Local control at heart of Wyoming Senate Cheyenne Frontier Days liquor license debate - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Local control at heart of Wyoming Senate Cheyenne Frontier Days liquor license debate

Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Debate over a Cheyenne Frontier Days liquor license bill continued in the Wyoming legislature on Monday, Feb. 24.

SF 134 would provide a malt beverage license to Cheyenne Frontier Days annually, costing $100 every time the organization obtains the permit.

This bill stems from issues between Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr’s office and CFD officials, such as CEO Tom Hirsig. Last year, the city attempted to charge CFD $100,000 for the permit, noting that the high cost would help pay for the mounting overtime bill for Cheyenne Police Department officers working at Frontier Park.

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CFD balked at the cost, but ultimately agreed to pay $50,000 to help with costs.

Last week, the two Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meetings were dominated by discussions of this bill. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the committee mainly heard from Orr, Cheyenne Police Department Chief Brian Kozak and city attorney Michael O’Donnell about their opposition to the bill.

Orr admitted to losing her patience with the CFD officials, “threatening” them with the permit. Sen. Ogden Driskill criticized her for this, noting that the move “reeked of extortion.”

On the following Thursday, Hirsig and CFD lobbyist Pat Crank spoke about their support of the bill, stating that it would prevent the city from driving up charges for security.

On Monday during the Senate’s Committee of the Whole discussion, all of the senators who spoke about the bill agreed that the city and CFD would ultimately have to come together to figure out the situation.

Sen. Tara Nethercott expressed concern over the bill and suggested allowing the Cheyenne voters to decide on this ordinance. She felt that it was inappropriate for the state legislature to be involved in municipal tensions.

“This is a bad situation for all of us to be in,” she said. “I’m disappointed that this single-issue effort has been brought forth during a budget session as if it’s a crisis.”

Sen. Stephen Pappas also spoke in opposition of the bill, although he reminded the Senate that he’d originally been a co-sponsor of SF 134. On Monday, he planned to vote “no” on the bill passing through the Committee of the Whole because he also felt the bill took away control from Cheyenne’s government.

Sen. Charles Scott questioned the bill’s constitutionality, but Sen. Glenn Moniz argued this point, stating that the attorney general’s office had confirmed its constitutionality.

“I think it’s sad that this bill is considered necessary,” Scott said. “You’d think the municipal folks would be happier to work together on an event as important to the city, county and state as this one. I’ll vote for it pass through the Committee of the Whole in hopes that it can be fixed. Third reading is a different matter, though.”

Driskill argued that the bill was fair as it was similar to ones passed by the legislature for the Wyoming State Fair and the University of Wyoming, allowing malt beverage sales on both’s grounds. He also reiterated what Hirsig said during the committee meetings last week, that CFD officials would be happy to work out some type of deal to pay for security.

“The city asked for $100,000 last year and we’re hearing rumblings of them asking for $200,000 this year, where does it stop?” Driskill said. “This is playing with fire. Sure, an event will happen next year whether we pass this bill or not, but this will allow everyone to do this hand-in-hand. The kids aren’t playing together. This will level the playing field.”

The Senate ultimately passed the bill through COW after a half hour discussion. It will go up for second reading by Wednesday, Feb. 26, which is the deadline for second readings in the legislative house of origin.