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Anti-affordable housing bill fails

A bill that would have gutted Teton County’s affordable housing program has failed.

Wyoming House leadership did not bring House Bill 277 to the floor before the Feb. 4 deadline for a first reading. Missing that deadline means the bill is dead.

The legislation sought to remove the authority of towns and counties to require developers to pay for or build affordable housing. It would have decimated the program Teton County has put in place in an effort to house 65 percent of its workforce locally.

County Commissioners Mark Barron and Greg Epstein opposed the bill, favoring local rather than state control over housing policy. However, they have both said they view the legislation as a direct consequence of Jackson and Teton County’s stricter affordable housing requirements approved in July 2018.

The new policy drastically increased how much commercial developers — offices, hotels or restaurants — must mitigate for impacts by paying for workforce housing, while the burden on residential developers was reduced.

“There comes a point where instead of mitigating employee housing you’re just stopping any development,” Barron said. “That felt to a lot of people in this community as a tool that would be a de facto moratorium on new nonresidential development.

“What we in Teton County do can have an effect on other counties across the state, and there comes a point where if another county or legislators feels threatened, anybody can pick up a pen and start writing legislation,” Barron said.

— Allie Gross

Tweaked subdivisions bill passes House

A bill that sparked anxiety among Teton County officials survived the House of Representatives handily, with a tempering amendment from local Rep. Andy Schwartz.

House Bill 196, many fear, would open the door to unregulated subdividing of rural land, undermining Teton County’s efforts to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, as well as channel density into the town of Jackson.

The House approved it by a vote of 43-17. With Schwartz’s amendment, the bill would allow large landowners to carve out chunks of property to pass down to family members, while also reducing the temptation to use the policy for real estate speculation.

The updated version requires families to hold land for 10 years, rather than the current five, before subdividing it. After that, the family member who receives the subdivided parcel must hold it for five years, rather than one year, before selling it.

— Cody Cottier

Medicaid expansion dies

Andy Schwartz’s House Bill 244 will not see the light of day in the Wyoming Senate.

The bill died Monday when it failed a vote on the House floor, 36-23. Teton County Reps. Schwartz, Jim Roscoe and Mike Yin voted in favor of the legislation, which would’ve expanded Medicaid to cover an additional 20,000 to 30,000 residents.

Schwartz told the News&Guide earlier this session that if the bill died, he would introduce it again next year.

A Medicaid expansion study bill, Senate File 146, made it through the Senate 22-6 and will be heard by the House Labor Committee. Legislation to add work requirements to those already on Medicaid also passed the Senate 23-5 and will be heard by the House. Teton County Sen. Mike Gierau voted for the expansion study and against the work requirements.

— Kylie Mohr

Abortion bills move forward

Two bills restricting abortion access are still alive in the Wyoming Legislature.

House Bill 103, which would establish additional requirements for abortion reporting and penalize physicians who don’t comply, passed second reading in the House on Tuesday, the deadline for second reading. It needs to pass on third reading today in order to stay afloat. Teton County Reps. Jim Roscoe and Mike Yin voted against the bill in committee.

House Bill 140, which would mandate a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, already made it through the House on a 36-22 vote and has been referred to the Senate Labor Committee. Teton County Reps. Roscoe, Yin and Andy Schwartz voted no.

A third abortion bill that would add criminal penalties for physicians that don’t follow existing laws about ultrasounds and heartbeats, House Bill 302, was never heard in the House.

— Kylie Mohr

Opioids could be limited

Senate File 46, which would limit the amount of opioids physicians can prescribe patients, passed the Senate 27-3, with Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton, voting in favor. It’s sitting in the House now waiting to be heard by the Labor Committee.

— Kylie Mohr

No increase to minimum wage

The minimum wage will remain lower in Wyoming than in nearly every other U.S. state.

The House of Representatives roundly rejected House Bill 273, which aimed to raise the wage. Lawmakers followed a template from the previous five sessions, each of which brought the death of an effort to raise the state’s lowest legal wage above $5.15.

The bill would have increased that amount 25 cents each year until 2025, beginning this summer, until it reached $8.50. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

— Cody Cottier

School finance examined

Much of the important legislation related to school finance is dead: Senate Joint Resolution 7, which would amend the Wyoming Constitution to transfer responsibility for school construction from the state to the school districts; House Bill 197, which would increase the amount of money districts can keep in reserves; and House Bill 68, which would raise property taxes gradually to a total of 9 mills in order to pay for schools.

House Bill 308 is still alive but needs to pass a third reading in the House today. It offers a sweeping look at “modernizing and balancing Wyoming’s school funding streams” by amending provisions regarding mineral royalties, severance taxes, spending policies and interfund loan authority. It would also change reimbursement provisions for special education and transportation services. Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, supported it in the Appropriations committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate and the House need to reconcile differences in their budget. There’s a $22.8 million difference in the School Foundation Program and just over $1 million in the School Capital Construction Account. The Senate’s proposed budget includes an amendment that would cut the external cost adjustment for schools in half, which could raise the possibility of a lawsuit because there’s a constitutional mandate that education be funded at actual cost.

House Bill 22, which would allow school districts to determine teacher accountability standards, not the state, passed the House and will now be heard by the Senate.

— Kylie Mohr

See JHNewsAndGuide.com/news/legislature for in-depth coverage of the 2019 Legislature. Track bills at WyoLeg.gov/Legislation/2019.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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