GOSHEN COUNTY – The recently concluded session of the Wyoming Legislature was a “wild ride,” with some bills benefiting the local economy adopted and other falling by the wayside.
That was the characterization of Goshen County Economic Development Director and CEO Ashley Harpstreith on Friday during the group’s quarterly Partnership Breakfast, hosted by the Homesteaders Museum in Torrington.
“Your voice matters,” Harpstreith told the assembled GCEDC partners to open the informal gathering. Local legislators “trust when the community says, ‘This is important to us.’”
One of those bills that didn’t make the cut in Cheyenne would have permitted the creation of independent community development districts within cities and municipalities in the state, Harpstreith said. The bill would have allowed voters to decide via ballot measure whether to create the districts, which would have opened access to a variety of funding options for projects. Currently, specific development districts can be created in unincorporated areas of counties, but not in towns and cities, she said.
The community development bill “died a horrible, sad death,” Harpstreith said.
Also defeated by legislators was a proposed state-wide lodging tax which would have assisted in funding the state’s tourism industry.
“We worked on it for two years,” Harpstreith said. “It would have stabilized tourism funding.
“Tourism is the number two industry in the state,” she said. “We need to support that.”
On a positive note, Harpstreith said, the legislature passed and Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law last week legislation which opened the door for commercial hemp growing and processing in the state. With more than 25,000 separate products available from commercial hemp, it could mean a revitalization of the agriculture industry in Wyoming.
“When you’re talking about agriculture diversification, this is it,” Harpstreith said.
Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who was a guest at the meeting, agreed, saying she was “excited” about the potential future for commercial hemp within the state.
Steinmetz also explained why she didn’t support either the development district or lodging tax bills. She said the development district bill “had a lot of issues. It was pretty rough and we had to kill it.”
Steinmetz also said legislators believed a bill which would have initiated the first income tax on corporations in the state would have potentially “singled out” just a handful of businesses, which could have opened up the state to litigation.
A couple of pieces of legislation which did reach Gov. Gordon’s desk included establishment of a reimbursement process for county sheriffs to recoup costs associated with investigations dealing with livestock. Since doing away with law enforcement duties associated with the state livestock board a few years ago, those duties have fallen on county sheriff’s offices, Steinmetz said.
Another bill expected to be signed into law permitted the installation of cameras in school buses, which could capture the license plates of vehicles which ignore the stop sign arms. The owners of those vehicles could then be subject to citation and fines, which would be mailed out, based on the identifying information of the license plates, she said.
“That’s a bigger problem in the bigger communities,” Steinmetz said. “I hope it’s not a big problem here.”
Both chambers of the legislature spent a good deal of time working on legislation related to blockchain technology in Wyoming, the area’s freshman legislator, Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, told the group. Setting the state on the forefront for blockchain was an important focus of the work for her first session in the House of Representatives, which could bring Wyoming into the international marketplace, she said.
“It’s pretty exciting, this technology,” Duncan said. “We will have several international businesses coming to Wyoming because of our blockchain-technology bills and legislations.”