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PGI releases schedule that features 4 shows, ‘Super Nuke’

Campbell County residents and visitors from around the country can start to make concrete plans to visit Gillette this summer as one of the largest firework events in the world is set to hit northeast Wyoming starting Aug. 10.

The 50th anniversary convention of the Pyrotechnics Guild International will be in Gillette Aug. 10-16, and the organization has announced its schedule for the week that will include four dazzling public fireworks displays.

PGI returns to Cam-plex for the first time since 2015. It will be the fifth time Gillette has hosted the group.

In 2017, PGI officials said Gillette was in contention with two other locations for the 2019 slot but declined to name the other finalists. In 2015, Gillette was up against Fargo, North Dakota, and La Porte, Indiana.

Mary Silvernell, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the group has requested 300 hotel rooms for that week.

When PGI came to Gillette in 2008, 7,000 people from outside Campbell County attended the convention, according to Cam-plex records. About 26,000 people visited the grounds when the convention was in town.

PGI was started in 1969 by Max P. Vander Horck, who was the publisher of a monthly fireworks newsletter called “American Pyrotechnist.”

Today, PGI has more than 3,500 members and continues to grow. Members come from all walks of life and a wide range of experience with fireworks from general interest to enthusiasts.

The 2019 PGI show will include public displays the nights of Aug. 11, 13, 14 and 16.

Tickets are $50 for a carload of six people or $150 for a weeklong pass. Tickets are on sale now and can be bought at the Cam-plex ticket office and online at

Information about Cam-plex grounds, ticketing, camping and hotel reservation all can be found at

Heather Khurt, sales manager at Cam-plex, said Aug. 14 is Equality Night and will honor the state’s 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Equality Night also will feature what PGI is calling the “Super Nuke,” which will be detonated that night and is made with more than 1,000 gallons of gasoline.

afrank / News Record Photo/August Frank 

Doug Dumbrill gets ready for a practice session with Morgan Miller on piano (not pictured) while the state Judiciary Committee next door takes a lunch break Tuesday at the Gillette College Technical Education Center.

Gordon asks AG for strategy to sue over coal ports

Governor Mark Gordon asked Attorney General Bridget Hill to research how Wyoming could sue Washington over that state’s decision to deny a coal port permit over environmental concerns, the governor said last week.

“We are considering whether what’s called an original act or original lawsuit is advisable,” Gordon told WyoFile in an interview Friday.

Gordon described legal action that could result in a clash “state to state in front of the [U.S.] Supreme Court,” but said for now that he’d asked Hill to draw up a legal strategy. Wyoming could join with other states to sue Washington for violating a prohibition in the U.S. Constitution against a state regulating another states’ trade, Gordon said.

“I’ve asked the attorney general to provide me with a strategy on that matter both from the point of view of if Wyoming were to go alone or preferably if Wyoming would, with other states, do such an action,” Gordon said.

Hill declined to comment on the matter, saying that any such strategy research would be bound by attorney-client privilege.

To date, Wyoming has limited its legal action against the Pacific-coast state to supportive legal briefs in a lawsuit brought by coal and railroad interests. That lawsuit hit a snag recently after a federal judge stayed the federal case until state-level court cases over the proposed port are resolved.

The stay, Gordon said, “is just another long delay in the process.”

In Sept. 2017, the Washington Department of Ecology denied permit applications to build the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Washington.

The regulators cited threats from coal shipments to air and water quality and tribal natural resource rights, among other concerns. Millennium Bulk is owned by Lighthouse Resources, which also owns coal mines in Wyoming.

Gordon believes Washington regulators improperly used their authority to block coal exports because of popular and political animus against the carbon-heavy fuel in that state.

“They’re using the Clean Water Act and their Department of Ecology to block export of coal and they’re doing it unabashedly,” Gordon said. “They’re using these environmental regulations ill-advisedly for things that are not appropriate for the regulation.”

Gordon argued he supported a state’s right to regulate its own water, but that Washington had overstepped its bounds in this case. “States should have every opportunity to use the tools they need to protect their environment,” he said. “In this particular case you’re really running afoul of the interstate commerce clause.” The commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government — not states — to regulate interstate commerce.

In March, Gordon vetoed a bill that would have let the Legislature take steps to file its own lawsuit against Washington.

In his veto message, Gordon said the bill could confuse a future judge about what the state’s intentions were if two separate branches of government were pursuing litigation, and he questioned the Legislature’s authority to pursue a lawsuit.

In the March 15 letter, Gordon suggested he would sue if need be. “I will be tireless in exercising every legal option to assert Wyoming’s access to markets worldwide,” he wrote. The Legislature adjourned before Gordon’s veto and did not attempt to override him.

Gordon has spoken with legislative leaders about his efforts with the AG, he said, and has their support. “One of the reasons I did the veto is I said that will be working in lockstep on this,” he said.

Gray was pleased the AG would pursue a legal strategy but still believes it’s “unfortunate” that Gordon vetoed his bill, Gray wrote in an emailed statement on Monday afternoon.

“With the stay in the Lighthouse case for procedural weaknesses that a state to state lawsuit does not have,” Gray wrote.“Wyoming needs to have options to pursue a state to state lawsuit. The Attorney General has this ability so it is good that they are pursuing that. But the legislature should have that ability as well.”

Legislators contemplate changes to new open records law

Less than a month before it goes into effect, state lawmakers are discussing potential changes to Wyoming’s new public records law, with some even calling for its repeal.

In Gillette on Tuesday, the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee heard from state and local agencies on potential issues they see with Senate File 57. The bill was passed in the final days of the 2019 Wyoming Legislature with significant support from both chambers and sets specific time frames and guidelines for how government agencies should respond to records requests.

The bill, which takes effect July 1, gives agencies 30 days to produce records unless good cause exists for withholding them. The bill also created an ombudsman position to help mediate disputes over records requests. Requestors also may continue to sue in district court for access to records.

A major issue with SF57 for those agencies whose representatives testified in front of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was the 30-day deadline.

While most records requests are narrow and can be responded to within that set time frame, both the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Attorney General’s Office said massive requests for records like troves of emails could never be provided in that short time frame.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Ryan Schelhaas said there are 30 exceptions in state law that would prevent a public record from being released, with eight of those being at the discretion of the agency. Those exceptions, some of which have multiple parts, mean that for massive requests for public information, there’s a significant amount of work that has to be done to ensure the government is meeting its legal obligation to the public.

“There are reasonable requests, too, and we will fulfill those, and those aren’t challenging to fulfill. But on the other side, there are challenges with dealing with these broad requests,” Schelhaas said during his testimony. “And in this day and age, it’s easy for individuals to shoot off a request to a state agency via an email saying, ‘I want all your emails for this person or this person.’

“Agencies can just get inundated with (requests).”

The fear from state agencies, along with some members of the committee, was that the 30-day deadline would create failures to comply with the law.

“I think it’s unrealistic, and almost impossible on certain requests,” Schelhaas said of the deadline.

While transparency is important, he said confidentiality is of equal importance.

“Releasing confidential information is equal to not turning over a public document,” he said, adding that it might be even worse because if you release a confidential document, “you can’t unring that bell.”

“The concern is if the agency is unable to produce the record as required by statute within 30 days and the requester does not agree to an extension, is the agency then in violation of the Public Records Act?” asked committee co-chairwoman Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne. “That would be the conclusion.”

Schelhaas said although he’s not a fan of the deadline, “we’re going to follow the law.”

“Are we going to go past the deadline sometimes? Yeah, sometimes, realistically we’ll have to,” he said.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, pointed out SF57 allows for an agency to cite good cause for not meeting the 30-day deadline. If a requester doesn’t believe it should take more than 30 days, they can appeal to the ombudsman, who would mediate the issue and decide if good cause exists.

“I just don’t think there’s an issue with the (deadline),” Gray said.

Nethercott, who voted against SF 57 when it came to the Senate floor for a third reading, focused her questions on the potential drawbacks for both large and small state agencies. She pointed to surveys of state and local agencies conducted by the committee that showed the vast majority of requests were small and fulfilled without any fees.

“This genesis of this survey came from my concern over my previous work on the Corporations Committee and the incessant allegations of a lack of transparency in the state,” Nethercott said. “And wanting to get actual data associated with that in a much more measured away, as opposed to online, national entities claiming we are not.”

One question that was not included in the survey was how many requests were rejected, and if so, what grounds were being cited for the denials.

While the committee didn’t propose any amendments to SF57, the topic will again be on the agenda for the group’s next meeting in August. Nethercott requested information be provided to the committee about the dozens of exceptions written into the public records laws and a desire to hear from agencies on the issues they have with responding to large records requests.

Many members seemed to express a desire to tighten, change or completely overturn SF57.

Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, said he wasn’t a fan of the bill from the beginning and that there’s an easy solution to fix it.

“The simple fix would be repealing the bill,” he said.

But Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said that in his tenure in the Legislature, he’d never seen lawmakers try to change a bill before it had even had a chance to go into effect.

“I’ve heard of all kinds of great ideas here today. But as of July 2, some of those ideas may shift and may change, and some of them you guys may want to implement prior to, or there upon, it becoming law,” he said. “It seems very strange that we’re very fixated on fixing a problem in a bill that hasn’t become law. It just seems premature to me or weird.”

Mom forgets baby on sidewalk

A 30-year-old mother with too much on her mind forgot to count noses and left her 1-month-old son on a sidewalk Tuesday morning after wrangling to get an older child in a car at the Powder Basin Shopping Center.

A witness said the woman left her son on the sidewalk and drove away, Police Lt. Brent Wasson said. The woman had to chase another child and put that child in the car. In her rush, she forgot to put her 1-month-old son, who was in a carrier, in the car.

She immediately returned and was present when officers arrived. She was ticketed for driving without a license, Wasson said.

Back briefs

Powell hints Fed will cut rates if needed

WASHINGTON — Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the Federal Reserve is prepared to respond if it decides the Trump administration’s trade conflicts are threatening the U.S. economy. Investors read his remarks as a signal that the Fed will likely cut interest rates later this year.

Powell’s remarks helped drive up stock prices, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending the day up more than 500 points, or 2%.

Speaking at a Fed conference in Chicago, Powell said, “We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.”

Powell didn’t explicitly say what the Fed would do. But expectations are rising that the Fed will cut rates at least once and possibly two or more times before year’s end, in part because of the consequences of the trade war. There is concern that the U.S. expansion, which next month will become the longest on record, could face growing risks of a recession as retaliatory tariffs weaken U.S. exports.

Officials warn thawing a security concern

WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. and military officials are warning Congress about the potential threat to national security from melting ice in the Arctic.

Officials from the Office of National Intelligence and the Pentagon say climate change will open the Arctic to more ship traffic and commercial activities by Russia and China and create potential sources of conflict.

Peter Kiemel, counselor to the National Intelligence Council, says Russia and China are dramatically increasing their investment there.

Jeff Ringhausen, a Navy official, says that though Arctic shipping is likely to increase, it’ll still amount only to a small portion of overall global shipping.

He says the Russian government is “overly optimistic” regarding the increased shipping and investment in the Arctic.

The witnesses spoke at a hearing on climate change impacts on national security.

Companies add fewest jobs in 9 years in May

WASHINGTON — U.S. companies added the fewest jobs in nine years, a private survey found, as manufacturers, construction firms and mining companies cut workers.

Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that businesses added just 27,000 jobs in May, the fewest since March 2010. Jobs in construction fell 36,000 and in manufacturing by 3,000.

The figures come just after ADP reported strong hiring in April, when companies added 271,000 jobs, the most in nine months. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which helps compile the data, said the broader hiring trend is probably closer to the average of the two month’s gains, at around 150,000.

That is down from last year’s average monthly gains of about 225,000.

“The economy’s growth rate has slowed sharply from last year,” Zandi said. “That is now starting to show up in the job market.”

Growth could slow to as low as 1.5% at an annual rate in the April-June quarter, down from a nearly 3% pace last year. A weaker global economy and fading stimulus from the Trump administration’s tax cuts is dragging on the U.S. economy. The tariffs on Chinese imports may also be causing companies to delay their spending on large equipment and machinery.

2 million Somalis could die of starvation

UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations emergency relief coordinator says more than 2 million men, women and children could die of starvation in Somalia by summer’s end if international aid is not sent quickly to the drought-stricken African country.

U.N. Undersecretary-General Mark Lowcock says about $700 million is needed after a rainless season that has killed both livestock and crops.

He said Tuesday that the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $45 million to cover food shortages, water and daily necessities in Somalia as well as parts of Kenya and Ethiopia affected by droughts.

Of a Somali population of 15 million people, more than 3 million are struggling just to meet minimum food requirements, he said, and the shortages are about 40 percent worse now than this past winter.

“What was forecast to be an average rainy season in Somalia is now one of the driest on record in over 35 years,” he said. “Communities that were already vulnerable due to past droughts are again facing severe hunger and water scarcity and are at risk from deadly communicable diseases.”

2020 hopeful unveils plan to legalize marijuana

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand has a plan to legalize marijuana and expunge all nonviolent criminal charges associated with it.

The New York senator says in a Medium post on Wednesday she’d work with Congress to decriminalize recreational marijuana use and tax nonprescription marijuana products.

Gillibrand says she wants to use the proceeds to support job training and other programs for communities “disproportionately harmed by marijuana laws,” especially helping small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Gillibrand would expand medical marijuana research, saying it “can help combat our opioid addiction epidemic” and treat veterans’ mental and physical health problems.

She wants to ensure access to medical marijuana is covered by private health insurance plans and by federal programs including Medicare, Medicaid and Department of Veterans Affairs health programs.

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State public defender, circuit judges try to settle their differences
Judges say they were blindsided by decision to not represent misdemeanor offenders

Tension between the Wyoming Public Defenders Office and some Circuit Court judges has involved litigation and may require legislation to fix, which disappointed lawmakers who believe it could have been avoided with better communication.

During the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee meeting Tuesday in Gillette, lawmakers listened to both sides of the argument and proposed a few solutions.

About a month ago, State Public Defender Diane Lozano wrote a letter to judges in Campbell and Natrona counties saying her office would no longer represent misdemeanor defendants in both counties due to staffing shortages.

Lozano said she didn’t talk with the judges before sending out the letters because the letters were intended to start a conversation. It has accomplished that, but the conversation has not yet led to any results.

Committee Co-chair Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said she was “disappointed” that the entities couldn’t work the situation out among themselves.

The Campbell County Public Defenders Office has 4.5 attorneys, which is down three full-time positions from a full staff.

When asked why she didn’t ask for more money ahead of this year’s legislative session, Lozano said it wasn’t a problem at the time. The Campbell County office was fully staffed in January. But by March, it was down those positions.

Public defenders in Campbell County are at 168% of workload standards. Lozano said that at a 100% workload, she has her mouth and nose above water and that “I can breathe, but barely.”

Lozano said it’s hard to hire and keep attorneys in Gillette because of competition from the private sector. Attorneys in Campbell County can make $200 to $300 an hour, she said, while she can only offer $50 an hour.

She had looked into pulling public defenders from other field offices, but she said she couldn’t do that without burdening those offices.

Lozano said the governor’s office supports the public defenders being fully staffed, and that it was “aware that I was sending the letter and is behind me and the process that I chose.”

Circuit Judges Paul Phillips and Wendy Bartlett said they support representation for defendants who can’t afford an attorney.

“How we get there is a point of contention, but we all want to see the same thing,” Phillips said.

Bartlett said she and Phillips managed to get some volunteers from the local bar association, and they now have 14 volunteers on a roster who have taken on 35 cases between May 10 and 31.

On May 1, Lozano sent the letter to Phillips and Bartlett, saying she would no longer represent misdemeanor defendants. On May 2, she sent a letter to judges in Natrona County, informing them she was doing the same there.

“We were blindsided. We had no indication this letter was coming,” said Circuit Judge Brian Christensen.

But Christensen said he’s been able to make it work. He found 10 attorneys and firms that will take on the work of five full-time attorneys, on a contract basis, until Lozano fills the positions.

Christensen said he was frustrated at the lack of communication from Lozano.

“This just all of a sudden came upon us,” he said. “Nobody said anything about this to us. If we would have had time to work on this, we wouldn’t be here right now, we could have worked this out.”

On May 6, Circuit Court assigned Lozano’s office two cases. She said she could not meet her ethical obligations to provide competent counsel and gave the cases back, saying she was unavailable.

She came to Gillette on May 7 and had hoped to meet with local judges, but they weren’t available.

“She didn’t call,” Bartlett said of the visit. “We had a full docket. Our dockets are scheduled months in advance and we had an obligation to do our jobs.”

A sheriff’s deputy served her with papers ordering her to show cause. Two weeks later, Phillips found Lozano in contempt of court. Since then, Phillips said, he has signed a motion to stay the order of contempt.

The committee wondered if judges are assigning public defenders to defendants who might be able to afford an attorney.

Phillips estimates he sees between 50 and 100 indigent defendants a month. In traffic court Tuesday morning, 10 to 12 of the 24 defendants filed affidavits for financial assistance, he said.

“I’m bound to take what’s on the paper as truth,” he said. “If there’s a way we can somehow more accurately quantify and qualify what is indigent, I’d be willing to take a look at that.”

Lozano said while some of the people her office represents “make more money than my attorneys,” most of her clients “can’t hire a private attorney, they struggle to pay their phone bills, they struggle to pay rent.”

Nethercott proposed amending state statute to clarify who qualifies for representation by a public defender.

Rep. Dan Kirkbride, R-Cheyenne, suggested changing the pay classification policy to make it easier for Lozano to hire new attorneys.

Sen. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said it is a criminal justice reform issue and that the state should take a look at how its laws are being enforced.

For example, he said, misdemeanor drug possession cases carry a penalty of up to one year in jail, but in his 10 years as an attorney he’s never seen anyone put in jail for it. He suggested the state look at some of its laws and remove jail sentences from some of them to “lessen the load on the Public Defenders Office.”

Phillips said he and his fellow judges have no bad feelings toward Lozano and her office.

“We love our public defenders. I think they’re heroes,” Phillips said. “They do difficult, difficult jobs under incredibly trying circumstances with people who are not easy to work with.”