House Bill 293 has no shortage of support among the Legislature’s leadership, but the bill that would overhaul the University of Wyoming’s dormitories got a more tepid response during its first vote on the House floor Monday.
Just 33 of 60 legislators in the chamber voted to advance the bill on first reading, barely keeping alive the bill that’s the product of a 2018 legislative task force, convened to form a plan to construct new dorms to house 2,000 students.
Several legislators expressed opposition to the plan, suggesting UW should rely on the private sector to house students.
The UW housing task force spent several meetings exploring the possibility of using a public-private partnership to build the dorms, but legislators on the task force determined that approach would cost UW more while compromising quality.
Other legislators opposed to the bill cited the state’s recent economic woes as a reason to delay more capital construction in the state.
“I just think we should hold off in this economic time,” said Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, echoed the same concerns Laramie officials raised last week about a section of the bill that would appropriate $3.5 million in grant funding for the city to mitigate the “restricted access” to 15th Street created by the construction.
In 2017, the Legislature included a footnote in the budget bill that required UW to pursue a permanent closure of the section of 15th that runs through campus.
After significant backlash in Laramie, legislators dropped the idea, and Brown questioned HB 293’s apparent resurrection of the proposal.
“It seems to me that we are now doing exactly what we said weren’t going to do two years ago,” he said.
House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, is the bill’s sponsor and reiterated that the bill does not intend to strong-arm Laramie into closing sections of the road.
Brown plans to introduce an amendment on second reading that would clarify “nothing in this (bill) shall be interpreted to preclude or require the closure of 15th Street from Ivinson Avenue to Lewis Street to vehicular traffic during or after completion of the student housing project.”
That amendment would also strip the bill of language requiring a pedestrian-focused traffic plan and the reference to “restricted access.”
Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, has signed on as a co-sponsor of that amendment.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, also plans to introduce an amendment requiring that two of the four legislators on the UW housing task force be representatives of Albany County with some of UW in their district.
In 2018, Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, was the only Albany County legislator on the task force.