Spring is in the air in the Powder River Basin! After some rough storms and a long winter, we are seeing our lamb and calf crops taking shape and the grass beginning to grow along with the temperature. It is also a time for a new start in the Wyoming Legislature. After a brief pause following the 2022 Budget Session, the legislature is already beginning the process of getting ready for the 2023 General Session.
Last month, the chairmen of the 10 standing committees and 8 select committees presented their plans for the interim work of the legislature. All of these committees received their directives from the Management Council, which consists primarily of legislative leadership.
The interim is the rest of the year outside of the month or two the legislature is in session. This time is an excellent opportunity to tackle more complex issues. This is especially true for topics which require a large amount of public input. After all, the legislative process - at its best - is ultimately one of bringing different communities and interests together to agree on a shared path forward. We do this by offering plenty of communication about the topics being considered and by holding these meetings in different locations across the state.
I have the honor of cochairing the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee. I also cochair the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee, the Select Natural Resource Funding Committee and am Vice Chairman for the Management Audit Committee. These committees will be working hard to ensure our natural resource based economy is positioned to thrive even in the face of challenges on multiple fronts.
The priority for the Agriculture Committee will be state land leasing issues. This promises to be a complicated topic given the significant breadth of expertise required for managing our state lands. Even as we expect this agency to administer numerous grant programs, our lands have become increasingly challenging to manage with increasing competition for these resources between some of our top industries.
The committee will also be looking at other issues important to agriculture. We will cover topics as diverse as veterinary technicians, wild horse management and the definitions of fencing and livestock in our statutes. Our overall focus remains supporting and enhancing all aspects of our third largest industry and I know we will continue to move the ball forward in pursuit of this goal.
The Management Audit Committee will continue with our responsibilities to audit state government programs and processes. This year we will be auditing the state contracting process. There is a significant amount of public funds which flow into the private sector through these contracts. It is vital that taxpayers know their money is being well spent while still offering state agencies the flexibility needed to do their jobs in a reasonable fashion. We will also be receiving updates from the agencies which are under our supervision – Administration and Information, Enterprise Technology Services and the Public Funds Division of the Department of Audit.
The Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee will be very busy once again this year. It is no secret that the federal government is actively undermining some of our most important industries. While there is often little the state can do directly to effect changes in federal policy, we can have some influence in how that policy in implemented in this state.
One way we do this is by offering a public venue to highlight permits and other activity which requires federal approval that has fallen through the cracks. These things happen on occasion and if there is no legitimate reason for delay, this is one way the committee can reduce the amount of time it takes for permits to move through the federal process.
Additionally, the committee can sponsor legislation that relates to federal policy. One topic you can count on for the committee is how to counteract the changes to the federal oil and gas leasing program. The committee attempted to do this last year by sponsoring a bill that would have refunded the state’s portion of any increase in the federal mineral royalty rate. While the bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin, it died in the House Minerals Committee without so much as a vote. While I was disappointed in the outcome, I realize that the federal action to increase the royalty rate had not yet happened at that point. As we continue to assess the damaged effects of the Biden Administration’s policies have had on our oil and gas industry, this policy option will continue to be in the mix.
The Select Natural Resource Funding Committee will continue its oversight of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust. This state agency has been a significant success story of proactively preserving and enhancing our environment. From conservation easements to invasive species treatment, this is one of the most efficient and productive activities state government accomplishes.
As always, we need your input. While we appreciate coming with solutions, not just problems, the strength of our interim process is in the input we get from the public. To see the schedule of these meetings, check out the following link: