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March 8, 2012     Lovell Chronicle
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6 I The Lovell Chronicle I March 8, 2012 Budget finishes, Senate nearly ready to adjourn BY DAVID PECK The budget has been passed, bills are on final readings and the 2012 Budget Ses- sion of the 61 st Wyoming Legislature is just about to wrap up, Sen. Ray Peterson report- ed Tuesday night. Wednesday was to be the final day for bills to be considered on third reading, with only concurrence work on differing versions of particular bills to follow on Thursday. He said the session could wrap up as early as today (Thursday) and no later than noon on Friday. The Senate and House conference com- mittee on the budget, of which Peterson was a member, met and came to an agree- ment on the $3.2 billion Friday, reconciling differences in the two versions of the bud- get bill, with the Senate agreeing to appro- priate $7.5 million to community colleges to provide for "enrollment growth" - in oth- er words, more positions.but no salary in- creases for current staff members. Peterson said the 2012-14 biennial bud- get basically flatlines the current 2010-12 budget over the next two years for every- thing except necessary upgrades in com- puter software and the like while putting a hold on raises and hiring. The conference committee members signed the bill - actually companion House and Senate bills - on Monday, the House and Senate voted to concur and the bill was signed by the Senate president and the speaker of the House, He said Gov. Matt Mead was expected to sign the bill, but he also noted that while the budget contains no major cuts, state agencies may face a 4 percent cut over the second half of the bien- nium when the legislature convenes for its 2013 general session - if the price of natu- ral gas continues to fall. Part of the budget process was a bill - SF 105 - to fund school capital construc- tion over the biennium, and Peterson said that bill passed the House on third read- ing Thursday and was signed by Gov. Matt Mead Tuesday. The bill contains $5.5 mil- lion for the remodeling of Lovell High School - phases II and III. Phase II is for fine arts and vocational education including a multipurpose room and a kitchen. Phase III is for upgrading the rest of the classroom space in the high school. Lovell Supt. of Schools Dan Coe said architectural work could begin in about two months, and with the School Facilities Commis- sion having to approve each step of the design process, it could take a year before the project is ready to go out for bids. He said he is hoping to see actual construction be- gin in June of 2013. ENDOWMENT Peterson said he was pleased that House Bill 113, which he co-sponsored along with Rep. Dave Bonner of Powell, was expected to pass the Senate on Wednes- day after barely surviving on Monday. The bill would give criti- cal access hospitals - like North Big Horn Hospital and South Big Horn Hospital - two more years to raise funds to match up to $250,000 in state mon- ey through the Critical Access Hospital En- dowment Challenge Program. So far, only two critical access hospi- tals - hospitals with 25 or fewer beds that serve rural communities - have matched the $250,000 maximum, and both of those - in Hot Springs and Johnson counties - are county hospitals where the county commis- sion allocated the match. District-based hospitals have had to raise the money gradually, and so far North Big Horn Hospital has raised $10,000, which Peterson said is at the bottom of the list of those participating but ahead of the eight hospitals that have so far chosen not to participate, including South Big Horn Hospital. The program was to end on June 30, 2012, but the bill extends the endowment challenge through June 30, 2014, giv- ing small hospitals more time to meet the match. The bill does cut some funding for the endowment challenge, with $1.5 million in funding moving forward but the balance of the fund, around $1.3 million, going back into the budget reserve account on June 30, 2012. The bill almost didn't survive on Mon- day, Peterson said. Monday was the last day for bills to be considered in the Commit- tee of the Whole (first reading), and late in the day the bill was buried under about four Senator Ray Peterson other bills. He then heard a pair of senators, including powerful Appropriations Committee chairman Phil Nicholas of Laramie, talk- ing about the endowment. challenge bill and asking if it had ever been revert- ed back to the appropria- tions committee since, even though it contained no new money, it did affect the bud- get. He said the bill passed the House without going through reversion and was considered in the Senate La- bor, Health and Social Ser- vices Committee, chaired by Sen. Charles Scott of Casper. It passed out of the Scott committee on Friday but, again, was not re-referred to Appropriations. "Here we are, at 5 o'clock on the last day, and this problem comes up," Peterson said. Scott and Nicholas convened a meeting of the rules committee, and Peterson said he and Sen. Bill Landen of Casper consult- ed with the Legislative Services Office and were ready to appeal a negative decision to the entire Senate. But luckily the rules committee ruled in favor of the Labor Com- mittee and Peterson was able to present the bill, which passed on first reading Monday and second reading Tuesday. OTHER LEGISLATION Peterson noted some other bills that passed this week: He voted for Senate File 33, which creates the Dept. of Enterprise Technolo- gy Services, passed the House and received concurrence by the Senate on Friday. Though some citizens fear the bill would grow state government, Peterson said the bill is designed to save taxpayer money by creating a single IT agency that can han- dle purchases and technical support for all state agencies and, thus, have greater pur- chasing power and eliminate duplication of technology services. "It will combine a lot of things to get better prices and more efficiency," Peter- son said, "from laptops and copiers to main frames and software. It will create an IT agency to do all purchases and provide support, except for specialty software. It doesn't grow government because it takes a percentage of operations money from agen- cies and applies it to the new agency." Peterson's bill creating the Wyoming Medicaid False Claims Act, SF 81, passed the Senate last Wednesday, Feb. 28, 30-0, and was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, 8-1, but it never came up for consideration on the House floor. The Education Accountability bill, SF 57, which modifies the state assessment system, passed third reading in the House on Tuesday. According to Lovell Supt. Coe, the lengthy bill establishes phase I of a state accountability effort, setting up a sys- tem to be devised later for school account- ability by scoring schools based on student assessments like PAWS and tying student assessments and performance to staff eval- uations. Peterson voted for the bill in the Sen- ate. "We're still trying to work through the process of looking at different ways of tying some things down," Peterson said. "There have been question marks in the legisla- ture's eyes (in regard to education), and we want to find out where the problems are and get good, quality information." House Bill 108 regarding Profes- sional Teaching Standards Board teacher certification passed the Senate on second reading Tuesday. Coe said the bill requires background checks already being imple- mented by the PTSB when a person applies for a teaching certificate to be considered in the certification process, and if an appli- cant has a felony conviction on his or her record, he or she would not receive certifi- cation. "Currently, they're not weighing the background check as part of the certifica- tion," Coe said. House Bill 21, which allows a driver to increase speed by 10 mph over the posted speed limit while passing a slower vehicle, passed the Senate 27-2 on Tuesday, and the House concurred with Senate changes. Peterson said he voted for a number of House joint resolutions but said the resolu- tions are not binding but, rather, are more like statements designed to promote discus- sion and gain media attention on various topics. Go local ... 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