The 66th Wyoming Legislative Session resumed this week with lawmakers across the state participating remotely in standing committee meetings. Our work looks different this year as we take precautions to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in the legislative process. But we remain committed to working together to meet the challenges and opportunities facing our great state.
Recognizing the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, this week legislators began working several bills meant to support workers and business owners and foster lasting economic recovery.
Among those is House Bill 9, which would allow employers to reduce employee hours across the board during an economic downturn, rather than having to lay off staff to balance their books. That would allow workers to stay on the job, retain their health and retirement benefits and receive a portion of their lost wages in unemployment benefits. And employers would be better positioned to keep valuable employees, avoid training expenses and be ready to grow once the storm passes.
“House Bill 9 provides employers and employees much-needed flexibility during tough economic times,” said House speaker pro tempore Mike Greear, co-chair of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, too. Evidence suggests that this program will reduce the number of long-term unemployment claims and create savings in the Unemployment Insurance Fund.”
Similarly, Senate File 19 and House Bill 59 would provide greater certainty to businesses and workers by expanding protections against lawsuits arising from public health emergencies. These bills would shield business owners and employees that act in good faith to comply with public health directives from being sued by customers who may be exposed to an illness.
“These measures are critical to provide our businesses the confidence to get back to work and prevent frivolous lawsuits that can sink a company, even when it has done everything right,” explained Sen. Tara Nethercott, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“By the same measure, this bill looks out for customers by ensuring businesses are held accountable for gross negligence. Similar laws across the country have earned the support of business advocacy groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers,” Chairwoman Nethercott added.
The pandemic has strained our hard-working men, women, families and industries. Wyoming legislators are committed to alleviating unnecessary burdens on them wherever we can. One such effort is Senate File 16, which would update a decades-old “net-metering” system. The bill would replace a mandatory compensation requirement for excess power generated by solar and renewable sources.
Currently, utility providers are required to purchase excess power from home-scale systems, like solar panels — often at four to ten times the wholesale cost, even though the utility may not need it or could replace it with other cheaper (and often still green) sources. House Bill 16 would instead task the state Public Service Commission with setting rates, which will provide greater stability in consumer prices and remove subsidies through rate balancing.
“Senate File 16 will make sure that our most vulnerable ratepayers, particularly those on fixed incomes, do not have their rates raised to pay for renewable power generation that often is not needed,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill.
These are just a few examples of the issues before the legislature, and there is still a lot of work ahead. We are honored to serve the people of Wyoming and will continue to fight for you. Together, there is no challenge great or small that we cannot overcome.
Eric Barlow (R-HD3) is the Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives. Dan Dockstader (R-SD16) is the President of the Wyoming Senate.