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(COMMENTARY) Rep. Bill Henderson’s Week 1 Legislative Update

Rep. Bill Henderson, HD-41

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The 67th Budget Session first full week ended 8 p.m. Friday evening. During the 20-day Budget Session, convening on even years, our Wyoming Legislature’s main priority is to pass a conservative, reasonable, balanced budget. This week, the Joint Appropriations Committee presented the budget bill, built following weeks of public hearings, input gathering and mark-ups. The committee’s budget saves $310 million of general funds and $200 million in education savings more than the Governor recommended. Leaving almost $70 million on the table for members to consider.

In addition to our constitutionally required charge to pass a balanced budget, I have been laser-focused finding property tax solutions and ways to help our communities. We came close on introduction vote for: HB113 teacher shortage loan repayment program – financial assistance for teacher training; HB114 Hathaway Scholarship Program award amounts increase to counter high inflation cost of tuition and fees – last increase 2014; and HB146 property tax relief program to have a conversation on “Can anything be done to help people who rent their home?” like workers, seniors, retirees and families on fixed income. I understand these are top priority, and I know our hardworking families and people on fixed income cannot afford for the Legislature to miss this opportunity to make responsible, conservative solutions.

Next week I’m bringing two second reading amendments: funding for a 13th paycheck for our state retirees — last cost of living adjustment was 2008, some have not had a COLA since 2000; and a modest 5% increase in the Hathaway award amounts to help students with tuition and fees — up over 114% at UW and over 130% and higher at community colleges.

HB0203 — Property tax reduction and replacement act was introduced. This proposes an exemption of up to $200,000 for homeowners in 2024 and up to a $1 million dollar exemption every year after. This would effectively mean that only those whose homes appraised over a million dollars will be required to pay property tax. To keep Wyoming counties and schools that rely on property taxes whole, there is an offset of a 2% sales tax increase. The bill’s introduction allows us to further discuss, take public comment and evaluate the idea. If you agree we need to address high cost of living and help our hardworking families, teachers and students, and people on fixed income, as conservative problem solvers — let’s work together.

A few additional noteworthy bills we debated this week follow:

  • HB0186 — 988 hotline-appropriation allocates $40 million to provide ongoing trust fund earnings to keep our 988 suicide hotline funded, which is a crucial resource providing trained Wyoming counselors to answer calls from individuals in crisis. Generating required earnings means we won’t need to appropriate new money every session.
  • HB0144 — Suicide awareness and prevention license plate proposes the introduction of a mental health specialty license plate, which residents can voluntarily purchase. This option would give them the chance to invest in statewide mental health crisis services. This is a good bill.
  • HB0169 — Mental health and vulnerable adult task force focuses on continuing the work of the mental health and vulnerable adults task force, which is responsible for studying and developing programs to address unmet mental health needs. This is a critical bill for our vulnerable adults.
  • HB0104 — Omnibus water bill-planning authorizes spending for level I and level II water studies. These studies determine the feasibility of new water projects and the rehabilitation of existing water structures, ensuring the long-term viability of Wyoming’s water infrastructure. This bill passed introduction with my support and will be heard in committee. Working on several water issues on Agriculture Committee for four years, I understand how critical water is to Wyoming, particularly here in Laramie County and Cheyenne. Let’s keep working.

I want to hear from you. Please email me at Bill.Henderson@wyoleg.gov if you have thoughts on legislation being discussed during the session. I appreciate receiving your thoughtful inputs. Thank you.

Rep. Bill Henderson