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Bebout ready for battle on rez border; justice center outlook good

Feb 11, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, was pleased to see funding for payment in lieu of taxes in the farm bill that was approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate.

The PILT money, which reimburses rural areas like Fremont County for lost tax revenue on federal lands, had been omitted from an earlier budget deal, according to the Associated Press.

Wyoming legislators had agreed to keep county governments whole if Congress cut the funding, but now it seems the safety net won't be necessary.

Gov. Matt Mead's biennial budget request set aside $175 million to replace the PILT money.

"That money is now available on the table to do things with," Bebout said.

He thinks the funding still should go to Wyoming's cities, towns and counties.

"That's one area I'm always supportive of," he said. "Or we might be able to hold it there for the future should the federal government play with (PILT) that again."

He suggested the state file liens against the federal government if Congress fails to fund the PILT program in the future. Fremont County receives about $2.2 million from PILT annually. The county's total budget is about $24 million.

WLRC, courthouse security

Mead recommended allocating about $60 million to continue studying options for increased efficiencies at the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander. Bebout said members of the Wyoming House of Representatives reduced that amount to $30 million.

"The House kind of messed around with what I wanted to do," Bebout said. "But it's a start. We may get it back up to $60 million; we'll see what happens."

The residential facility provides medical support and habilitation services to people with intellectual disabilities or brain injuries. State officials have said they don't want the facility closed, but they commissioned a study last year to look into more cost-effective ways to run the WLRC, and other Wyoming Department of Health institutions.

"We're not shutting down the WLRC or terminating anybody," Bebout said.

House members "played with" state funding for courthouse security, too. Bebout said they reduced the allocation from $10 million to $6 million to pay for upgrades at facilities throughout the state, including in Riverton.

"I don't like what they did," Bebout said, adding that the House "played with some language" in the budget bill as well. "But everybody agrees we need to do something."

Fremont County Commissioners have been looking into a new justice center in Riverton since 2008, when security concerns arose at the current courthouse building on South Federal Boulevard. A bullet was found to have penetrated the facility's exterior in July 2012.

Rez boundary

The Environmental Protection Agency in December ruled that a 1905 Congressional Act opening Wind River Indian Reservation lands - including the city of Riverton - to homesteading did not diminish the tribal boundary.

Bebout said the agency "stepped way out line" with the decision.

"It's just not right," he said. "It could have ramifications in a lot of different places where government bureaucracy has unilateral authority to change the law."

He has introduced a bill in the Wyoming Senate to challenge the EPA's authority in several areas, from the boundary issue to the agency's Regional Haze Program that monitors visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.

"The list (goes) on an on," Bebout said. "(My bill) will, I think, solidify and strengthen our position to ... challenge them on their lack of authority to do the things they do."

He also has collaborated with State Sen. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, to sponsor legislation defining what the WRIR boundaries "really are."

Mead in January filed a petition requesting the EPA reconsider its ruling, which came as part of the agency's approval of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes' application for Treatment as a State through the Clean Air Act.

Committees

Bebout is chairman of the state's Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee, which has continued to "really press the battle about the overreach" of the federal government. He talked about local impacts of the Endangered Species Act and Environmental Impact Studies required by the Bureau of Land Management.

"We have total disagreement with some proposed rules the federal government is coming out with," Bebout said. "That's an active committee."

He and Miller also co-chair the state's Task Force on the Transfer of Public Lands which is addressing a lack of management by federal employees.

"A lot of that is driven out of Washington, (D.C.)," Bebout said. "You have local federal employees that understand and want to get it right, but it's that overreach."

The task force is considering legislation that will assign the issue to a committee like the SFNRMC.

The Wyoming Energy Council, of which Bebout is a member, is working with the federal government on national energy policies, and he is part of the Energy Producing States Coalition that is developing a national agenda to fight federal intrusion. Bebout said the coalition includes 10-15 states that are affected by "the same ridiculous rulemaking authority" in Washington, D.C.

"It's such a shame," he said. "We have a lot of important things, good things, we could be doing with the state - and we are. We're working on economic development and job creation. But we (also) fight these battles with the feds. ... What a loss of manpower."

Cindy Hill

Bebout would like to spend less time talking about State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill during the upcoming 2014 Budget Session, which convenes Feb. 10. The Legislature last year passed Senate File 104 redefining the superintendent's duties, but the law was deemed unconstitutional in a 3-2 decision by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

"We ultimately went too far," Bebout said.

The justices didn't give the Legislature much direction moving forward, however. Bebout said he'd like to see lawmakers analyze the situation in a fair and deliberative way.

"We need to come up with what we can all agree on, if there is such a thing, and move forward," Bebout said.

Wyoming has requested a rehearing of the case, but Bebout said he hopes it doesn't end up back in the Supreme Court.

"I'd like to put this all behind us and move on," he said. "We're a small state. Everybody knows everybody, and this has created some very divisive issues between people. I'm always thinking we can put that behind us and go for the greater good (to) enhance our K12 education system."

Bebout doesn't think the legislature should continue investigating possible impeachment proceedings for Hill.

"I'm not inclined to do that at all," he said. "I don't think the things that have gone on are impeachable."

Workers compensation

Another bill Bebout intends to sponsor deals with workers compensation for independent business owners. A recent court decision denied workers compensation to people who own and operate their own business alone.

"I'm working on a bill to try to bring some fairness to it," Bebout said.

He acknowledged that some people could take advantage of workers compensation, but he also thinks someone like a welder operating his or her own welding truck should be covered by the insurance.

The drilling contractor has represented Senate District 26 since 2007. Before that he was a member of the House 1987-2000. He is Senate Vice President this year, and he was Speaker of the House 1999-2000. He was the House Majority Floor Leader 1997-1998 and House Minority Whip 1993-1994.

Based on his experience, he said the Legislature as well as Campbell County lost a "super lady" when state Rep. Sue Wallace, R-Recluse, passed away last month.

"She was just a diligent, deliberative, hard-working lady that loved this great state," Bebout said. "Boy, we're going to miss her. ... She really went the extra mile for what she believed in."

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