Wyoming Legislature

Signs with directions greet visitors in the central lobby in the Wyoming State Legislature’s temporary accommodations at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne two years ago. The Legislature will meet here again for their budget session starting Monday.

File, Star-Tribune

Happy Monday! More like hectic Monday for those of us gathered in Cheyenne for the start of what’s expected to be a whirlwind “budget session,” the shorter legislative meetings that occur in alternating years to address each of Wyoming’s two-year budget cycles. With an $850 million deficit looming, lawmakers and lobbyists will have their hands full over the next four weeks, and I’ve relocated to the capital so I can bring you all the news of Jonah Business Center. If you haven’t already, follow the Star-Tribune’s political coverage at Facebook.com/307politics to catch our multimedia coverage include live interviews with key players. And for those of you web-only readers, I strongly encourage you to pick up a hard copy of our 307 Politics legislative guide. It was published in Sunday’s Star-Tribune (still available at many retailers) and is being distributed at the Legislature. It has some beautiful infographics and comprehensive background on this year’s session, as well as some predictions for what may happen.

Pity the poor legislative staff

The Legislature’s budget sessions are meant to address, well, the budget. Every other year lawmakers hold a shorter session -- just a month long -- to set the state’s budget. There are allowances made for emergency measures unrelated to fiscal issues, but legislators are expected to be prudent when filing those bills.

As of press time Friday, there were around 200 bills already filed and another 200 expected to be by the cutoff on Wednesday. Some of these are fiscal proposals but many more are... not that.

House Bill 45 would eliminate daylight savings time in Wyoming;

House Bill 56 would declare the .454 Casull as the official “state revolver”;

House Bill 89 would repeal the restriction on “feeding untreated garbage to swine”;

House Bill 105 would ban “sanctuary cities” in Wyoming;

Senate File 60 would designate state highway 28 the “Wyoming Women’s Suffrage Pathway”;

Senate File 61 would make fluorescent pink attire legal for hunting in the state.

In other words, there’s a lot of stuff that is not related to the budget.

“The poor LSO lawyers must be pulling their hair out,” League of Women Voters lobbyist Marguerite Herman said. “We may spend the whole first week on just introduction votes.”

Non-budget legislation requires a two-thirds vote in either chamber for introduction, meaning many of the 400-plus bills may die quick deaths at the start of the session. But those votes require a roll call count, a process that can take a few minutes to complete. If we assume each unsuccessful introductory vote still takes just three minutes, that would still take nearly three days to complete.

Of course, some of the non-fiscal proposals will be approved for introduction -- especially those that have been sponsored by a committee -- and will eat up more time as they proceed to committees and are subject to floor debate and amendments.

There are many hefty issues to be addressed during this session that are not related directly to the budget, from commercial air service to election law revisions, which makes sense given that the Legislature only meets for a month or two each year. So the issue isn’t that lawmakers want to talk about a variety of things, it’s that they’re trying to shoehorn the off-topic items into a very short window of time meant to address a very big budget problem.

And, as Herman points out, the Legislature’s relatively small professional staff of lawyers who have to draft the bills are overworked. Anyway, expect this week to be taken up largely by killing bills that the majority of lawmakers are uninterested in addressing, and then we’ll get onto the real budget business.

Investment advice from Foster Friess

Foster Friess, Jackson philanthropist, GOP megadonor and sometimes-primary challenger to Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso was on Fox Business channel last week weighing in on the stock market fall. His segment was billed as “advice for investors as major volatility hits” and it went against the most conventional wisdom about investing.

“We always say, never invest in the stock market; we tell our potential clients, invest in individual companies,” said Freiss, who made his fortune in the stock market.

While everyone has different levels of knowledge and comfort with investing, the typical advice for average folks is to buy low- or zero-fee index funds that just seek to replicate the overall stock market (so, the opposite of what Friess is recommending). That’s because if you look at a long-term trendline for the stock market, it basically always goes up.

That said, Foster Friess is sitting pretty in Jackson Hole, and I’m working as a lowly reporter in Cheyenne, so maybe follow his advice after all.

Friess is also back to saying he might run against Barrasso. He started floating the idea last fall, though in wildly contradictory ways. To wit: Friess said that former Trump advisor Steve Bannon recruited him to run against Barrasso as part of an attempt to unseat incumbent Republicans; Friess said he was opposed to Bannon’s plan but that he might run for the Senate anyway; he said he was seriously considering the bid despite considering Barrasso a “hero” of his; Friess told Buzzfeed and the Star-Tribune that he was planning a listening tour around the state, but there is no indication that’s happening; finally last week he told USA Today that he’s still mulling a Senate run despite doubling-down on praise for Barrasso: “I think he’s an incredible human being,” Friess said. He added that it would not be “honorable” for him to outspend Barrasso in the race because "he's an orthopedic surgeon, and orthopedic surgeons can't make as much money as I've been able to make."

Foster Friess is almost certainly not going to run for the Senate.

Gray nationally recognized

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, earned national recognition late last month when he found himself on a list of prominent young Republicans. Conservative media outlet Newsmax slotted Gray 10th on its “30 Most Influential Republicans Under 30.” It’s strange because, while Gray did emerge last session as another member of the Legislature’s growing hard-right bloc, he didn’t have much impact on the session.

Newsmax credits the baby-faced 27-year-old as “lead sponsor on Wyoming’s first [successful] pro-life bill in more than two decades."

(You may recall Gray’s suggestion during an interim transportation committee meeting that Wyoming make commercial air service more affordable not by subsidizing it but by encouraging low-cost carrier Southwest to start flying to Casper.)

It’s also a little strange because he is ranked above some clearly more influential conservatives, like commentator Tomi Lahren. Gray also shares a place on the list with entirely obscure figures like Eli Nachmany, apparently a former Trump campaign staffer who, I learned from the list, is deferring admission to Harvard Law School “to work as a political appointee in the Trump administration, specifically as a writer with the Department of Interior.”

"I'm thrilled to receive this award," Gray, who has only been willing to communicate with the Star-Tribune by email in the past, said in a statement. "I focus every day on being a voice of the people in the Wyoming House of Representatives. I will continue doing so in the upcoming budget session.”

Congratulations to Representative Gray.

Roundup

TRUMP APPOINTEE FUNDRAISED FOR BARRASSO -- Andrew Wheeler, an Environmental Protection Agency nominee who was approved by a Senate committee last week, raised money for Barrasso last spring, according to the Intercept.

-- “Wheeler, who was first rumored to be tapped for the EPA last March, raised funds for Republican senators on the committee that makes the preliminary decision on confirming appointments to the agency,” Lee Fang and Nick Surgey  reported.

Wheeler held the Barrasso fundraiser at his K Street office in Washington, D.C. and Barrasso received $2,500 from Wheeler’s law firm PAC. Barrasso did not respond to the Intercept’s request for comment.

“We all know that Mr. Wheeler will make an invaluable contribution to the protection of America’s public health and safety as deputy administrator of the EPA,” Barrasso said at the Environment and Public Works Committee meeting last week where Wheeler’s nomination was advanced. “I urge my colleagues to vote yes on Mr. Wheeler’s nomination.”

ENZI WORKS ON RETIREMENT FOR ‘GIG’ WORKERS -- Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican, has long been passionate about helping Americans save for retirement. I gave him a shout-out on Twitter last week for this focus, noting that it was a rare cause for a national politician to tout given that it is neither controversial, nor partisan. He’s now at work exploring options to help “gig economy” workers, like Uber drivers.

-- “Regardless of how you view these changes in our economy, they are occurring,” Enzi said, according to the Wyoming Business Report. “These developments in the workforce have been fast moving, so it is important to ensure that as we consider any federal actions to address the gig economy, we understand the scope of the gig economy and the motivations of those participating in it.”

LEGISLATIVE BINGO ARRIVES -- WyoFile.com came out with a cute bingo, er “wyngo” game last week that highlights the Wyomingisms that crop up every time lawmakers in the state start debating tough issues: “bang for the buck,” “skin the game,” “meat on the bone” and -- my favorite -- “ready for prime time."

-- “Enjoy the game. And please, let us know how it goes and how quickly you were able to yell ‘Wyngo!’”

BETTER WYOMING TRACKS CUTS -- Lost in the focus on education funding in Wyoming is the fact that state agencies have taken deep cuts over the last two years. Left-leaning (and aggressive) Better Wyoming has been detailing this cuts in a series of recent articles.

-- “(A)s lawmakers attempt to further gut state agencies, schools, and public services during the 2018 budget session, it will be important to keep in mind the cuts they’ve already made so far,” Better Wyoming’s Nate Martin writes.

CHENEY JOKES ABOUT 'DREAMERS' -- During U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's 8-hour floor speech calling for a vote on whether to grant legal protection to young immigrants previously covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Wyoming's lone U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney decided to try some wordplay on Twitter.

-- "My dream is for @NancyPelosi to stop talking. #Dreamer," Cheney tweeted.

While it received dozens of retweets, the replies to Cheney's tweet were universally negative. "Please don’t talk like this," wrote Jackson wildlife guide Seth Ames. "Represent me better."

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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