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Wyoming News Briefs

 

January 30, 2020



No coronavirus cases reported in Wyoming

CHEYENNE (WNE) — As the coronavirus spreads in China and the United States, there have been no reported cases of the virus in Wyoming as of Monday morning.

But officials with the state Department of Health say they are closely monitoring the situation as it develops.

“We have communicated the latest information regarding patient care, infection control and testing procedures with health care providers across Wyoming and will continue to share updates as needed,” state epidemiologist Alexia Harrist said in a prepared statement. “This is clearly a quickly growing and changing situation.”

At least 106 deaths and more than a thousand cases of the virus have been reported in China, and five cases have been detected in the United States as of Monday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, is believed to have initially been spread through animal and seafood markets, but person-to-person spread of the virus has occurred, according to the CDC.

“More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States,” the CDC stated on its website. “It would not be surprising if person-to-person spread in the United States were to occur.”

While there are a few different offshoots of the coronavirus, the main symptoms – fever, cough and shortness of breath – have emerged in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure.

Conservationists seek environmental planner for Teton County

JACKSON (WNE) — Teton County’s conservationists have their sights set on a bureaucratic changeup: a new town and county position focused solely on conservation.

“There’s no reason, with the position Teton County holds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, that we shouldn’t have someone dedicated to conservation issues,” said Kristin Combs, executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates. Such a role does not currently exist.

Combs is one of 18 conservation officials who signed onto the request. Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Executive Director Skye Schell delivered the letter to town and county officials as both groups begin to gear up for the 2020-2021 budgeting process.

The town and county both consider environmental factors in some of their decision making, but neither employs an all-encompassing environmental ombudsman. Snake River Fund Executive Director Jared Baecker said the lack of a government staffer focused on prioritizing ecosystems in decisions has caused some things to slip through the cracks.

“Here in Teton County where we have an abundance of wild rivers,” Baecker said, “we’ve lacked the oversight to manage how bank stabilization projects have been appropriately filed and executed by land owners and developers.”

A new conservation-focused official, in Baecker’s mind, would nip problems early on. Like a planner who works to make sure new developments comply with land development regulations before they’re built, the conservation planner would allow the county to “pre-vet” projects before they get too far down the road.

Beet growers wait for word on disaster aid

POWELL (WNE) — Federal disaster assistance to sugar beet growers whose crops were impacted by the 2019 harvest freeze is still not finalized. 

Growers in the Western Sugar Cooperative’s four-state region met for an annual meeting last week in Loveland, Colorado, hoping for word on their application for assistance under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Wildfire and Hurricane Disaster Indemnity Program (WHIP). They had earlier been notified they qualified for the program — along with grower cooperatives in the Upper Midwest. 

But despite the strong effort on behalf of sugar beet growers, there is nothing to report, said Ric Rodriguez of Powell, a member of Western Sugar Cooperative’s governing board. 

“We discussed the potential of the payment, but nothing has been finalized,” he said. “There is hope it would help right the ship for some growers.” 

Growers did chart a course for next year that would expand acreage planted in beets as a rebound plan. 

“We will plant a few more acres in all areas as we try to make up for the loss of sugar (with the recent crop),” he said. “The price of sugar has stabilized and actually has risen slightly because of the sugar losses across the beet growing regions. The hope is that the coop can take advantage of those prices on the crop that will be planted in 2020.”

AG interested in brand inspection case

PINEDALE (WNE) — On Jan. 6, the Sublette County Attorney’s Office filed a petition in 9th District Court for writ of review of a Circuit Court magistrate’s Dec. 10 ruling that a deputy’s stop and search of a livestock trailer for brand inspections required “probable cause” of a crime. 

Ninth District Court Judge Marv Tyler then transferred that petition to 4th District Court Judge John Fenn in Sheridan County. 

The petition questions if the state brand inspection law requires “probable cause” or suspicion of a crime and argues that livestock brands are subject to state inspection to regulate Wyoming’s livestock industry.

Now the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office “respectfully requests to be heard” if presiding 4th District Judge John Fenn “should consider the constitutionality of Wyoming Statute 11-21-103.” 

On June 2, 2019, a Sublette County deputy stopped Rex F. Rammell, a Rock Springs veterinarian with property in Pinedale, to search his livestock trailer and request current brand inspections for five horses.

Rammell received five citations for violating Wyoming Statute 11-21-103 and five misdemeanor charges were filed against him in Sublette County Circuit Court, where he pleaded not guilty before Magistrate Kainer. 

Rammell has represented himself throughout the case, claiming that the stop violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. 

In response to the prosecution’s petition for writ of review in a higher District Court, Wyoming Attorney General’s Office Senior Assistant Attorney Joshua Eames “respectfully requests” to be heard if Judge Fenn decides to consider the law’s constitutionality. 

Uinta County authorizes land sale for detention center

EVANSTON (WNE) — The Uinta County Commission Chambers were again full for the regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, when commissioners voted unanimously to pass a land transfer resolution authorizing the transfer of approximately 63 acres of county property located adjacent to the Bear River State Park to CoreCivic for the intended purpose of constructing an immigration detention/processing center. 

A Memorandum of Terms regarding the property sale between the county and CoreCivic lists the purchase price as $5,000 per acre. At that rate, the total purchase price of 63 acres would be $315,000. 

The project remains contingent on CoreCivic securing a contract for the facility from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas, the price the county paid for the land when purchasing it from the state about a decade ago was approximately $550 per acre. 

In a continuation of what has become commonplace at public meetings concerning the ICE facility, numerous people spoke both for and against the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Many of the comments were similar to those voiced at any number of meetings over the past nearly three years since the proposal was first mentioned in the spring of 2017. 

However, some new concerns were raised. 

Evanston resident Joice Mander asked if the property had ever been listed as being available for purchase and said other businesses should have been given the opportunity to purchase the land, even suggesting she knew of another potential buyer that would meet or better the agreed upon price.

Trustees hope to pick new prez next month

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming’s trustees are hoping to have a new president selected by the end of February.

During the trustees’ meeting Friday, search committee chairman John MacPherson said the quality of the candidates who’ve applied for the job has “been a lot better than I originally anticipated.”

MacPherson said the search firm hired by the university, Parker Executive Search, provided the search committee with a list of more than 60 candidates this week.

The bulk of those candidates come from academia; MacPherson said about 10 percent are current or former presidents, about 20 percent are deans, about 10 percent are provosts, about 10 percent are provosts and about 27 percent are other administrators.

The search committee plans to meet Tuesday to decide which candidates they’ll interview, MacPherson said.

Those candidates will then be interviewed via video conference on Feb. 4 and 5.

“From that interview process, we’ll submit a list of candidates of the board’s consideration,” said MacPherson, who’s also the former trustees chairman.

Dave True, who currently chairs the board of trustees, said his board plans to conduct interviews with semi-finalists off campus on Feb. 12 and 13.

During Friday’s meeting, Faculty Senate chair Ken Chestek asked the trustees’ permission for he and Staff Senate President James Wheeler to be present during those interviews.

True said he’ll take that request “under advisement.”

After those mid-February interviews, True said the board will select a few finalists and publicize their names — assuming they’re all still interested in the job.

Medical groups band together to back Medicaid expansion

CASPER (WNE) — A group of Wyoming health organizations formally announced this week their plan to lobby the Legislature to expand Medicaid in the Equality State.

“I think we’re hearing from a lot of sectors and a lot of different voices are coming up and speaking out and supporting Medicaid expansion,” said Chris Merrill, whose Equality State Policy Center is part of the coalition.

The group – dubbed Healthy Wyoming – includes the Wyoming Medical Society, the state hospital association, AARP Wyoming and state chapters of the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Merrill said. Its sole and explicit goal, he added, was expanding Medicaid. Its rollout includes a question-and-answer handout with facts about expansion and a Facebook video quoting several University of Wyoming medical students speaking in favor of the effort.

States have the ability to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act and via a Supreme Court decision. The process would broaden the joint state-federal program to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The new costs of the larger program would be split between the federal government and the state, with the feds paying 90 percent going forward.

Figures released by Wyoming’s Health Department show that Wyoming would pay about $18 million in the first two years of expansion, while the feds would pay $136 million. Roughly 19,000 Wyomingites would be newly covered by expansion in those first years.

Special prosecutor finds no election code violations in Sheridan

SHERIDAN — A special prosecuting attorney has concluded that no charges should emerge from election code violation complaints filed with the Sheridan County Clerk and Recorder’s Office regarding the city of Sheridan’s November special election.

The city’s November special election determined whether Charter Ordinance 2202 — which revised the duties of Sheridan’s city administrator position — would take effect.

Crook County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Baron wrote that no election nor criminal laws were violated based on the first complaint.

The complaint, which came from Sheridan resident Edward Miller, stemmed from an altercation between Miller and Sheridan City Council President Richard Bridger and Sheridan City Councilor Patrick Henderson at The Hub on Smith Oct. 30, 2019.

On that date, Miller confronted Bridger and Henderson, who were discussing the special election with city residents eating lunch at The Hub. Miller told the councilors they were violating election laws by discussing their opinions on the election, which led to an argument.

Regarding election and open meeting laws, Baron said Bridger and Henderson did nothing wrong. He wrote that elected officials are well within their rights to publicly explain their stance on political issues.

The second complaint Baron considered came from Banner resident Vicki Taylor. Taylor’s complaint questioned whether the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce should have taken a stance on the special election considering the organization receives Optional One-Cent Sales Tax funding from the city of Sheridan.

Baron wrote that there was no evidence that the Chamber used public funds improperly and noted that nothing prevents an entity that receives government funds from electioneering. As such, he concluded the Chamber had not violated any criminal laws.

Campbell County Health awaits payment for ransomware attack

GILLETTE (WNE) — Campbell County Health’s operations may be back to normal after a September ransomware attack crippled the organization, but it is still working to recover from its financial losses.

“There’s no impact on operations at this point,” CCH Chief Financial Officer Mary Lou Tate said about the effects of the attack.

The assault knocked out more than 1500 computers and servers throughout the organization, which included Campbell County Memorial Hospital and the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center.

CCH still has not received settlement money from its insurance companies, which is expected to be around $1.5 million, the amount lost due to the attack, Tate said.

“So any numbers that you may look at year-to-date is going to be impacted because we had a few weeks where we had less volume and less revenues,” she said. “When we get the insurance settlement revenues (they) will be accounted for, but the volumes will never come back for the year.”

The insurance companies requested information on the hospital’s finances for three months before and after the attack, Tate said. CCH has given them a “massive amount of data,” but it could be another month or two before the hospital learns more about the settlement.

The hospital also is still examining how much it cost in overtime hours and extra personnel that were used to address the attack.

“I don’t have a quantification of that right now,” she said.

 
 

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