Legislature weekly roundup
With nearly half of the Wyoming House beginning their first year in the legislature, we have proceeded at a slower pace for the first couple of weeks to allow them to get their feet on the ground. Many of the more difficult topics have been held back so they could experience the process as we deal with other, less contentious issues. With that said, we will debate the merits of the supplemental budget, Medicaid expansion and what to do with the $2 billion one-time-only budget surplus in the coming weeks.
Balance of Power—With the Wyoming House evenly split between conservative Republicans and more moderate Republicans, the five Democrats became a crucial factor in winning floor votes. After weeks of deliberation and negotiation, with a vote of 36 to 26, the House passed rules to require a two/thirds vote to suspend rules and override the Speaker of the House or the Majority Floor Leader rather than a simple majority. "Ensuring a 2/3 majority vote to overrule the Majority Floor Leader blocks the Democrat minority from determining state policy and controlling the House. No longer can moderates reliably rely on their (Democrats) votes to guide our actions." - WYFC Chair John Bear.
Medicaid expansion legislation advanced out of committee after an amendment was added to prevent it from being used for abortions or gender confirmation surgeries. The federal government currently covers just 50% of the state’s Medicaid expenditures. If we pass and expand Medicaid to cover all Wyomingites earning below 138% of the federal poverty line, the government would increase its coverage to 95% for a period of two years, after which time the federal coverage would be reduced somewhat. If expansion is enacted and the expanded benefit ends, lawmakers would have to vote again to extend the policy, or it would automatically be shut down. I am not in favor of Medicaid expansion as the cost to other states has shown that the financial burden on the state is almost always more than they originally forecast.
Property Tax Reform — More than a dozen bills have been submitted with different ideas about how to tackle the rapidly rising property taxes in Wyoming. One idea focuses on providing tax relief to the elderly and the poor and would require a constitutional amendment; one would set up a new entity to help residents to obtain low-interest loans to pay their taxes; and another would cap property tax increases at roughly 5% per year. I believe we need a short-term solution, such as needs-based refunds to those that are most impacted, as well as a long-term solution. Most of the property tax dollars go to K-12 education and to fund local government and special districts like the soil conservation and cemetery districts. Wyoming’s minerals industry pays most of the state’s property taxes. That’s largely because minerals are taxed on 100% of their market value while residences, businesses and agricultural lands are taxed on 9.5% of their value.
Suicide Prevention Hotline funding — Wyoming set up a statewide suicide hotline, in addition to existing national hotlines, using federal dollars during the pandemic. HB007 sought to create a $40 million trust fund to pay for the hotline going forward. I fought against creating a ‘coffee can’ of money that essential removes elected officials (legislators) from determining how this money will be spent in the future. While suicide in Wyoming is a serious issue, I testified that funding the hotline needs to be an annual budget item that we can debate every year because even with the local hotline up and running, our suicide rates are continuing to increase. I believe that it will take more than just a hotline to improve our suicide problems in Wyoming and I believe if we create a trust fund, the Legislature will walk away from the problem before it is truly resolved.
Thank you for your support, ideas, comments, and questions.
Representative Scott Heiner