Jan 8, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff WriterThe Wyoming Legislature's 2013 session begins Tuesday, and Lander's two legislators agree one bill they will keep an eye on involves increasing the state's fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said the proposed increase to the fuel tax is under consideration as a way to fund the estimated $135 million the Wyoming Department of Transportation says it needs annually to maintain the state's highway system.
Larsen said the generated funds would go to WyDOT and to counties for road repair. He also noted it's not enough to cover WyDOT's estimated costs.
"Where do we get the rest of it from, the general fund?" Larsen asked. "And if we don't pass the tax, do we fund highways to this level or make cuts?"
"Those are some pretty important questions," Larsen added.
Larsen was elected in November to represent Wyoming House District 54. He joins local legislator the county's most senior lawmaker, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.
Larsen's standing committee assignments are minerals and transportation. Case will continue to serve on the Revenue Committee and as chairman of the Corporations Committee.
Case said he thinks the increase in the fuel tax will pass, but he doesn't support it.
He said the state hasn't looked at developing a sufficient WyDOT.
"We have extraordinary roads in Wyoming," Case said. "It's a choice we made, and now we have to fund it. I don't think people understand how the maintenance eats our lunch."
Case is proposing a bill he thinks could help with road funding that involves a tolling system on Interstate 80. He said this is a better long-term solution than the tax.
"I don't think we have a choice," he said about the need for tolls. "We are not going to be able to count on an increase in federal support."
Larsen said legislation regarding the Wyoming Game and Fish license fee increase is something he will be watching. He said it will come down to either increasing fees or Game and Fish finding another revenue source to maintain programs.
"The increase in fees is placed on the backs of the sportsmen, and there is a lot of concern it's too burdensome, and not all programs of the Game and Fish benefit sportsmen," Larsen said. "If they need the extra funds, where else can we get it? Those are fair questions, and we need a real solution.
"Game and Fish recognize this is a difficult time to be asking for fee increases," he continued. "It will be an interesting discussion."
Both Larsen and Case said they are watching proposed legislation that calls for a study of the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander to see if clients could be served in communities statewide.
"People don't realize how big of an issue that is," Case said. "It's not a study to optimize the system or make the Life Resource Center more cost effective; it's about moving (the clients) to other places. ... This is not a fairly drafted bill, this is a study on how to close the Life Resource Center."
Larsen said the key thing is the clients and society's responsibility to provide care in a dignified way. He said families and guardians should be involved in the study.
"But it's also the responsibility of the state to allocate money in a responsible manner," Larsen added. "I think I'm confident the study will show how critical the center is for the clients and their families."
Tribal law enforcement
Larsen said he supports a bill that would allow tribal officers to make traffic stops of non-enrolled members suspected of violating traffic code laws on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
"I think it makes perfect sense," Larsen said.
Case said the bill, which was drafted by the Joint Judiciary Committee, is appropriate given that it involves "state roads, state laws, state courts and state citizens."
"There's a lot of misunderstanding about the bill," Case said.
For example, if the bill passes, non-enrolled members stopped on the reservation and issued a citation would proceed through the state courts, not tribal courts.
"I don't think that's so bad," Case said. "It seems like a fair balance."
Case, who is in his 21st year as a legislator, drafted six bills for this year's session. In addition to the tolling system on I-80 bill, Case is proposing legislation that would require companies who seek a permit for an industrial site area follow a timeline so that the company holding a permit and not doing work can't prevent someone else coming in to do a project.
Case also wants to see the state require probable cause or good reason for searches from law enforcement.
Another bill he is proposing involves publication requirements concerning insurance companies. Currently, the annual reports are published in newspapers statewide but not necessarily the newspaper in the community in which the company does business.
Case proposes a link on the state insurance commission's website to all insurance companies and their standings.
"I think it's so obvious and so important," he added. "It will save insurance consumers' money."
Other proposed legislation from Case would require that reports conducted by the Department of Family Services involving adult abuse are available to victims or their estates.
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