By GRACE WALHUS
Staff Reporter 

Abortion, property tax bills head to Senate

 

February 29, 2024



State Rep. Martha Lawley (R-HD27, Worland) reported that the Wyoming House of Representatives found themselves working until nearly midnight last week in order to meet the session’s deadlines.

While Lawley said it isn’t unheard of for the House to work long days during the budget session, this year’s session had a higher number of amendments than usual, and they oftentimes required thorough discussions.

Despite the long week, Lawley said, “It really is a good process, I believe. I think one of the messages I would love for people back home to know is – a lot of effort is put into this process by the Legislature in general.”

“[The session] has been described to me before, but experiencing it, you see just how much time and effort goes into it from all of us individual legislators as we go through the budget and look at the various amendments,” she said.

BILLS

Lawley’s two personal bills, HB148: Regulation of Surgical Abortion and HB134: Property tax deferral program-amendments, have both passed third reading in the House as of Tuesday, Feb. 27.

According to Lawley, HB148 has been received for introduction in the Senate and was referred to the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. Lawley said she plans to speak about the bill at the Senate committee meeting.

After passing the third reading in the House on Tuesday, Feb. 27, HB134 awaits introduction into the Senate. Lawley noted that for all tax-related bills, one representative in the House is pushing for sunsets to be added, including HB134. The sunset would cause the bill to expire after three years unless the legislature takes off the sunset. Lawley said she is working to keep a sunset off HB134 but said it overall would not change anything else about the bill.

Knowing that her two personal bills are still standing, Lawley said she is pleased about the outcome thus far.

As for the Education Savings Account bill from Rep. Ken Clouston (R-HD32, Gillette), HB19, Lawley said, “So far, I’m very happy with how that’s gone.”

The bill, which provides up to $5,000 a year per family with children seeking non-public school education, pulls the funding from the General Funds account and not from any Education funds. Lawley noted this distinction, saying that, “It’s important to me as one who also supports public education and wants to make sure we meet our obligation to support public education.”

As of Tuesday, Feb. 27, the bill was received for introduction into the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee.

While the House works through the budget session, Lawley previously said that handling the issue of rising property taxes would be a high priority for legislators.

“I really like how the revenue committee has approached this issue, in that recognizing that there is not one bill that is going to solve this complex problem that we’re in,” said Lawley. “No one bill is perfect but together, they address these different parts of the issue and I think they take us a long way toward addressing the problems.”

Within the group of several property tax-related bills that Lawley and others have supported, Lawley said that HB45 from Rep. Barry Crago (R-HD40, Buffalo) is one that she has been an early supporter of and it was received for introduction into the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

“It’s a bill that basically puts a cap on the amount of increase in your property taxes in any one given year, and that cap is 5%, and it can be effective in 2024,” said Lawley. “Citizens will know that [their] property taxes cannot increase more than 5% this year.”

Lawley said that the House has also worked to expand the refund program.

Because of software used by county assessors, Lawley said that there are limitations to what can be changed by legislation to property taxes. By 2025, Lawley said that there will be less limitations due to software changes.

Finally, Lawley said, “Keep in mind that we voted last session for a constitutional amendment to be on the ballot in 2024, that will separate residential property taxes into a separate category in our state constitution.”

“If that passes, when we come back to the legislature in 2025, we will have a lot more tools and possibilities in addressing other parts of the problem,” she said.

BUDGET

As the House and Senate appropriations committees prepare to meet jointly and discuss the differences between their proposed budgets, Lawley described the budget session as reaching a “half-time” point.

According to Lawley, the Joint Appropriations Committee will negotiate the differences and ideally come to agreements, which will be a big task. While the committee meets, Lawley said, “We have to wait and see what emerges out of this process.”

Regarding the work that had been done up to that point, Lawley said she feels like the Appropriations Committee had done a good job of responsibly cutting down the budget, even before the budget session started.

Over $100 million proposed budget cuts were made before the session started, said Lawley, and, “It’s really important that people recognize that first step of cuts, because if they just start with what we cut, then they’re not taking that into account.”

In the proposed House budget, Lawley said they put $310 million into General Funds savings and $200 million into Education savings, primarily for the construction of schools.

The budget also puts money toward necessary programs that help to care for the “most vulnerable citizens,” said Lawley, such as the 988-suicide hotline. Money will also be designated for backfilling to counties due to the cutting of property taxes.

Overall, Lawley said the proposed House budget would spend $30 million less than the Governor’s proposal.

 
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