Wyoming Legislature

Gov. Matt Mead delivers his State of the State address to the joint session of the Wyoming Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at the capitol building in Cheyenne, Wyo. Mead emphasized in his State of the State address that Wyoming is in good shape overall, but it's time for immediate action on a range of pressing issues, including reining in state spending and whipping the state education system into shape. (AP Photo/Casper Star-Tribune, Alan Rogers)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Major issues addressed by the 2013 Wyoming Legislature:

FUELS TAX: Lawmakers increased the state's fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon, starting July 1. The increase will raise about $70 million a year, with about two-thirds going to the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the rest going to cities and counties.

The tax will increase from the existing rate of 14 cents a gallon up to 24 cents for gasoline and diesel.

Advocates for the tax say the Transportation Department needs a steady source of state funding to allow it to plan projects more efficiently.

Gov. Matt Mead was among those pushing for the tax, arguing that Wyoming residents essentially have subsidized out-of-state motorists by keeping its tax rate lower than surrounding states.

MEDICAID: Lawmakers declined to expand the federal Medicaid program in Wyoming to cover an additional 17,600 low income adults. Many legislators said they don't trust federal promises to pay 100 percent of the costs of expanding the program for the first three years.

They fear that if the federal government reneges on the promise, the state will be left with a large financial burden.

The Wyoming Department of Health will study the Medicaid expansion in case the Legislature wants to reverse its position in next year's budget session.

The program currently serves over 77,000 people in Wyoming at an annual cost of over $500 million, split evenly between the state and federal governments.

Officials say the state will add roughly 10,600 new people, mainly newly eligible children, to the Medicaid program next year because of the new federal health care law.

GUNS: Several bills dealing with guns were shot down or failed to pass.

A bill that sought to exempt the state from any future federal assault weapons ban or restrictions on high-capacity magazines died in the Senate after failing to make a legislative deadline. The bill, which had passed the House, said any federal officials who tried to enforce a ban would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Another measure that passed the House but failed in the Senate would strengthen existing prohibition in state law against local governments enacting their own gun control measures.

A bill that would allow people to carry concealed guns in Wyoming K-12 schools and on college campuses also died in the Senate.

Lawmakers did approve bills allowing Wyoming hunters to use silencers on firearms for all types of hunting and banning people from bringing guns and other deadly weapons into courtrooms.

BUDGET: In approving a supplemental budget, lawmakers enacted 6.5-percent cuts for most state agencies for the biennium that runs through mid-2014.

However, they approved adding roughly $78 million in new spending, mainly one-time spending on projects. For instance, the budget includes up to $5 million for renovation of the Arena Auditorium at UW.

State employees would receive a 1-percent pay bonus but would not get a general pay raise. It also includes $8 million in retention incentives to school employees.

There's also money for fighting wildfires.

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The budget bill requires the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees to prepare reports specifying how they will exercise greater oversight over a range of campus issues, including installation of permanent art work, hiring of faculty and the possible razing of historic buildings.

SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: Frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the state Education Department on school reform efforts, the Legislature removed Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill as head of the agency.

Hill has been replaced by a temporary director appointed by Gov. Matt Mead. Eventually a permanent director will be appointed by the governor, with approval from the state Senate.

Hill, who was elected to a four-year term in 2010, responded by filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

In addition, lawmakers ordered an audit of the department's spending practices over the last two years, and Mead has convened a separate independent inquiry into the agency's operations.

LOTTERY: After years of failure, a bill allowing the state to create or participate in a multistate lottery such as Powerball passed the Legislature. The bill awaits action from Gov. Matt Mead.

Wyoming is one of seven states without such prize drawings.

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Advocates for the lottery have been working since the 1980s to get approval from the Legislature. This is was the first time it made it out of the state House of Representatives, where all revenue-producing bills originate.

Under the bill, the first $6 million in proceeds will be divided among local governments. Any proceeds over that amount would go to a public school foundation fund.

A quasi-government corporation will be established to set up and run the lottery. Wyoming's version of the lottery would not include instant tickets, scratch-off tickets or electronic games. Lottery advocates say it will take about a year to set up the lottery. If Mead approves the lottery, the effort will begin July 1.

EDUCATION REFORM: Lawmakers approved legislation resetting the state's ambitious education efforts to bring more accountability to Wyoming's K-12 education system.

Key changes include delaying until the 2013-14 school year the start of measuring how well each school is doing in relation to student performance. Any schools found to be underperforming will have to start working to improve by the 2014-15 school year.

The effort to develop a system to measure the performance of individual teachers, superintendents, principals and other educators will be delayed until the 2015-16 school year.

Lawmakers also abandoned a requirement that high school seniors take a college placement test. Instead, the test will be voluntary.

And the concept of trying to link a specific teacher -- a so-called teacher of record -- to a student's performance has been dropped after being judged too impractical.

UW PRESIDENT: Lawmakers passed a new law allowing the University of Wyoming and community colleges to hire presidents in secret. Gov. Matt Mead allowed the law to take effect immediately without his signature.

The law was passed in response to a lawsuit filed by media outlets against the UW Board of Trustees. The trustees began the search with the idea of only announcing their final choice.

The lawsuit resulted in a court order in January that UW identify the finalists.

UW selected a new president after deciding to abandon its confidential search and release the names of the four finalists to the public.

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