CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Out of 503 bills introduced in the Wyoming Legislature this year, about 43 percent of them made it Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.
When Wyoming’s chief executive takes his pen Friday to the final 13 bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature, he will be considering three of the most contentious pieces of legislation to emerge from the floor this winter.
One is a bill that would override local zoning decisions in the construction of private schools. A second would allow community colleges to endow bachelors of applied science degrees. A third would create a fund specifically intended to sue states who block the export of Wyoming coal.
With the legislation already passed in both chambers of the Wyoming Legislature – which adjourned several weeks ago – and a two-thirds threshold needed to be reached in both the House and Senate to override his vetoes, it is all but likely Gordon’s word will be the final one.
In a press release from the governor’s office on Tuesday night, Gordon announced three separate hierarchies for the 13 bills on his desk this week – bills receiving a formal signing (meaning a more ceremonial affair), bills just being signed (or enacted into law without pomp and circumstance) and bills the governor will announce a decision on, making their fate uncertain until Gordon announces his intentions publicly.
Among the bills up in the air are a coal export terminal litigation bill and a private school measure. The latter bill, which sparked a massive debate in the Legislature over local control and school choice, was notably inspired by a local zoning battle in Teton County over a school financed by the son of Gordon's former opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primaries, Foster Friess. The fate of the bill, which some have said supersedes the balance of land use authority between the state and municipal governments, remains unclear.
“Asked, but haven’t heard,” one of the bill’s chief opponents, Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, wrote in a text message when asked about the status of the bill.
Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, a proponent of the bill, did not respond to a similar text message by deadline.
The coal export terminal litigation bill is another piece of legislation with an uncertain future. Unsuccessful in the 2018 session, the bill passed the Legislature this year despite echoes of past concerns that the bill -- which would authorize the hiring of a private litigator to represent the state's affairs in a legal battle over a potential Washington coal terminal -- would sidestep the authority of the Wyoming Attorney General's office.
Senate File 111 – which faced opposition from both the University of Wyoming and Speaker of the House Steve Harshman, R-Casper, throughout the session – is presumed to be safe, despite the Wyoming Business Alliance issuing an action alert to its mailing list on Tuesday night calling the future of the legislation “uncertain” and urging members to call in and support the bill.
“It will be signed this Friday 3/15 at 10:00 am at the Kendrick Gallery,” business alliance director Cindy Delancey wrote in an email.
Other bills with uncertain futures
Four other measures are also on the list of bills with uncertain futures.
These include SF149, a bill that sets new parameters for the State Building Commission – a group consisting of Wyoming’s five statewide elected officials – and increases the power of the Legislature’s Management Council over those officials on decisions they make regarding the State Capitol Complex.
Four members of the Legislature currently serve as ex-oficio members on the commission, meaning they can attend meetings but cannot vote.
The governor’s most significant vetoes this session came on the Legislature’s version of the supplemental budget, which he said in his letter infringed on several areas he believed were traditionally delegated to the executive branch. SF149 challenges a statute enacted in 2014 outlining the authority of the State Building Commission to members of the executive branch, which further defines the control of public facilities outlined in Article 8 of the Wyoming Constitution.
The governor will also hand down a decision on SF162 – the state-funded capital construction bill – which was at the heart of a number of budgetary battles between the House and the Senate this winter. That bill features millions of dollars in expenditures for projects around the state, including academic buildings and contingency funds for the state capitol renovation project.
HB293 – which authorizes millions of dollars in funding for new dormitories at the University of Wyoming – is also on the list.