2009 Legislative Updates
2009 Legislative Wrap-Up… another successful year for the WSLA!
The 2009 Wyoming Legislative General Session ended on March 5, on another successful note for the Wyoming State Liquor Association. Although issues like smoking bans made the newspapers the most frequently, some of the most important legislation the WSLA worked on this year never made the news… but will make a significant impact on your business!
Following is a list of some of the top issues that the WSLA worked on this year… it was a heckuva ride. Not every good bill we supported passed, but many did… and all the bills we opposed died, which is even more important! HB means House Bill, SF means Senate File and HJ means House Joint Resolution.
SF 112 (Archaic price regulation repeal) amends price regulation provisions to prevent “predatory pricing” by long-term below cost retail sales. Although the bill was “watered down” in the House to allow the use of discount cards and customer loyalty programs, the concerns of WSLA members was effectively addressed by prohibiting unfair competition through long-term selling below cost. SF 112 does allow, however, for short term “loss leaders” for up to 30 days and clearance items. This bill will help protect WSLA members by allowing normal competition and sales practices while preventing predatory pricing. WSLA supported. SF 112 was signed by the Governor into law.
HB 31 (Smoking in enclosed public places) would have banned smoking in all public places in Wyoming including bars, taverns and clubs. This bill was amended on the 2nd Reading of the House to create exemptions for liquor establishments that only allow individuals 21 and over and allow cities and counties to “opt out” of the state requirements to allow smoking in all establishments. With these amendments that the WSLA supported, the new opponents of the bill were the anti-smoking lobbyists, who changed their position from supporting the bill to opposing it in its amended, more moderate form. The bill narrowly passed the House, but died in the Senate without a hearing partially because of the opposition of the anti-smoking lobby and some of the legislators that had originally supported the bill. WSLA opposed, although moved to a position of support when the “middle ground” was reached through the House amendments. HB 31 died in the Senate without Committee Hearing.
HB 30 (Minimum wage) would have increased minimum wages for all employees from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour and all tipped employees from $2.13 to $5.00 per hour. Much work needs to be done by WSLA members in educating legislators and others that tip credit minimum wage must match regular minimum wage ($7.25 an hour on July 2009), and no tipped employee by law can make less than regular minimum wage. WSLA opposed. Died in House without listing on General File.
SF 30 (Bar and grill liquor licenses) would have increased the number of bar and grill liquor licenses in cities below 27,500 in population by one and over 27,500 by two. Senator Marty Martin (D – Superior) worked with the WSLA to amend the bill to find a more modest increase in the licenses. However, in spite of Senator Martin’s good work and cooperation, the bill passed the Senate Committee in its original form. This was partially as a result of lobbying on behalf of the City of Cheyenne and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities to keep the bill in its original form with the higher amount of licenses. Therefore, the WSLA opposed this bill. SF 30 was killed on Senate 3rd Reading.
HB 224 (Cigarette tax) would have increased the state excise tax on cigarettes in Wyoming by 50 cents a pack. This proposal, combined with the recent increase in the federal excise tax of 61 cents, would have increased a pack of cigarettes in Wyoming by at least $1.11. The result of this would have been increased cross border and internet sales, resulting in losses to Wyoming retailers. Funding was earmarked for the cities and counties. WSLA opposed. HB 224 was killed in the House Revenue Committee.
HB 34 (Liquor licensees – industry representatives) provides an exception to a prohibition on beer distributors donating money or other things of value to Wyoming nonprofit corporations. These corporations must qualify as a tax exempt organization with the I.R.S., have been in continuous operation for a period of not less than five years, and may only do so at annual community events open to the public and with approval of the applicable licensing authority. The WSLA opposed this bill until we incorporated all the changes listed above to narrow its parameters. With the work of legislators and the WSLA, the bill retained its original form, although the five year requirement for continuous operation was lowered to two in the Senate after since the process of becoming a tax exempt organization is a considerable hurdle by itself. Representative Pete Illoway (R-Cheyenne) worked very hard to ensure the basic form of the bill stayed intact to maintain the support of the WSLA. WSLA supported. HB 34 was signed by the Governor into law.
HB 170 (Wyoming Lottery for Education) would have created an independent Wyoming Lottery Corporation to run state lottery and powerball in Wyoming. It also authorized Video Lottery Terminals at horse racetracks in Wyoming to fund the program. The profits from the lottery (approximately $11 million) would have gone toward funding the Hathaway Scholarships. All Wyoming retailers, including package liquor stores, would have qualified for lottery machines, and the floor for the retailer commission was set at 6%. WSLA supported. HB 170 died on House Committee of the Whole.
HB 59 (Liquor licenses-golf clubs) allows for the issuance of unlimited club limited liquor licenses to municipalities for use at solely owned golf courses and allows the subcontracting of a golf club operation without transfer of the license. The WSLA opposed this bill until changes are made limiting the number of golf clubs at two, mandating a public hearing for the issuance of these licenses and clarification language to limit the subcontracting to municipal golf courses only. Much credit goes to the bill sponsors, Representative Tim Stubson (R-Casper) and Senator Bill Landen (R-Casper) for their work in adopting the amendments to allow the WSLA to support this bill. WSLA supported. HB 59 was signed by the Governor into law.
HB 64 (Co-employee immunity) amends the standard for tort immunity for an injured worker’s fellow employees with Wyoming Workers’ Compensation. The WSLA has supported this bill in the past to help hold back runaway workplace lawsuits. WSLA supported. HB 64 died in House Judiciary.
HB 67 (Tobacco excise tax) changes the taxation of moist snuff tobacco from price based to weight based. Since this is a change primarily in the method of taxation rather than a tax increase, WSLA didn’t oppose this bill provided there is no further increase in taxes. HB 67 was signed by the Governor into law.
HB 102 (Excise tax-vendor compensation) would have provided for a credit to Wyoming retailers for the collection and payment of sales and use taxes. When HB 102 passed the House, the amount was set at 1% of the amount of tax due but not to exceed a total of $1,000 in any calendar year for the combined total of all business premises of the vendor. This credit exists in most other states in different and similar forms and gives a credit back to the retailer for the preparation of sales tax returns. Unfortunately, with the $6 million price tag attached to the bill, combined with increased budgetary concerns, the Senate killed the bill. WSLA supported. HB 102 was killed on Senate Committee of the Whole.
SF 88 (Required use of ignition interlock devices) requires the use of ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders. This requirement only applies to repeat or high Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) offenders. It also imposes penalties on those who assist others in defeating an ignition interlock device. WSLA remained neutral provided that the requirement was not extended to first time low BAC offenders. SF 88 has been signed by the Governor into law.
HB 54 (Workers’ compensation amendments) allows increased benefits to injured workers, adds a cost of living adjustment and duration to benefits for disability, allowed Workers’ Compensation benefits for corporate officers, limited liability company members, partners and sole proprietors, increased dependent children’s, death and permanent impairment benefits and more. The WSLA monitored this bill closely to ensure that benefits weren’t expanded at the expense of the health of the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation reserve fund, which the Department of Employment announced earlier this year had decreased by $100 million due to investment losses. An unhealthy reserve fund, fuelled by increased costs to the Workers’ Compensation system and investment losses, will mean higher rates for Wyoming businesses, something the WSLA will work hard to prevent. WSLA monitored this bill. HB 54 was signed by the Governor into law.
HB 141 (Impaired driving prevention amendments) was a sweeping revision of Wyoming DUI laws including changing definitions including “physical control of a motor vehicle”, amending the time for tests of blood alcohol concentration, adding the crime of aggravated driving under the influence, requiring limited usage of ignition interlock devices and others. WSLA monitored this bill. HB 141 was killed in Senate Judiciary.
HB 311 (County smoking regulation) would have allowed counties to institute smoking bans, which they are not currently allowed to do. The WSLA has successfully defeated similar bills before, and may reevaluate our position on this issue; however, this bill didn’t come up until later in the session, so it’s chances were pretty slim. WSLA opposed this bill. HB 311 died without Committee hearing.
HB 274 (Underage drinking) would have created a new offense for persons under 21 who enter liquor establishments, expanded offenses for persons under 21 who possess or consume alcohol; and limits possession or consumption of alcohol by a person under 21 years in the presence of a parent or guardian. Although HB 274 had some very good aspects, it ran into difficulties (among others) in the repercussions of establishing new laws regarding the possession or consumption in a private residence with family. WSLA monitored this bill. HB 274 was killed on House Committee of the Whole.
HB 284 (Impoundment of DUI vehicle) would have provided for the impoundment of a motor vehicle in the case of DUIs and set costs of impoundment. WSLA monitored. HB 284 was killed in House Judiciary.
HB 103 (Illegal immigration) would have established offenses for illegal immigration, new statutory penalties for individuals and employers hiring illegal immigrants and new guidelines for state agencies and the attorney general to control the flow of illegal immigrants. Although the bill had its merits in concept, there were too many downsides for Wyoming employers, particularly acting in good faith, for the bill to be salvageable. WSLA opposed. HB 103 died without Committee hearing.
HJ 16 (Immigration reform) was the “middle ground” for immigration reform that HB 103 was attempting to address. HJ 16 requested that Congress pass effective and meaningful immigration law reform designed to protect Wyoming’s workforce and economic strength of the state’s business environment by effectively protecting and guarding our nation’s borders. Unfortunately, HJ 16 was a late bill and time ran out after it passed the House. WSLA supported. HJ 16 died on Senate General File.
HB 115 (DUI-penalties) would have strengthened the penalties for first and subsequent DUI’s and redefines substance abuse evaluation requirements. WSLA monitored. HB 115 died without Senate Committee Hearing.
HJ 1 (City and county unification) proposed to amend the Wyoming Constitution to allow the legislature to provide for a procedure and laws governing unification of counties and municipalities and defines unified governments as counties for taxation and revenue purposes. This would require a popular vote, but would combine county and city governments for purposes such as liquor licenses and ordinances. The combined governmental entity would be like a county for tax and revenue purposes and like a municipality for all other purposes. WSLA had grave concerns on the affect on liquor licenses and retailers and would have opposed this bill on those grounds had it moved forward. HJ 1 died without Committee hearing.
SF 18 (Mental injury-workers’ compensation) would have amended the definition of injury to authorize coverage of a mental injury for Wyoming Workers’ Compensation. WSLA opposed due to concerns that the re-definition would lead to excessive costs to the system, creating higher Worker’s Compensation rates for businesses. SF 18 died in House Labor.
HB 39 (Population determinations-use of federal census) would allow only the 10 year census to count for taxation and other estimates as opposed to the current mid-census estimates. This would potentially limit the issuance of new liquor licenses to once every 10 years as opposed to once every five. However, the Senate successfully amended the bill to allow the exemption for liquor license issuance, a move the WSLA supported. WSLA supported in its amended form. HB 39 was signed by the Governor into law.