News Roundup: Wyoming legislative session poised to kick off

Plus, expanding abortion access in the West, threats to Yellowstone elk habitat and a new alert system for missing Indigenous people.
Wyoming’s state legislature will have a general session this year lasting 40 days. (Tony Webster/CC by 2.0)

 

Wyoming legislative session to start next week

Wyoming state lawmakers kick off their 2023 general session on Jan. 10. Teton County’s representatives spent time this week checking in with local officials and constituents ahead of the session. 

Representative Mike Yin (D-Jackson) said a lot of those conversations revolved around funding for services such as mental health. Housing was also at the top of people’s minds.

“Recurring themes were, ‘How do we deal with affordable housing? How do we deal with state land, and also how do we deal with property tax relief and make sure people don’t get kicked out of their home?’” Yin said.

Yin plans to reintroduce a real estate transfer tax bill, which would give Wyoming counties the ability to tax real estate. The measure has long been supported by Teton County officials but has repeatedly failed to pass in the state legislature. This time around the bill could specify that tax funds be used specifically to create affordable housing. 

Pills in pharmacies could expand abortion access in the West 

Abortion pills can now be offered at retail pharmacies, according to new rules from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO and President Adrienne Mansanares said this move could dramatically expand access to abortion care.

“This way patients can access that care like they would any other normal pharmaceutical,” Mansanares told KHOL in an interview.

Before this ruling, patients had to get the pills from specially certified clinics or doctors. Patients will still need to obtain a prescription from a doctor, but pharmacies like Walgreens will now be able to dispense the pills. Mansanares said this will make a big dent in the lack of abortion access throughout the West.

“We know that we’ve got a shortage of healthcare providers in rural communities,” Mansanares said. “To be able to have a mainstream pharmacy provider carry that medicine, get it ready for our patients, they can go in and pick it up, no questions asked — that really helps to expand care.”

Abortion pills are the most common way to terminate a pregnancy during the first trimester. The new FDA ruling comes as the pills are under attack in conservative states nationwide. 

Third of Yellowstone elk habitat not protected from development

This story comes from the Public News Service.

More than a third of all known elk habitat in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains wide-open for human development, according to new analysis recently published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

Laura Gigliotti, the report’s author, said data collected showed which of the park’s 26 herds are most vulnerable at different points along their migration corridors. She explained that elk play a major role in one of the last remaining intact ecosystems on the planet.

“And it has this large diversity of not only migratory ungulates but large predators, and all these different species that are coexisting in this ecosystem,” Gigliotti pointed out. “If we lose one aspect of that ecosystem, we’re losing this really valuable resource.”

The elk habitat at risk sits outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, which has been protected for the past 150 years and is privately owned with no zoning.

Wyoming has made moves to protect migration corridors on private lands. Governor Mark Gordon recently approved a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that offers landowners incentives to support critical wildlife habitat for elk and other migratory species.

Under the new partnership, private landowners in Wyoming can elect to tap federal dollars to replace five-strand barbed wire, which Gigliotti noted is one of the biggest barriers facing elk.

“It might be restricting movement routes of where animals can go in the environment,” Gigliotti cautioned. “One way to make this better is either to use wildlife-friendly fencing or remove fences that aren’t really serving a purpose on the landscape.”

Colorado launches alert system for missing Indigenous people

This story from KSUT and KSJD was shared with us via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including KHOL.

On Dec. 30, Colorado became one of the first states to launch a Missing Indigenous Person Alert system. The system functions like AMBER alerts, but for active cases of missing Indigenous people.

The new alert system is part of a number of changes that Colorado has made to bring more resources to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases. Native American and Alaskan people are two and a half times more likely to be involved in violent crimes than the general population. The rates among indigenous women are even higher. 

“[It’s] just one more tool dedicated to aid in the recovery of missing folks from those communities,” said Audrey Simkins, an investigative analyst at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The new system pushes emails and text alerts to broadcasters across the state, as well as members of the public who opt in to receive messages. Simkins and her colleagues hope that the system will lead to more cases being solved.

“When someone is missing in the state of Colorado, members of the public may be able to provide useful tips and information to that law enforcement agency who might be investigating that case,” Simkins said.

The disproportionate number of missing and murdered indigenous persons is also receiving attention in Wyoming, where there’s momentum to create an alert system like Colorado’s. The state legislature will consider a bill during their upcoming session which could implement an alert system for at-risk missing adults.

 

 

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's reporter and producer. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she wrote about housing and the impacts of climate change. Her work has been published in the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains. Follow Hanna on Twitter @HannaMerzbach.

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