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Betsy DeVos to visit Casper, Wind River Reservation on Tuesday as part of nationwide tour

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit schools in Casper and on the Wind River Reservation on Tuesday on her first stop of a six-state tour.

The trip is part of her “Rethink School” tour, according to a education department press release. The goal of the visits is to “showcase creative ways in which education leaders are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education.”

DeVos will visit Woods Learning Center between 8:30 and 10 a.m. She’ll be at St. Stephens Indian High School on the reservation from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in the press release. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”

The tour will also include stops in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana.

Jane Ifland, the coordinator for progressive group Indivisible Casper, said the group is planning a protest of DeVos’ visit. She mentioned DeVos’ support for voucher schools, DeVos’ support for guns in schools and what Ifland called DeVos’ attacks on Title IX programs as reasons for the protest.

During her confirmation hearings, DeVos famously said schools in Wyoming may have guns to protect them from grizzly bears. Ifland said there may be some “ironic grizzlies” at the protest, meaning people dressed in bear costumes.

“These core policies have failed in Detroit,” Ifland said of voucher programs. “We already have tried this, and it doesn’t work.”

Previously a Michigan-based philanthropist, DeVos has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and school choice in the past. Wyoming has a handful of such institutions, though none is in Casper. A proposal to open a charter school here was shot down by the Natrona County School District board of trustees last year.

Natrona County is a district of choice, meaning students and families can decide which school within the county they want to attend, regardless of where they live.

Ifland said she wasn’t sure how many people would participate in the protest. Because the visit was announced in an education department release on Monday morning — less than 24 hours ahead of DeVos’ visit — Ifland criticized how DeVos’ trip was been handled and accused her of “sneaking” into Casper.

Kari Eakins, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Education, said officials found out a couple of weeks ago there was a chance DeVos would visit Wyoming. Last week, they learned it was very likely.

Cheney votes against ban on wild horse slaughter as Wyoming herds grow

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming is backing the Trump administration’s request to allow the slaughtering of wild horses for meat in order to control growing herds. Cheney voted against a measure last week that would have barred the Bureau of Land Management from killing healthy horses or selling them to be slaughtered.

Wyoming has the second-highest wild horse population in the country. The herds, which are about twice the size approved by the BLM, have been the subject of litigation between horse advocates and livestock operators along the Interstate 80 corridor.

“The BLM has failed for many years to effectively manage these horses,” Cheney said in a statement. “Their population has exploded causing extensive ecological damage to Wyoming land and resources, threatening our livestock and resulting in unsustainable conditions for the horses.”

Wyoming currently has 7,144 wild horses compared with the BLM’s target of 3,725.

Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive vice president Jim Magagna supported lifting the ban on slaughtering wild horses.

“BLM simply doesn’t have the capability of dealing with the number of wild horses,” he said.

The BLM has long struggled to control both the size and location of the herds in Wyoming and across the West. Wild horses and burros are protected under a federal law passed in 1971, and the agency is tasked with maintaining appropriate populations of the animals. When overpopulation occurs, the BLM has sought to implement various forms of birth control as well as rounding up herds and offering horses for adoption.

But these tactics have failed to appease horse advocates or livestock operators. Advocates insist that the population targets set by the BLM are unreasonably low while the agricultural industry argues that the herds are in fact overpopulated and wreaking havoc on the range.

Magagna said that while adoption was a good practice, the total numbers accommodated by the program has flagged in recent years.

“That market has gotten a little saturated, and the range is paying a price for that, and the horses are paying a price,” he said.

Meanwhile, despite the recommendation of an advisory board last year, the BLM has declined to euthanize healthy wild horses or sell them to be slaughtered because of public opposition. According to a poll sponsored by the American Wild Horse Advocacy Campaign, which opposes euthanizing the animals, 75 percent of Americans oppose Congress allowing the BLM to kill healthy wild horses. Eighty-six percent of Trump supporters opposed euthanizing the horses.

But in May, the Trump administration unveiled a proposed budget that would slash $10 million and 29 positions from the Interior Department’s wild horse program along with cutting funding for birth control and requesting that the BLM be allowed to sell wild horses to be killed for meat.

Change in policy

AWHC director Suzanne Roy said that while the idea has been considered in the past, this was the first year that an administration actually requested that the ban be lifted.

Roy and her organization advocate for birth control as a way to manage herd size and also argue that the population goals set by the BLM are outdated and unrealistic.

“When there is a humane solution out there on the table, it’s just completely unjustified to call for mass killing of federally protected wild horses and burros,” she said.

Roy said the administration’s request and the agreement of Republicans in Congress is the culmination of a campaign by the livestock and agriculture industry to allow for the slaughter of wild horses.

But Dave Duquette, equine representative for the hardline animal agriculture advocacy group Protect the Harvest, said that Roy and others with similar views want to prevent the BLM from taking any action to manage wild horse herds.

“They don’t want any of them dying, they don’t want any of them being neutered or spayed and they don’t want to do anything with them,” Duquette said. “It’s the advocates’ fault that these horses are out there starving and dying. There ain’t no food left.”

Duquette said that all options, including euthanasia and selling wild horses for meat, need to be on the table. He said Protect the Harvest is “100 percent supportive” of Cheney’s stance.

(The organization is funded largely by Lucas Oil Products. CEO Forrest Lucas was floated as a potential pick to lead the Interior secretary and has described himself as an opponent of “radical” animal rights groups.)

Duquette said that wild horses damage land to the point that sheep and cattle are unable to adequately graze. Even removing livestock from public lands would not allow the range to support growing wild horse herds, he said.

According to the BLM, wild horse herds double in size every four to five years because they have no natural predators.

Roy believes that groups like Protect the Harvest want to reintroduce horse slaughter on a large scale for economic reasons. But she said there is a second factor: Horse advocates and those in the livestock industry tend to have different views of the animals.

“It’s more of a philosophical sort of conflict, which is that they view horses as livestock. And what do you do with livestock? You round them up and harvest them,” Roy said. “But that point of view is out of step with the vast majority of Americans.”

Cheney’s vote

Cheney sits on the powerful House Rules Committee, which has significant control over what measures are voted on by the full House. Cheney voted with the Republican majority on the committee last week to bar consideration of an amendment with bipartisan sponsors that would have renewed the ban on allowing healthy wild horses to be slaughtered.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat representing the Front Range in Colorado, said that this was the committee’s last chance to stop wild horses from being killed.

“There are proven more humane, cost-effective ways and more effective ways of managing horse populations ... than the incredibly costly and inhumane slaughter of horses and wild burros, which could commence immediately — Oct. 1,” he said during the debate last Wednesday.

Another Democratic representative, Alcee Hastings of Florida, said that Republicans on the Rules Committee were refusing to allow the slaughter ban amendment to reach the full House for a vote because they knew it would pass with bipartisan support.

“My hope would be that all of y’all that vote that we should have horse slaughter ... I hope you end up having to eat horse,” Hastings said.

Cheney did not speak during the debate.

The Senate must still approve the measure granting BLM the ability to euthanize wild horses and sell them to be slaughtered for meat.


Local governments to ask Wyoming lawmakers for ways to raise taxes, close loopholes

Local municipal leaders need authority to generate revenue and more sources of dependable funding, according to Rick Kaysen, the executive director for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.

Wyoming is one of the few states that does not give cities or counties independent taxing authority, meaning municipalities are largely reliant on appropriations from the Legislature to supplement the share of local sales and property taxes they receive.

City and county governments were most recently allocated about $100 million from the Legislature, but the state’s boom-or-bust economy depends heavily on the energy market, meaning local governments are often left asking questions about the certainty of that funding, explained Kaysen.

“Will we have money next year?” he asked. “Will we have money in two or three years?”

The executive director said the association has come up with a few solutions that could help eliminate that uncertainty, and it will present these ideas Tuesday at the Joint Revenue Committee meeting in Buffalo.

Kaysen said the association has three main proposals: Give local governments the power to raise money though property taxes, increase sales tax statewide from 4 to 5 percent and consider removing some of the state’s tax exemptions.

Although he acknowledged these suggestions might not be popular, Kaysen said citizens expect their local governments to provide them with certain services, such as fire protection and solid waste management.

To make sure municipalities are meeting those expectations, “there has to be some type of revenue source,” he said.

Kaysen said raising the sales tax by just 1 percent could generate about $32 million annually, which could go toward supporting local governments.

“That 5 percent would still be low in comparison [to other states],” he added.

Similarly, Kaysen said Wyoming could eliminate a few of its 39 tax exemptions and still be ahead of Colorado, which has only 14.

Kaysen, who said all tax exemptions should be examined, said legislators should consider cutting those not found to be providing “direct support to economic development.”

Councilman Charlie Powell said he supports these proposals.

The councilman explained that the Wyoming Taxpayers Association concluded that the average state citizen pays $3,000 in taxes annually but uses $30,000 worth of government services.

“We have to have ways to provide our core services,” he said. “The city can only do the things that we have the funds to do.”

But the Wyoming Legislature is generally reluctant to raise taxes.

Lawmakers cite different reasons for their opposition, ranging from the disproportionate impact that an increased sales tax might have on low-income Wyomingites to a belief that the state should cut spending or use more of its reserves before levying more taxes.

However, the state is currently facing a $530 million deficit in the education fund for the two-year budget cycle that begins next year, and the Legislature’s leadership recently tasked the Joint Revenue Committee to recommend proposals that will raise revenue.

The Joint Revenue Committee generated five proposals for new revenue bills at its meeting in August, all of which would raise existing taxes.

Committee co-chairman Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, said then that the following options will be considered before the Legislature’s budget session early next year: broadening the sales tax to include services, raising the property tax, adding a temporary half-percent sales tax, increasing the tax on wine and spirits, increasing the beer tax, and finding a new way to tax tourism.

“Not all of these ideas are going to move forward,” Madden said at the time.

Nate Martin, the director of the left-leaning group Better Wyoming, released a statement after the meeting criticizing the committee for requesting draft bills on taxes that are likely to fail if advanced to the full Legislature.

“The committee passed bills apparently under the assumption that they would fail,” Martin wrote in the release.