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Justice center money

Feb 19, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

There are two bills that could provide it, but Sen. Eli Bebout's is the stronger

The fact that there is another bill in the Wyoming Legislature that could be seen as a competitor to State Sen. Eli Bebout's measure providing funding for the new courthouse/sheriff's office in Riverton, known commonly as the Riverton justice center, is a bit disconcerting.

Sometimes the existence of competing bill sends a message to lawmakers that the principals can't agree, and both can fall by the wayside because lawmakers don't know which bill -- or, just as importantly, whose bill -- they should support.

The good news for Riverton in this case is that both bills would provide funding for the justice center project, although a matching contribution from Fremont County would be required either way.

From this chair, the Bebout bill seems better. It provides a starter pool of cash from which the State Loan and Investment Board could provide grants to any local government that could make a good case for the funds. There's no doubt that the Riverton necessity helped push Bebout, who is from Riverton, to propose the bill, but its strength is that it provides money, potentially, for any local government.

The House bill would cost $4 million less, but that's because it designates only two projects, the Riverton plan and a facility in Sweetwater County. Cost saving is a big lure to any lawmaker in an election year, but this narrower bill rubs the risk of appearing to float in the pork barrel more than the Bebout version, which clearly has Riverton in mind but wouldn't necessarily stop there.

Riverton's need for new digs to house the court systems and sheriff's office was demonstrable well before a bullet hole in the side of the courthouse was discovered. Presumably, a similar case can be made for whatever it is that Sweetwater County wants. That could be all it takes.

But it's likely that funding for new jail and justice facilities for Wyoming's counties stands a better chance if legislation is viewed less as a piece of pork and more as a resource available through the years to other counties, not just two.

The strong guiding presence of Eli Bebout behind the Senate bill doesn't hurt Riverton's chances either. The Senate bill is preferable, and it deserves passage from the full Legislature this year.