One of my favorite fellow lobbyists inside the Wyoming Capitol (and AARP Wyoming member) likes to tell me nothing new ever comes before the Wyoming Legislature. He’s been at this a while and each time you quiz him on an issue, he brings up three examples when the state has considered a bill in front of lawmakers currently.
I thought about that a lot this week and I’ll get into that a little later. For now, here are the three things you need to know from the Capitol this week. Oh, and By the way,
- What is old is new again.
- Property tax relief discussion kicked off
- Saddle up for Budget Week
What’s old is new again
Remember my lobbyist friend’s statement about nothing new coming before lawmakers. That played out this week as we watched multiple Voter ID bills drop on the Legislature’s bill tracker.
As a bit of review, in 2021, then State Representative Chuck Gray brought a bill to require everyone voting present a photo ID. At AARP Wyoming, we worked hard to allow eligible voters to present Medicare and Medicaid cards into a bill that flew through the Legislature. Our reasons were simple - 40% of older adults around the country do not have a driver's license, which tends to be the primary photo ID used to vote. State ID cards are available for those who can make it to WYDOT and have $10 to spend on the right to vote.
Last week, Freshman Casper Rep. Tony Locke dropped HB156, which would do a few things, such as require a valid ID to vote (no more using expired ID’s, which we didn’t know was happening), and require photo IDs at the polling place. To his credit, when we brought our concerns to Locke, he has offered to continue to allow Medicare and Medicaid cards, clearly not wanting to disenfranchise older voters who may no longer carry a photo ID. The bill also requires that someone who brings an ID such as a Medicare card to vote would be asked to bring an insurance bill, utility bill or other address verification. Frankly, as negotiations go, this one seems reasonable. HB156 is up in the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
House Bill 219 is being brought by Gillette’s Chris Knapp and would require anyone requesting an absentee ballot send a copy of their ID along with the request to the county clerk. This one seems a little more fraught for disaster given how easy it is to open a credit account or credit card when a thief has a copy of someone’s driver’s license that they stole out of a mailbox. Our friends in law enforcement appear to agree with us. The bill will be up before the House Corporations Committee in the House at some point soon. Until then, feel free to reach out to committee members if you share our concern.
In short, we appreciate any efforts to make voting more credible and secure, we want the same. However, we do not support efforts that present barriers to voting for our older adults in Wyoming. Older Wyomingites have earned that right and take it seriously, showing up to the polls at rates higher than any other age group.
Property tax relief discussion kicked off
At times this session, I have wondered if I have enough fingers and toes to count all the property tax relief bills that have dropped. This week the respective Revenue Committees of the House and Senate dug into some of that work and some themes are coming forward:
- A number of organizations around the state (including AARP Wyoming) seem to prefer the tactic of continuing and allowing additional eligibility through the Joint Revenue Committee’s HB99 for the Property Tax Refund Program, which was funded last year. The bill came out of House Revenue this week and would allow households making up to 125% of the state’s median income to apply for refunds of up to 90% of last year’s property tax.
- On the Senate side, there is some momentum around SF136, from Bo Biteman, which would reduce the state’s property tax rate from 9.5% to 7.5%, though this measure faces objection from those who base their mill levies on the state’s 9.5%. Groups like special districts, community college districts and others.
- Another bill, Bill Allemand’s HB215, which dropped this week would allow anyone 65 and over, who has lived in Wyoming for 15 or more years, and any honorably discharged veterans an exemption from being taxed on their property at all. The bill has been referred to House Revenue.
As we move forward in this discussion, the question of how many dollars will these measures cost the state if voted in will be front-and-center. For example, the bill to exempt those 65 and over from any property tax would cost Wyoming $25 million in revenue each year. The Biteman bill to reduce the property tax rate to 7.5% would cost state coffers up to $173 million in the tax year 2025, according to the Legislative Service Office with much of that coming out of School Foundation Funds. By comparison, HB99, the Property Tax Refund Program would cost the state just $2.5 million per year, while getting targeted relief to those who need it most. Those state revenue impacts can’t be ignored by a government that is struggling to find snow plow drivers, or fund its social service programs.
Budget Week is coming up
There will be a bit of a break from our bills moving through the House and Senate at the same speed as they have the last three weeks. Next week the House and Senate will start marking up mirror budget bills on the floor. If you are struggling to sleep, feel free to give the budget bill a read. By next week it will be full of red marks and the state’s supplemental budget will come into focus. Right now, programs of AARP interest seem to be in reasonable shape, but we will keep our eyes on the process. In the meantime, committees continue to meet starting Monday.
Have a great weekend and we’ll be back next week. BTW - last week we had another dynamite update, but the email monster kept it from getting to our members. Click here to read the Week Two Update.
Associate State Director - Communications and State Advocacy