead had pledged $25 million for local governments during his 2014 campaign for a second term. The Legislature has since cut that figure in half.

Some of the two dozen people who attended the one-hour meeting at Hansel & Gretel’s were concerned that the figure, once cut in half, may be eliminated entirely. The House will examine the request as budget amendment; work on that started Tuesday.

“Oh, it’ll go through,” Northrup said. “It’ll go through the House. I don’t know about the Senate.”

Mayor Don Hillman said local governments would welcome the assistance.

“Well, we appreciate anything we can get,” Hillman said. “There’s certainly a need for it.”

He said Park County governments cannot be as “progressive” as they once were, and instead try to keep things operating with the dollars that are available.

“We’re in survival mode, and we’re maintaining,” Hillman said.

Republican Representatives Dan Laursen (at right) and David Northrup of Powell talked about their work in the Legislature at meetings in Cody and Powell.
The legislators came home during a four-day break over the Presidents Day holiday weekend. It’s the middle of the session, as bills that passed in the House head to the Senate and vice versa.
In other topics from the town hall:

• Northrup and Larsen have different views and cast differing votes on House Bill 114, the Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act. It passed the House on a 42-17 vote on Feb. 2.

Northrup of Powell and Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, whose district contains areas in rural Powell, voted against it, while Laursen and Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, supported it.

Northrup said he based his vote on beliefs he forged while serving on the Park County School District No. 1 board.

Laursen said he voted for it because of his interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Northrup’s wife, Astrid Northrup, said she had a different take on the bill and the Second Amendment.

She said the constitutional amendment is designed to protect gun owners from intrusion by the federal government and this bill focuses on state and personal issues.

Astrid Northrup works at Northwest College, and she it has an “integrated safety plan” that is effective on weapons. NWC President Stefani Hicswa, who has lobbied Big Horn Basin legislators to oppose the law, was at the meeting.

Laursen listened to what his colleague’s wife had to say but he shook his head and said he still disagrees with her on it.

• Mike Specht, who owns Dragon Fighters, a Clark firefighting firm, said state money budgeted for firefighting should be spent on Wyoming firms.

Instead, $54 million that was budgeted for firefighting efforts in 2013 was almost exclusively spent on reimbursing federal agencies or hiring firms from other states and from Israel, Specht said. Wyoming used to have five private firefighting companies, he said; now it has three.

Specht said talk of supporting small businesses is not backed up by action.

“If they think that about my business, what do they think about your business?” he asked the crowd.

Northrup said he has broached the subject with the state forestry office but they are “very reluctant” to change their hiring practices. Specht said there is a lot of “fraud and abuse” in how fires are managed and fought.

Northrup said the process is to use the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to fight fires. But he said Specht should have been allowed to stamp out a fire that erupted by his house in Clark

“And that’s what’s wrong,” Northrup said. “If you’re the closest to the fire, get it out, is the way I feel.”

• The state tax on beer, which was 2 cents per gallon, was proposed to be raised to 17 cents. It had not been hiked in more than 80 years.

Instead, Northrup said, the Legislature decided to repeal the tax. It brought in less than $300,000 last year, he said, and caused paperwork headaches for businesses.

“It was more hassle than it was worth,” he said.

• Northrup said four bills that proposed tax increases were introduced, and all are dead.
Three died in committee and one on the House floor.

• A bill to set aside $100,000 to study converting federal land in Wyoming to state control is a waste of money, Northrup said.
Senate File 56 passed by a resounding 26-4 vote in the Senate and has moved over to the House. Northrup said he has concerns about “billionaires buying up land” from the state, so he opposes it.

• Northrup introduced an amendment to the budget bill to change a bill proposing a four-year adjunct to the University of Wyoming studying business and environmental science. The original bill called for locating the facility in Jackson; he changed that to Powell, but his amendment failed Tuesday.

• Money for University of Wyoming projects is moving through the Legislature easily, the lawmakers said.

Phil Nicholas, the president of the Senate, and Kermit Brown, the speaker of the House, are both from Laramie, they noted. A proposal for a new facility to enhance UW athletics, including a special dining room, will pass, Northrup said.

“The University of Wyoming is getting everything they want this year,” he said.

• Several people wanted to discuss the federal government’s spending habits with the state officials.
Both representatives said they supported a bill to mandate that the federal government, which is operating with an $18 trillion debt, balance its budget. It passed the House and is now headed for the Senate.

Northrup and Laursen said they support calling for a convention of the states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ordering Congress to balance the budget. To be called, 34 states, or two-thirds, would have to support the concept; then 38 states, or three-quarters of them, would have to approve the amendment to add it to the Constitution.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a run for president in 2016, spoke on the subject in Cheyenne last month.

While there is some concern that a constitutional convention could become a runaway engine altering the American government, Laursen and Northrup said delegates sent to a convention of states — not a constitutional convention — would be legally prevented from that happening.

They would be guilty of a felony for going off-topic, they said, and would face a $7,500 fine and up to 10 years in prison. If they attempt to consider another issue, they are recalled and cannot take part in the convention.

• The House provided funding for the state Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, to study science standards.

A footnote in a bill last year defunded research on science standards over concerns about imposing Common Core Standards. This money, if approved by the Senate, will allow them to “do their job,” Northrup said.

• Northrup co-authored a bill with Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, to allow farmers to operate most farm equipment without having to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The bill also loosens restrictions on firefighters, the military and people operating recreational vehicle.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee first looked at the issue, which would return the CDL policy to the way it was years ago, but then the Senate “substituted” the bill Northrup and Sommers wrote.

The Senate passed it as a committee bill. It is now coming to the House, and it has an excellent chance of passage there, Northrup said.

• Hansel & Gretel’s owner Brock Ninker asked if more gambling could be allowed in bars.

He said if he could offer poker and blackjack, he would make more money and could give his employees raises. Right now, the bar allows private games to be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with occasional tournaments.

The legislators said they had not heard of efforts to expand gaming.

Questions about the Wyoming Lottery, which was launched last year, were asked, and Northrup and Laursen deferred to former Rep. Dave Bonner, the Powell Tribune publisher and a member of the WyoLotto board.

Bonner said the board decided to pay back the $2.6 million it borrowed to begin operations — it receives no state funding — before paying money to schools and local governments.

But he said revenues were on track.

“It’s going great,” Bonner said.

• Hicswa said she appreciates the efforts of the legislators and their willingness to “listen to the Big Horn Basin.”

Laursen and Northrup headed for Cody for a second town hall in the morning. Eight people showed up and many of the same topics were explored, Northrup said.

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