A House Democrat’s procedural maneuver cost Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R-Casper) a win on Friday and may cost the governor tens of millions of dollars to push for coal exports.
The action came during the final vote on House Bill 231 – Coal severance tax exemption-Canadian and Mexican ports. The bill provides a severance tax break to coal being exported out of Mexico or Canada to international markets. The effort, sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne) is one of many legislative endeavors this session aimed at boosting Wyoming’s coal amid shrinking domestic markets. The bill passed on to the Senate handily, with the House voting 51-8 in favor.
Before that vote, however, Harshman sought to fold in a different coal-boosting measure as an amendment. The idea was originally brought in its own bill, House Bill 117 – Exportation of mineral resources. HB-117— and after its failure Harshman’s amendment to HB-231 — would have diverted 1% of the state’s severance tax income to the governor’s control. The Legislative Service Office estimated the bill would have sluiced $12 million a year from the state’s general government budget and into the governor’s.
Republican Gov. Mark Gordon could have spent the money to “increase or stabilize” the export of Wyoming’s coal and other minerals. The original bill specified that Gordon would have latitude to spend the money negotiating with other states and tribal governments to promote the exportation of Wyoming’s coal and other minerals. Gordon could also spend it on litigation like the case he is already pursuing against Washington state over coal ports. The amendment was less specific.
House Bill-112 was never brought up for a first House vote, even after receiving 56 votes in favor of introduction.
“This is a little different concept and this is the only vehicle left in the House to put this concept in,” the speaker said when he introduced his amendment.
A first-term Democrat threw a wrench in the veteran speaker’s plan to combine the two. “Hate to do this but I think I’m going to have to call a Rules Committee,” said Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson).
The House follows Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, a set of procedural rules that is used by the majority of legislative bodies in the United States, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The rules call for amendments to be “germane” to a bill — legislative jargon for “relevant.” Yin contended that Harshman’s amendment didn’t pass the test.
Such rule questions are handled by a committee of 13 House members. There are only two Democrats on the House Rules & Procedure Committee. The rules committee gathers around the speaker’s dais in the House chamber. On Friday, the group huddled for about 10 minutes. Harshman is on the committee, Yin looked on from the opposite side of the huddle.
To the public, the proceedings are fairly secretive. The discussion is not broadcasted over the House’s audio stream. Votes are not officially recorded. But when House Speaker Pro Tempore Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) called for a vote on the amendment’s validity, it was audible. Seven hands, a majority, raised for Yin.
Harshman cheerfully conceded defeat, citing on the microphone his “deep respect” for the process as he withdrew the amendment. Yin declined to comment on the amendment or the procedure when asked by WyoFile. “I think the rules speak for themselves,” he said in a message.
Barring more legislative gamesmanship, it appears unlikely Gordon will get that $12 million a year.