From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 29 - October 16, 2003
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Monte Olsen: full-time legislator

by Cat Urbigkit

Although the state legislature doesn't reconvene until next February, State Representative Monte Olsen has been busy attending meetings and forums that affect his constituents.

"I've been going to those forums and meetings, as many as I can get to," Olsen said, so long as it involves an issue that will impact anyone in District 22. Olsen has been surprised at how few legislators attend these meetings, with only a few at each session, if any other than himself, he said.

For example, in April Olsen attended an interagency brucellosis meeting. Governor Dave Freudenthal attended, as did high-level personnel of the U.S. Interior Department, but Olsen was the lone legislator from any of the three affected states.

Even a forum to discuss alcohol problems in Wyoming drew only four legislators, he explained in an interview last week, adding that he attends these sessions in order to become better educated about the issues.

Outside of his travels to meetings, Olsen said he's followed up on his campaign promise to help anyone who needs questions answered about an issue to get those answers.

"I've done quite a bit of that," Olsen explained, across the board, from each county in his district. He's requested two attorney general opinions for his constituents as well.

Assisting his constituents can sometimes take strange turns. This summer when there was a fire in the Snake River Canyon, Olsen spent three days on the site. He met with river outfitters who had been effectively locked out because of the fire.

"We did everything that we could to get the river open quickly," he said, "so they wouldn't continue to lose money. I met with the Forest Service to let them know there was an economic issue involved."

Olsen serves on the select committee on juvenile justice, which has been busy examining Title 14, juvenile justice codes, and preparing recommended changes to those codes. The changes are in the form of four draft bills that will go before the joint judiciary committee. One of the bills would create an office of child representation, to provide legal representation for children in the justice system, something that is often lacking, as recent research has demonstrated. This proposal would attempt to eliminate the problem of children "falling through the cracks" and not being represented.

As for his recent role in facilitating a meeting of interested parties in the preparation of a plan to preserve the Trappers Point migration route, Olsen said he was prompted to so do by members of the mineral industry.

"We can sit around locally and do nothing until outside sources come in and dictate what's going to happen," he said, "or we can be proactive, by bringing all the stakeholders to the table."

Olsen said he hopes to aid in the effort by bringing everyone to the table to work out a viable plan, allowing him to move on to other issues to be addressed in his district.

One issue of great concern involves surface-owner damage in cases involving split estates, he said. While the legislature didn't act on a bill introduced at the last session, Olsen predicts a new bill will be proposed for the next session.

He said it appears both the governor and several powerful state senators want a split estate bill, so odds are that a bill will be introduced. Whether it is heard and passed is another matter.

Olsen said if there is going to be a split estate bill: "We don't want this to be environmental-driven. We don't want a wedge between ag and minerals."

He said the better tactic is for industry and landowners to come up with a bill that will provide the needed protections.

"When somebody's working the land, that's all they have, is land," Olsen said. "If it's going to be destroyed or disturbed, they need to be compensated for it. I do believe there are a lot of producers out there who will do what they can to help out. I would rather see the two get together and work it out themselves."

Part of the process has involved talking with surface owners about what problems they've encountered. Olsen said the legislature can't put a price on a parcel of land: "That's not our role."

Olsen has also enjoyed his visits to schools in his district in which he gives talks about the legislature and its role in Wyoming government. He said with every age group, the kids are asking great questions.

"Wolves are brought up every time," Olsen mentioned. "These kids are conservative and they are free-thinkers too." Olsen said students also often broached the subject of state rights versus federal rights

Olsen said that not a week goes by that he doesn't receive calls or comments about health insurance and rising medical malpractice costs. Olsen serves on the judiciary committee and voted last session to kill the proposed resolution to the Wyoming Constitution that would impose caps on non-economic damages. Olsen was in the 6-3-majority vote to kill the resolution. He said the committee heard eight hours of testimony, and even then, "the argument wasn't strong enough for it."

Olsen said, "We're driven by outside sources a lot and this is one of them. We do have caps on economic damages. It's called juries."

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