Legislative session

Few legislators sit in a nearly empty House chamber during a COVID-19 special legislative session Friday, May 15, 2020, inside the state capitol in Cheyenne. Republican Bill Winney and Independent Jim Roscoe are competing to represent House District 22, which includes parts of Teton, Lincoln and Sublette Counties.

Independent incumbent Jim Roscoe and Republican challenger Bill Winney are the only two candidates in contested races to represent Teton County in the Wyoming House of Representatives. Both are running to represent House District 22, which also includes parts of Sublette and Lincoln Counties. Andy Schwartz, who represents District 23, and Mike Yin, who represents District 16, are running unopposed. — Billy Arnold

Jim Roscoe

Roscoe

JIM ROSCOE

Party: Independent

Age: 70

Years in district: 40

Lives in: Wilson, Teton County

Occupation: Owner, Roscoe Co.; State Legislator

Independent State Rep. Jim Roscoe is running to keep his seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives, where he sits on the House Revenue and Labor, Health and Social Services committees, as well as two select committees: the Select Natural Resource Funding Committee and the Select Water Committee.

At an Oct. 8 candidate forum, Roscoe said he's running to "fund education to a high level," "keep public land public and accessible," and expand broadband "to stimulate the economy."

"There's a lot of difficult questions for Wyoming to face," Roscoe said: "probably not the most fun time to be in the legislature, but maybe the most important."

Governor Mark Gordon has signed off on $250 million in budget cuts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. State revenues, which have for decades been propped up by fossil fuel revenues, have seen a decline as that industry has slumped. To address that, Roscoe said he would support a 1% statewide sales tax. He was hesitant to support an income tax but said if it got to a point “where the state was really in need” he would support looking at one “in all its various forms.” He told the Jackson Hole Daily in May that he would consider a corporate income tax or a graduated income tax on the highest earners: those who make more than $300,000 annually, say.

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Roscoe said he was for a real estate transfer tax set at a high level so as to not “affect disadvantaged people, or the working class," and believed Teton County's housing mitigation program ought to be an issue of local control.

The candidate supports investing in infrastructure to attract new industry, supporting local governments, and maintaining quality public education.

Roscoe has served in the House for a total of six years: four between 2009 and 2012 and again since 2019.

He has lived in Wilson for 40 years, raised two sons there, and worked ski patrol avalanche crews at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for about 13 winters. He owns and operates a small construction company with crews in Teton and Sublette Counties, and serves on the advisory board of the Green River Valley program for the Jackson Hole Land Trust. He also owns a remote ranch 20 miles south of Boulder.

Would you support Medicaid expansion in Wyoming? Why or why not?

I would support Medicaid expansion in Wyoming. All the hospitals in House District 22 have suggested I support the expansion. The fiscal burden comes as 90% from the feds and 10% from Wyoming. For the biennium the federal government would contribute $136 million and Wyoming $18 million. I think the expansion provides economic benefits and also helps Wyoming respond to economic downturns, enabling residents to get care in times of financial stress.

Last session, the legislature passed a bill that directed the Wyoming Office of State Land and Investments to solicit and examine business and development ideas for thousands of acres of school trust lands in Teton County. Is this fair and sound legislation, considering it was restricted to this county and stemmed from legislators elsewhere in the state? What would you like to see become of the process?

The bill was a last minute reaction by the Legislature at the end of the session to the world price of oil going suddenly negative, which had grave repercussions for Wyoming's future revenues. I can see why the Wyoming House was interested when coupled with the extremely high value of land in Teton County. These state lands are mandated to provide funding for our schools. However, it is the responsibility of the State Lands and Investment Board to manage these lands and I don’t think it was right for the Legislature to bring this bill, which only included the lands in Teton County and not the rest of the state. I do not think these state lands should be sold. We have examples of how that has failed the state when some of the school sections were sold in Teton County. However, I do feel there are ways to improve revenue from these lands that we should explore.

Members of the County Commission have been in contact with the legislature about two pieces of legislation: a bill that could allow for the designation of HOV lanes on state highways like Highway 22 or 390, and a bill that could allow for traffic enforcement with cameras around the scales on Teton Pass and for construction zones when workers are present. Would you support legislation to that effect — the bills have not yet been drafted — if you were elected? Why or why not?

I would support legislation regarding the use of cameras for scales on the pass and work zones. There is a lot to be done with WYDOT on the many issues with Teton Pass. The Teton Backcountry Alliance has done good work on the Teton Pass problems and I’m hoping we can all work together to make it a safer place to travel and ski.

I have yet to really see just how HOV lanes might work for Highway 22 and 390. I think we need to work with WYDOT on that.

Wyoming’s restricted disclosure law protects the names of those accused of sexual assault until probable cause is found for felony arraignment or indictment. Why should or shouldn’t Wyoming change its law that keeps names of sexual assault suspects — those accused of committing sexual assault — confidential until felony arraignment?

Sexually based crimes are heinous by nature, and those convicted of such crimes must be held accountable to the full extent of the law not only as a consequence of such behavior, but to remove them from society so they cannot visit this brutality upon others. However, an accusation is not a conviction. Probable cause is a requirement found in the Fourth Amendment that must fulfilled before police make an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant-this means there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed. On the basis of probable cause, a more in-depth investigation can be carried out, but that does mean that the focus of the investigation has already been proven guilty. If through this more in-depth investigation, the person of interest is found to be not guilty, then justice has been served equally as a conviction of guilt. Our criminal law system is based upon the premise of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and for this reason, we must protect all identity of all individuals involved until such a time that guilt is established. We cannot resort to convicting the accused by hanging them in the press or dragging their names through the mud before guilt has been established.

There’s a push to change the basket of goods: what Wyoming is constitutionally required to provide as part of a K-12 education. Jillian Ballow argued in February that it’s time to modernize the basket of goods, but, with the state in a revenue free fall, there has also been talk about altering that basket of goods to make education cheaper. What direction should the take state with the basket of goods?

First of all, I have to state emphatically that education has already been cut drastically and will be cut more so as our revenues disappear. I don’t want to equate ‘cheaper’ education with better outcomes. Like any organization, I am sure there are ways in which education funding can be allocated and used in a more fiscally responsible manner, but if we cut much more, frankly, we won’t have a basket to hold the goods in. If we want Wyoming to be attractive to new industries and start-ups, we must provide the infrastructure that will allow those businesses to move here. Part of that infrastructure is quality education. Quality education will provide these industries with qualified workers and will also provide that same education for the families that may move here with these industries and start-ups. We must stop focusing on cutting and eliminating in education. We must, as citizens, as a state, and as a legislature, focus on ways to increase our revenues in order to support and develop the necessary infrastructure to compete in a 21st century world. Wyoming has a reputable education system, why would we want to lose that?

Wyoming received $1.25 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government as part of the last coronavirus relief package. That went to support a number of programs in the state. $16 million has gone towards rent relief and eviction prevention, and another $340 million has gone toward business relief programs. There’s about $270 million left to spend before Dec. 31, when funding expires. How should that money be spent? 

The funds are to be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think there is a case to be made to have some of that funding go towards education which has certainly been affected by the pandemic. Wyoming has used $100 million of that CARES money for broadband expansion around the state. I believe that has great potential as an economic stimulus. Thirdly, after the Governor's first cuts, maybe some money could be directed back to the Department of Health and some help for the elderly, like home care programs.

What can the state do to reduce the risk of wildfires to communities in the wildland, urban interface?

Wyoming is currently trying to distribute information to home owners and communities about defensible space and best practices for wildfire prevention and protection. Wyoming could probably work better with our federal lands managers to reduce fuels around vulnerable communities. How much the state can do for wildfire mitigation is directly proportional to the revenues the state can produce. Spoken by a member of the Revenue Committee, ha.

Bill Winney

Bill Winney

BILL WINNEY

Party: Republican

Age: 70

Years in district: 42 years

Lives in: Bondurant, Sublette County

Occupation: Retired naval submariner

Bill Winney, a Navy veteran and Republican from Bondurant, is back on the horse this year, running to address three priorities: education, the state budget and preserving multiple use of public lands.

The state is projecting a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years, and Winney said bringing things back into balance would require a mix of cutting spending and increasing revenue. The candidate, who managed budgets for the Submarine Launched Tomahawk Cruise Missile Program and the Sea Lance ASW Standoff Weapon, said he's running to bring that budgeting experience to Cheyenne.

"We've got a very tough time coming in the budget, and I've seen this kind of thing before during my time in the Navy," Winney said during the Oct. 8 forum. "How do you get down into those budgets? How do you make sure education is taken care of? That's what I want to get on with, take care of, look very hard at."

Winney, like Roscoe, said he would support a 1% statewide sales tax. But he was opposed to both an income tax and real estate transfer tax.

“Those kinds of things change the state,” he said. “The simpler we can keep whatever we do for revenue increase the better.”

The candidate did not take a position on Teton County's mitigation program outright, but did describe it as a "taking issue."

Winney previously told the News&Guide that, in the state’s dire financial situation, it’s vital to “protect the classroom” (teachers and other supporting staff) but cuts, if needed, could come from administrative overhead.

Winney said he first moved to Sublette County in 1978, bought land there in '97, and lived in Cheyenne briefly after retiring from active duty before settling in Sublette County in 2006. In the Navy, he served on five submarines and one surface ship (a submarine repair ship) and was both a chief engineer and a commanding officer on a sub. His office wrote the first set of nuclear weapons release procedures for U.S. Strategic Command, he said, "so writing things like regulations (and seeing how people responded to what was written) was part of my career."

Would you support Medicaid expansion in Wyoming? Why or why not?

Not as presently structured. The chief issue the legislature has with it is that they perceive the federal government starts underfunding it several years after implementation. This leaves states holding the bag for a significant sum. If that can be resolved it could be supported.

Last session, the legislature passed a bill that directed the Wyoming Office of State Land and Investments to solicit and examine business and development ideas for thousands of acres of school trust lands in Teton County. Is this fair and sound legislation, considering it was restricted to this county and stemmed from legislators elsewhere in the state? What would you like to see become of the process? 

The legislature is working to make islanded School Trust lands productive. Is it fair? Yes. The idea is just to increase the productivity of lands that are designated to support schools. I have observed this discussion for several years. The land is currently seen as low productivity specifically because they are surrounded by federal lands restricting access.

Members of the County Commission have been in contact with the legislature about two pieces of legislation: a bill that could allow for the designation of HOV lanes on state highways like Highway 22 or 390, and a bill that could allow for traffic enforcement with cameras in two situations, the scales on Teton Pass and for construction zones when workers are present. Would you support legislation to that effect — the bills have not yet been drafted — if you were elected? Why or why not?

HOV Lanes would require widening the road. This would likely end up having an HOV lane be reversible since a four lane over the pass would be a tough problem for WYDOT to construct. As to the cameras: I do not like traffic cameras. I would have to look carefully at what WYDOT has done for these specific problems. I’m aware of the damage done by overweight truck failures. I would work with WYDOT on a different solution involving law enforcement.

Wyoming’s restricted disclosure law protects the names of those accused of sexual assault until probable cause is found for felony arraignment or indictment. Why should or shouldn’t Wyoming change its law that keeps names of sexual assault suspects — those accused of committing sexual assault — confidential until felony arraignment?

I believe the nature of such accusations do call for restricting release until it is clear that a prosecution will ensue.

There’s a push to change the basket of goods: what Wyoming is constitutionally required to provide as part of a K-12 education. Jillian Ballow argued in February that it’s time to modernize the basket of goods, but, with the state in a revenue freefall, there has also been talk about altering that basket of goods to make education cheaper. What direction should the take state with the basket of goods?

I have observed several proposals to update the “basket of goods” in education over the years. They have all run aground for various reasons. I would support another look at a proposal by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. I believe that “making education cheaper” by seeking to change that basket of goods is a bad approach. Along with that I believe our education system can be structured to reduce its cost without affecting the classroom.

Wyoming received $1.25 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government as part of the last coronavirus relief package. That went to support a number of programs in the state. $16 million has gone towards rent relief and eviction prevention, and another $340 million has gone toward business relief programs. There’s about $270 million left to spend before Dec. 31, when funding expires. How should that money be spent? 

Putting it towards existing programs will be the fastest way to get the desired effect (e.g. the personnel doing that work are in place). I believe keeping people in their home will always be less costly than allowing evictions and such. Then getting people back to work is next. So what’s missed? I would ensure programs aimed at the stressors on people from restricted movement, being out of work, and being out of school that have grown must be funded. Family abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, and other indicators of stress must be a priority for Wyoming.

What can the state do to reduce the risk of wildfires to communities in the wildland, urban interface?

First, the dead fall should be cleared out. As one who saw the Roosevelt Fire up close and personal, the deadfall in my area had been there since well before the mid '70s (when I first came into the area) and it was a tinderbox. Second, I believe that those who use public lands should be trained on ensuring such things as a warming fire put out improperly do not then start a fire. Third, the state should get into fires on discovery more quickly to include better liaison with federal firefighting.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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