Saturday, February 11, 2012

Keeping tabs on the Wyoming Legislature

Remember that wacky 2011 session of the Wyoming Legislature?

Me too. What fun we had keeping tabs on ugly bills spewing from the People's House.

This year, however, will be a different story. It's a short budget session that begins Monday, with most time taken up by funding (and lack thereof). Very little time will be devoted to preventing gays and lesbians from being married in The Equality State, preventing brown people in The Equality State from getting jobs and attending school, forcing pregnant women in The Equality State to view fetus videos, and so on. You know the drill.

It's tougher to bring up wacky bills in a budget session. And there just isn't time. Republican leadership doesn't want to be derailed by a drawn-out fight over these issues -- we're already going to see fights over money. There's redistricting, too, as Republicans attempt to ensure legislative dominance through the rest of this century. Our moderate Republican Governor, who has national ambitions, does not want to look the fool. He now has a leadership role within the ranks of his Gubernatorial colleagues. He does travel in regressive Republican circles -- Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, Jan Brewer of Arizona. But WY isn't WI or SC or FL or AZ, thank goodness. Our tendencies are toward moderation. It may not seem like it sometimes, but it's true overall.

Attention must be paid. Both of our major daily newspapers will have a presence at the Capitol, as will the AP. TV stations too, although their reports tend to be sound bytes with little substance. Every so often, we get some coverage from Denver's TV conglomerates. Wyoming Public Radio has an active presence at the session. Look to WyoFile's reports on its web site and blogs. Lander's Geoff O'Gara has a WyoFile legislative blog.

Bloggers will be keeping tabs on the Lege too. We're usually not there in the hallowed halls but we tend to pay attention to certain topics. Look to my WY Progressives blogroll on the right sidebar. Rodger McDaniel at Blowing in the Wyoming Wind looks at social justice issues (he looks at one today). Meg Lanker-Simons at Cognitive Dissonance explores women's issues in her usual no-holds-barred manner. Jeran Artery at Wyoming Equality keeps tabs on LGBT issues and did a great job last year exposing some of the worst anti-gay legislation. The ACLU of Wyoming upholds the Bill of Rights in The Equality State. Equality State Policy Center's Dan Neal and Barb Rea put the hammer down on an array of issues, including open meetings and open records laws, battles over oil and gas royalties, etc. The Wyoming Outdoor Council covers environmental issues, particularly the fracking debate in Fremont County and air quality issues in Sublette County. Marguerite Herman doesn't post often at Wyoming Posts, but what she lacks in quantity she makes up for in quality.

All of these good people raise their voices in a Legislature that's dominated by energy industry lobbyists and their powerful allies in D.C. Many of our Republican legislators bring up legislation vetted by the Koch Brothers-financed American Legislative Education Council (ALEC). Those bills aimed at revamping the state's retirement and pay system can be traced directly back to ALEC. "We hate public workers" is ALEC's motto. Look up ALEC Exposed for more info.

What will I be writing about during the next month? A blogger with a hummingbird mind is not beholden to any one issue. I flit, I fly. Most of my posts concern social justice, mental health issues and the arts, not necessarily in any order. I may offer some guest bloggers, as I've done in the past. If you're curious about 2011 legislative posts, go check out the February/March 2011 archives.

Stay tuned...


Ken McCauley said...

While the buffoonery may be less than during the legislative session, I'm confident the we won't be disappointed in our anticipation of some heated debate and questionable ethics. That said, there are some interesting and serious pieces of legislation coming up.

Looking at the current bills already filed, I'm keeping my eye on a few. Their votes will offer some idea of the leanings of the legislature.

HB-13. Wind Estate Disclosure. This bill could be interpreted that the state is going to allow the severing of wind rights from the surface rights. Essentially, large land owners could sell the rights to the wind, just as mineral rights are often severed from surface rights. (Bob Nicholas and Tony Ross, two local attorneys and legislators, are co-sponsors)

SF-37. Medicaid Waiver Funding. This bill appropriates $14 million (with $14 million matching federal funds) to cover Medicaid care for families with adult or child acquired brain injuries or the home/community based waiver services. Wyoming has families that have been on the waiting list for assistance for more than 5 years. This bill ensures no one is on the waiting list for more than 6 months. Care and treatment for these families needs to be timely, and forcing families to wait extended periods denies the individual treatment. Normal health care costs are already expensive enough, and for families with these critical issues the costs are difficult to obtain without coverage. Sadly, I expect the conservative legislature to fight against appropriations for health care.

SF-40. Supreme Court judges will receive a pay raise of 25%, and district judges a raise in salary of 19.8%. Circuit court judges are receiving a raise as well. All of them have not received a raise since 2009.

SF-41. Wolf Management. Designates wolves in certain areas as trophy game animals, rather than continuing to predatory animal status. See also SJ-01, which declares ALL wildlife to be property of the state.

SF-52. A dyslexia screening and response bill (and includes other reading disabilities) for the schools. (Rep. Throne is a co-sponsor of this bill, as well as Sen Rothfuss and others). It contains a requirement to screen for dyslexia and to treat it with specialized learning and to track the progress.

SF-56. Sen. Chris Rothfuss' bill for open primaries. While allowing all members to vote in any primary, it could lead to a single party appearing on the general election ballot. It also places independent candidates on the primary, and may prevent an independent from appearing on the general ballot since the ballot is limited to just two times the number of seats on the ballot (legislature would be just two names maximum on the general ballot). It also eliminates voting for precinct committeemen/women. It will be interesting to see if the GOP jumps on board with this one.

SF-59. Public Employee Retirements. This is not the bill Rep. Pedersen is expected to bring, which his proposal is to eliminate or phase out the defined benefit plan and replace it with a defined contribution plan similar to a 401k.

SF-60. Hydraulic fracturing disclosure. Sen. Esquibel's bill that adds terms to the legislation already in place.

SF-66. A Medicaid Hospice Care bill, co-sponsored by Laramie County's Sens. Esquibel & Nutting, and Rep. Esquibel. This bill authorizes payments for room & board in hospice care. Let's hope that the legislature approves this, because more and more of the elderly are needing hospice care which often times isn't provided in nursing homes.

SJ-01. A resolution declaring all wildlife to be the property of the state, and grants the state authority to control all wildlife within the state. It does not address federal lands. This is possibly another wolf management bill.

Ken McCauley

Michael Shay said...

Thanks for the list, Ken. It will undoubtedly grow as the sessions commences.