Tribal relations committee interim topics approved, including education, housing, safety, cultural resources, taxation

    The Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council has approved the list of topics the Select Committee on Tribal Relations proposed for interim study this year.

    The first topic on the list – health, education, and welfare – is “pretty broad,” Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, said this week, noting that the Tribal Relations committee, which she co-chairs, would like to consider K-12 as well as higher education issues – particularly the idea of offering college tuition waivers to Tribal members.

    “(That was) one of the things specifically that one of the Tribes brought to us,” Oakley said. “They would like to discuss a tuition waiver to see if that’s possible. …


    “We’d like to delve into (that).”

    Other education topics on the interim list were: WYTOPP performance, early literacy, ACT preparation courses, access to the Hathaway scholarship, and recruitment and retention at Wyoming colleges and the University of Wyoming.


    Tribal members have also expressed interest in discussing “housing and homelessness,” Oakley said, pointing to priority No. 3 on the committee’s list of topics.

    “The Select Committee will consider housing and homelessness issues on the Wind River Reservation, including exploring access to funding,” the item states.


    The Management Council already asked the Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee to study housing this interim, Wyoming Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, pointed out, asking the two committees to “coordinate” with one another if they move forward with legislation on the topic.

    Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, didn’t think many proposals for housing legislation would come out of the Corporations Committee, however, expressing his belief that “government interference in housing has caused more problems than solutions.”

    “I don’t think there’s a lot of good ideas to come out of this space,” Case said. “There’s a lot of concern about housing in Wyoming and how to promote more housing, (but) I’m not so sure what government can do.”


    Regardless, Case said “there are tools that we could explore” to “promote” housing in the state, and “there are a bunch of people that would like to talk to us and propose some ideas.”

    Some of those ideas have already been “kicked around” in the past, and legislators “declined to move those forward,” Case said, so “I don’t intend to bring a slew of bills on this.”

    “My hope is that it would be more educational and less implementable, if you get my drift,” he said.

    Dan Dorsch, the advocacy director for the Southeast Wyoming Builders Association, agreed with Case that the interim topic will provide “a good opportunity to inform and educate the public and the legislature about housing issues (and) tools that are available statewide but aren’t being accessed right now, such as Tax Increment Financing.”


    Wyoming Community Development Authority executive director Scott Hoversland also expressed support for the topic, referencing an assessment his organization recently completed that showed a need for about 50,000 additional housing units statewide, plus up to 35,000 more through 2030.

    “(We have) a substantial need statewide,” he said. “We need to look at those topics and discuss those things.”


    The Tribal Relations Committee also plans to consider “public safety issues on the Wind River Reservation” during the interim, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, Tribal law enforcement, Wind River Tribal Court, highway safety, and “hit and run accidents.”

    Wyoming Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, referenced a recent article about a fatal traffic incident that occurred on the reservation when she explained that “a lot of tribal members walk places, and sometimes those roads are dangerous.”

    “In past years we’ve received a (Wyoming) Department of Transportation update,” she said. “That would be appropriate (now).”

    The Tribal Relations committee will continue looking into online sales tax collections on the reservation this interim, but Ellis said they “wanted to afford our Tribal counterparts some time to consider some options” related to the topic before moving forward, so even though the discussion “might generate legislation,” there is also a “good chance that it’s not quite ready for prime time either.”

    “(We’re) finding out if they do want us to go forward with legislation,” Oakley said.

    The final topic on the Tribal Relations list involves cultural education and resources, Ellis said, referencing a vandalism incident that left “some important sites” on the reservation damaged last year.

    The committee will “look into that issue” and “see if we need to adjust any of our statutes to make sure we’re working with our counterparts to provide those protections” that might help prevent similar incidents in the future, she said.

    The item description says the committee will “consider issues related to cultural resource protection, such as indigenous rock art sites on the Wind River Reservation, and State and federal lands.”

    They will also “invite the Tribal Business Councils to provide an overview of Tribal cultural practices and perspectives to facilitate and foster intergovernmental relations and communication,” the description states.

    The Tribal Relations committee is scheduled to meet May 1-2 and Oct. 2-3 in Fort Washakie.


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