- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Monday marks the start of the third week of the Wyoming Legislature’s four-week budget session.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said Friday that the staff of the nonpartisan Legislative Service Office would work over the weekend to reconcile differences in the parallel budget bills that the House and Senate approved Friday.

Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said he expects both houses will appoint members to a conference committee that will start meeting this week to resolve differences.

The Legislature is focused on crafting a $3.3-billion general-fund budget to pay for state government operations for the two-year period beginning July 1.

The final versions of the budget bill approved by the House and Senate were in close agreement on critical issues of raises for state employees and funding for local governments.

Both the House and the Senate endorsed the approach recommended by the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee that calls for annual pay raises of 2 percent for most state employees. They also both agreed on putting up $175 million for local government funding.

“I don’t expect a long conference committee. It may be long,” Lubnau said. “And there will be some things we need to work out between the houses. But the major expenses went on as mirror amendments.”

The pressure will be on this week to move non-budget bills, as well. This Friday is the last day for bills to get out of committee in the second house, and any bills that don’t make the cut will be dead.

“What typically happens is the House during the first half of the session just works their tail off, and we throw over to the Senate just a great big pile of bills,” Lubnau said.

During the second half of the session, the Senate, which has 30 members compared to 60 in the House, has a larger workload as it tackles bills coming over from the House, Lubnau said.

Among the bills moving forward this week will be a Senate measure that received preliminary approval on Friday. It would put up money to pay for a special legislative session if one is necessary to deal with fallout from the recent state Supreme Court decision in the superintendent of public instruction case.

The court recently ruled 3-2 that a law enacted last year taking away many of the superintendent’s duties was unconstitutional. The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has asked the court to reconsider, and the matter may still go before a district court for more proceedings.

Lubnau and Ross said many uncertainties remain about how the Legislature will have to act to respond to the court ruling. They said it’s not clear whether the Legislature will have to hold a special session.

“In any event, there are so many moving parts at this point in time, with so very little direction, that it’s hard to figure out,” Ross said.

Lubnau said the Legislature doesn’t know what the final Supreme Court order is going to be. There are unanswered questions, including how the Legislature is supposed to address hiring decisions and contracts made at the Department of Education in the year since the superintended was removed, he said.

“The Supreme Court opinion said: ‘You can do something, but you can’t do what you did,’ ” Lubnau said.

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