Wyoming news briefs for November 1

Speeding F-350, semi kill 5 Teton bison

JACKSON — For the second time in four years, a nighttime auto wreck in Grand Teton National Park has claimed the lives of a handful of bison at once.

Both of the collisions likely involved speed — the nighttime limit is 45 mph — and both occurred in the Elk Ranch Flats area of the park, where bison are routinely congregated in big numbers alongside the highway. 

The recent fatal accident occurred at 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 19, when an out-of-county Wyoming resident was headed southbound down Highway 26/89/191 in a Ford F-350.

“The bison herd was thought to be crossing the road, and the driver caught the tail end of it,” Teton Park spokesman C.J. Adams told the Jackson Hole Daily.

The Ford’s original collision killed or severely injured four bison. A fifth bison was later hit and killed. A semi-truck driver headed northbound veered into the southbound lane because the broken-down F-350 was in his lane.

Law enforcement rangers who investigated the wreck believed that speed was a factor in the F-350 striking the herd.

“A citation was issued for expired registration,” Adams said. “Even though speed was suspected as a factor, law enforcement officers determined they didn’t have sufficient evidence to pursue that.”

“I know we think of bison as these large animals,” he added. “But at night, it’s really dark in the park and bison are kind of darkly colored, so they can be hard to see. That’s why it’s important to go 45 miles per hour. You can save a life, and that life might even be your own when it comes to hitting bison.”


Legislators announce plan to censure representative for comments

SHERIDAN — Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, may face censure in the Wyoming House of Representatives following vulgar comments made while participating in the Legislature’s special session remotely.

Harshman, a former Speaker of the House, said in an in-person apology on the House floor Friday morning, he had walked away from his computer, believing the audio was not active.

But it was, and Harshman could be heard in the House chamber speaking about a fellow legislator.

“Chuck Gray, f***," he was caught saying. "Little f******* [inaudible].”

Harshman noted the comments were a breach of conduct.

“I apologize for that. It’s wrong. I know better than that,” he said Friday, also apologizing for creating a distraction during the session.

As a result of the incident, House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, revoked Harshman’s privileges to participate remotely in the special session that began Tuesday. Barlow pointed out three breaches of conduct — addressing the body without the chair's permission, invoking the name of a member and using language that is inappropriate.

“We don’t have to like each other,” Barlow said. “We don’t even have to maybe trust each other, but it is incumbent that we respect each other because only through that respect do we respect this institution.”

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, spoke before the House Friday morning, announcing he planned to bring a motion next week to censure “one member and possibly two members.” One member is presumably Harshman, but Bear did not indicate who the second member was.


Schools now reassured on ARP money

RIVERTON — Wyoming’s unique school funding system should not affect its use of emergency educational funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, state staffers said this week. 

Last month, officials said Wyoming had received its third round of ARPA funding for education but had not yet distributed it because of an associated requirement to maintain state funding levels at a certain rate. 

The question was whether that federal funding guarantee includes local as well as state money – both of which are used to pay for education in Wyoming. 

This week, school finance analyst Matt Willmarth told the Joint Appropriations Committee that the U.S. Department of Education has been “favorable towards Wyoming” in allowing the state’s educational funding guarantee to include both state and local revenues. 

“Utilizing the state guarantee amount equalizes that calculation across years,” he said. 

According to the Wyoming Department of Education, the Wyoming School Foundation Program provides a guaranteed level of funding to every Wyoming public school districts; districts whose local revenues amount to less than the guarantee get money from the state to make up the difference, while districts with access to more local revenues than their state guarantee give the excess back to the state in a process known as “recapture.” 

In previous reports, WDE chief academic officer Shelley Hamel said Wyoming is slated to receive more than $300 million in emergency education funding through ARPA, with $273 million of that money going out to local districts to respond to needs that have arisen due to COVID-19, or needs that have been exacerbated due to COVID-19. Hamell added that 20 percent of the money must go toward addressing potential learning loss due to COVID-19.