From: Jessica Lowell, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
Published March 4, 2005 12:00 AM

House, Senate Can't Agree On Wildlife Fund

CYEYENNE, Wyo. — The fate of the wildlife trust fund is up in the air today following the failure of a conference committee Wednesday to reach agreement over the two different versions of the bill.


At the end of the meeting the conference report was two words: Senate recedes.


Negotiators from the upper house offered to give way on a number of points they didn't have in their version of the bill or even had voted against on the floor. In the end, they simply withdrew from the negotiations.


In broad terms, Wildlife and Natural Resource Funding Act would set aside a sum of money to be invested. The income would be used to pay for improving and maintaining habitat and preserving open space in the state.


The two chambers differed significantly on how to reach those goals.


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For more than 90 minutes Wednesday three senators and three representatives talked about compromise in their versions of the bill.


As Senate File 41 came out of the Senate, it had a $500,000 threshold for improvement projects without legislative approval and a startup of the trust fund with $30 million.


But when the bill went through review in the House, it was recast top to bottom.


For the most part, Reps. Pat Childers, R-Cody, Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, and Kurt Bucholz, R-Saratoga, refused to budge on any of the points of difference.


For instance, the House created a select committee to the mix to oversee the fund's operations and put a cap of $200,000 on funding for projects without approval. And it cut the fund from $30 million to $15 million.


Senate negotiators accepted the addition of the committee and a number of other changes. But they didn't like the cap on projects, and they were less than happy about the amount of money to go to the trust fund.


Before they broke, senators gave way to a number of House changes and were ready to dicker on the money. But the representatives weren't prepared to agree to more than $200,000 per project and putting more than $15 million in the trust fund.


After a two-hour break, the panel met again with the representatives agreeing to a $250,000 cap offered up by Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan.


But Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, was against that; he preferred a much higher level.


Said Sen. Bob Peck, R-Riverton, "If I were any more flexible, I would be wishy-washy. We can try to sell the House version on the Senate floor. If it doesn't fly, we can try it another year."


In the end, that is what will happen. The question for the Senate now is whether it will agree that the House version is better than no bill at all.


The conference committee reports go before the two chambers today, which is expected to be the final day of the session.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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