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Publius

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An anti-discrimination bill may have passed the Senate on Tuesday, but it sparked a war of words between two religious entities that could extend to the House when it debates the measure.

At issue is whether gays, lesbians and transgender people should also be afforded the equal rights not to be discriminated against that others have because of their race, gender, age and ethnic origin.

It seems the Wyoming Association of Churches and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne have very different views of how religious entities should treat homosexuals.

Donna Adler, lobbyist and communications director of the Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers all of Wyoming, sent a handout to every senator before the body voted 24-6 to pass Senate File 115.

“I am aware of the smear campaign of the Wyoming Association of Churches in connection with our position on SF 115 — I will not be responding in kind,” she wrote.

Adler was right — she responded in mean. There was nothing kind about the words she used to attack gays and her belief they do not deserve protection from discrimination.

“People of faith have rights too,” she informed the senators.

Adler stated the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t hate people “who identify as having attractions not in line with their biology.” If people do not act upon those tendencies, she wrote, they are in communion with the church. However, if they do act upon them, Adler said the church views them as “engaging in seriously sinful behavior” that the church has no tolerance for.

The diocese’s representative believes SF 115 would operate “as a state bludgeon to force the church to condone seriously sinful behavior by taking persons engaging in it, with no mind to change their behavior, into the heart of the church’s institutions.

“That is a serious threat to the integrity of the church and an unconscionable interference with the exercise of religion by the state,” Adler concluded.

“I can do you no greater service than to be completely candid with you, even if others seek to rip me to shreds for it,” Adler wrote. “You are policy makers; and there is much at stake. The policy that you set paves the way for the shape of a world to come.

“Are you absolutely sure that you have a clear conception of the world you will help bring to birth with this piece of legislation and are you absolutely sure that the people of Wyoming and you yourselves want to live in that world?” she asked.

But in stark contrast to what Adler told the Senate, Chesie Lee, director of the Wyoming Association of Churches, said she understands the Roman Catholics’ official position is that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

In her 27 years of lobbying and working with lawmakers, Lee said, Adler’s Senate handout is the most disrespectful one she’s ever seen towards other people. “I hope never to see anything like it again,” she added. “We, as people of faith, are called to love our neighbors, not to cast stones.”

Lee concluded her statement by writing: “We challenge churches to champion justice. Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice.”

The bill has a religious exemption in it for nonprofit organizations.

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In historic action Tuesday, the Wyoming Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill protecting people from discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Senate File 115, sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), still has to clear the House before it would go to the governor to be signed into law. But the 24-6 passage in the Senate marks the first time an anti-discrimination bill protecting gays, lesbians and transgender people has passed one of the Legislature’s two chambers.

The bill survived a final reading amendment that would have granted an exemption to businesses that employ 15 or fewer workers. That change, offered by Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange), failed on an 11-19 vote.

Several senators spoke emotionally about the bill, including Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) who said its passage “does a lot to do something about the legacy of what happened in Laramie that painted this state as something it didn’t deserve.”

Case was referring to the 1998 murder near Laramie of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and left for dead by two men because of his sexual orientation. He never regained consciousness and died several days later in a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital.

Oddly, while Case said he was proud of his fellow senators and of Wyoming for the bill’s imminent approval, he explained he would vote against it. “I believe we don’t have a right to tell someone how to run their business, without an overreaching public purpose,” Case said.

Still, prior to the vote Case said he was certain it would pass. “It’s all going to be fine, it’s going to be OK,” he said, referring to the division that the bill has sparked throughout the state. Legislators received numerous emails, letters and calls in both support and opposition to SF 115.

Meier maintained the bill isn’t needed because the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) already includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes against discrimination.

“There’s no reason for this bill, it already exists in federal law,” Meier said. “I think this is a problem that already has a solution. … This is a feel-good bill. It says ‘I’m OK, you’re OK,’ it would hardly change the law at all.”

But Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) said the bill needs to be state law because the EEOC is a regulatory agency, not a court of law.

Perkins said he has three members of his extended family who would be protected by the new Wyoming law “who have been looking forward to having some of the effects of this law in their lives.”

“That’s a hard life they’re in,” he said of homosexuals and the transgendered. “I’ve heard parents say this isn’t the life [their children] would have chosen; it’s a tough row to hoe.”

 

Another Casper Republican, Sen. Bill Landen, said a lesbian co-worker at Casper College confided to him that when she was initially hired, “I was so afraid to let people know who I was, because I thought I’d be fired.”

“What a shame to have someone afraid they’ll be fired just because of their lifestyle or who they are. … For my friends where I work, I’m going to vote for them,” Landen said.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) noted that the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the Wyoming Mining Association and many businesses backed the bill. “They’re strong behind us on this one,” he said.

Von Flatern said it will help Wyoming’s business recruitment efforts to be known as a state that welcomes all employees.

Former Senate President Hank Coe (R-Cody) said 15 years ago, the Senate wouldn’t have even considered the bill. To critics who contend it violates their religious conscience, he said, “It solves my fairness conscience. This is what it’s fair to do. It’s time, we’re the Equality State.”

The six members of the Senate who voted against the anti-discrimination bill were Sens. Paul Barnard (R-Evanston), Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), Cale Case (R-Lander), Gerald Geis (R-Worland), Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Curt Meier (R-LaGrange).

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The following e-mail was distributed to certain parties in the Wyoming state legislature.
UPDATES AS WE RECEIVE THEM BELOW THE EMAIL

Subject: Transition
Date: 2015-02-10 11:14
From: Current Chair <chair@wyodems.org>
To: Legislators <legislators@wyodems.org>

 

Dear Legislators,
There will be a formal press release later on this week, but I wanted to give you a heads up and let you know that I have asked Executive Director Robin Van Ausdall to resign, and she has agreed.
 I will be happy to discuss individually and personally with any of you that may have questions and concerns about this decision, or how the party will continue to function while we transition.
***Confidential:
I have asked Aimee Van Cleave to step in as Interim Director and she will be announced formally and begin officially as of Tuesday Feb 17 when she will be attending DNC meetings in Washington DC. I do believe she will be attending the caucus meeting tomorrow but not officially for the WDP.
There will be some other changes coming through as we navigate this transition, and you can be confident that I will be doing my utmost to protect the image and function of the Wyoming Democratic Party. I have the support of my Executive Committee, past leadership, and am being helped by the ASDC/DNC and Kyle DeBeer as we go through this.
Thank you for your support and generosity this past weekend at NTR, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Caucus to ensure the success of candidates and your own future elections.
Feel free to call me or email anytime.
Democratically yours,
Ana

Ana Cuprill

Wyoming Democratic Party
State Chair
307-413-7133 (mobile)

Poor Rep. Marti Halverson. She told other members of the House Judiciary Committee Monday she was “in a pickle.”

“My constituents let me vote for repealing the death penalty,” explained the Etna Republican. “But they told me they want the firing squad.”

The capital punishment bill failed to get out of the House earlier this session, but Senate File 13 to make firing squads the state’s official method of execution if lethal injection can no longer be used passed the Senate, 17-12.

Halverson kept her promise to vote in favor of firing squad, which deadlocked the panel at 4-4. Chairman Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton) broke the tie by voting for SF 13, which sends it to the full House.

Miller said it was a simple bill.

“Simple but barbaric,” corrected Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie), immediately letting the committee know how he planned to vote.

Only two members of the public testified on the bill, both representing churches. Donna Adler, lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, which covers all of Wyoming, agreed with Pelkey that the death penalty is indeed barbaric.

Adler said she realized the firing squad method was proposed because of problems prisons in the United States have had in purchasing the chemicals for the lethal injection procedure. Mostly manufactured in Europe, nations that oppose capital punishment have refused to sell them to American penal institutions.

The Catholic lobbyist said her diocese wants the Legislature to consider a moratorium on the death penalty.

Chesie Lee, director of the Wyoming Churches Association, said her coalition “opposes any method of execution.”

Rep. Matt Winters (R-Thermopolis) wanted to know how quickly an inmate killed by a firing squad would die, and whether the method was considered humane. Nobody actually answered his questions.

The urgency to approve SF 13 has passed, argued Rep. Matt Baker (R-Rock Springs), because the only inmate who had been on Wyoming’s death row — Dale Wayne Eaton, convicted of the 1988 murder, rape and kidnapping of Lisa Marie Kimmell — was granted a resentencing hearing by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Steve Lindly, deputy director of the Department of Corrections noted the last execution — which was carried out by lethal injection in 1992 — was of Mark Hopkinson, who was in a California federal prison when he was convicted of ordering the torture death of Jeffrey Green.

Winters asked how much pain was involved with an execution by firing squad. “Ask someone who got shot if it hurt,” replied Rep. Ken Esquibel (D-Cheyenne).

“It does seem like there’s not going to be a need very quickly,” said Rep. Bill Pownall (R-Gillette). “But I do agree that we need to have another form of execution. It’s not an easy decision, but Wyoming needs some type of law on the books about how it is going to carry out the death penalty.”

Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper), Winters, Pownall, Halverson and Miller voted in favor of the firing squad bill. Rep. Sam Krone (R-Cody), Baker, Pelkey and Equibel voted against the measure.

Pelkey said he couldn’t predict what the House will do with the bill.

“I just find it ridiculous that we’re flailing for methods to kill people; I’m fundamentally opposed to that,” said Pelkey, an attorney. “Even if we come up with a humane system, the state shouldn’t be granted the power to take someone’s life. I don’t know how many people here feel that way.”

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The Votes for this bill are at the bottom of the article.

Medicaid expansion opponents threw out everything they could think of Friday to defeat Senate File 129: half-truths, red herrings, misinformation and flat-out lies.

They won. And they did it by such a decisive margin — 19-11 — they convinced the House to drop its own Medicaid expansion bill a half-hour later, because no matter what the panel or the full House did, the issue wasn’t going to be supported by a Senate that chose to once again deny health insurance to 17,600 working poor people.

Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) said the Senate spent a week on SF 129 and amended it, changing all of her panel’s suggestions to just approve the SHARE plan that had been negotiated between the Wyoming Department of Health (DOH) and the federal government. In the end, Senate Republicans made sure they included a “poison pill” they knew the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would not accept.

Even knowing that the bill would be dead on arrival when the state’s waiver request would be denied by CMS, the 19 opponents couldn’t wait to vote “no” and just kill the measure now.

In a 2012 report, the DOH estimated if Medicaid expansion is not approved, 111 Wyoming residents will die each year because they lack even basic access to the health care system.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette), the sponsor of SF 129, reminded his colleagues before the vote that the bill would bring $120 million in federal funds into the state, create an estimated 800 new jobs, and “most importantly, take care of 17,000-plus people who now fall through the cracks [of the health care system].”

No state money would be expended next year, Von Flatern stressed. Any cost to the state would be paid for by reducing and eliminating programs that would be no longer needed because the recipients would now be on Medicaid. The entire plan was “revenue neutral.”

This marks the third year in a row the Legislature rejected Medicaid expansion, which means that even if it does approve the program in the future, it cannot take advantage of the feds’ offer to pay for 100 percent of the first three years of expansion.

Even if legislators come back in the 2016 budget session and are able to get the two-thirds support necessary to introduce the bill — which is an incredible hurdle unlikely to be achieved — Medicaid expansion would probably not start until Jan. 1, 2017.

Please keep in mind that’s the BEST scenario possible. If the lawmakers who opposed Medicaid expansion get re-elected, it will never happen.

In addition to not doing its duty to help the state’s neediest, the Senate’s Republicans — at least 19 of them — gave a middle-finger salute to Gov. Matt Mead, who finally came out in favor of some form of expansion for the first time this year. Mead said he preferred the SHARE plan, but would sign any plan the Legislature passed.

In his State of the State address to open the legislative session, Mead said Medicaid expansion must happen this year, because it can’t be put off any longer. He implored them to act. Nearly begged.

The Senate’s actions, taken right after a Republican caucus on the issue before the vote, showed conclusively that its crass leadership doesn’t have any respect for anyone, even the leaders of their own party.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), to absolutely no one’s surprise, stood and spoke against SF 129. He was the leading opponent the past two years, and he briefly climbed on board in favor of expansion earlier this session when his Labor, Health and Social Services Committee approved a bill he sponsored that created an expensive, unwieldy system with health savings accounts.

After his fellow senators stripped his plan from SF 129, Scott became the same vociferous Medicaid expansion opponent he’s always been.

Scott maintained there were no cost controls in the bill, which simply isn’t true. There was a trigger mechanism that stated if the federal government ever paid less than 90 percent of the cost of the expansion, Wyoming would automatically drop out of the program.

He also said the co-payments by the poor to their own health care were so small they weren’t even worth the trouble of collecting. If that’s true, why did he and other opponents of the bill last year insist the working poor had to make co-payments to get “some skin in the game”?

Then Scott peppered his speech with his standard claim that the nation has a health care problem because the poor “overutilize” health care services by actually seeking medical treatment. He blamed Medicaid for that, adding that when the poor “get tests and other procedures they don’t need, you’re doing more harm than good.”

Scott said expanding the program would not solve the problem Wyoming hospitals face of collectively having an estimated $200 million a year in uncompensated care. He said putting low-income, childless adults on the program for the first time would only reduce uncompensated care by 6 to 7 percent.

But other states have reported reductions of 30 to 40 percent since expanding Medicaid when it became available through the Affordable Care Act, derisively called “Obamacare” by opponents.

“We know from past experience that the federal government is going to back off its promise [to pay at least 90 percent after 2020].” Really? We know that for certain? Without ever saying how he arrived at his figures, he said the state would need to come up with an extra $60 million a year to pay for the program. Scott said the state could only make up that money by cutting higher education or raising taxes.

The idea the feds will renege on their fiscal promises because of its large national deficit is truly a red herring, because Wyoming would automatically end Medicaid expansion here, so it won’t need an additional $60 million annually. Further, while Senate Republicans see the national and state economies headed into a tailspin, there’s no indication that the economic growth the nation has experienced in the past year won’t continue to improve.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said Wyoming has abandoned 17,600 low-income, childless adults for three years by not expanding Medicaid, and SF 129 represented the state’s best effort to actually help them.

“It’s our obligation as leaders of this state, as representatives of the people, to try to find a solution to this problem we have,” Rothfuss said. “It’s not our obligation to figure out what’s going to happen five years from now.”

Before she killed House Bill 245 by laying it back for the session because of the Senate’s obstinance on the issue, Harvey also spoke about the need to keep working on Medicaid expansion.

“We all need to work together,” she said. “Wyoming does have a problem. We have people that are not being taken care of. We need to find a solution to that.”


THE VOTES

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It isn’t easy to defeat a Senate bill that has 14 co-sponsors. It takes a majority of the 30 elected members to win on final reading, so from the beginning a measure to take away binding arbitration for firefighters only needed to pick up two more votes to pass.

But Senate File 123 didn’t get a single extra vote of support Thursday, failing on a 14-13 vote as dozens of firefighters from around the state quietly viewed the proceedings from the third-floor gallery. Three senators were excused from the morning session when the vote took place.

“We’re just happy that this was defeated, and we’ll keep serving the public, like we do 365 days a year, seven days a week, every minute of every day,” said a relieved Joe Fender, president of the Federated Fire Fighters of Wyoming.

SF 123 was sponsored by Sen. Dave Kinskey, a Republican from Sheridan. That northern city has gone to binding arbitration six times in the past 20 years, which is as many times combined for the five other cities in the state that have professional firefighting departments — Cheyenne, Laramie, Rock Springs, Casper and Mills.

“I think the point made during the debate — that this is a local problem in Sheridan, and not a statewide problem — was incredibly important,” Fender said. “Sen. Kinskey kept talking about how negotiations used to be done over a cup of coffee. From what I understand, the city of Sheridan wants to get back to that cup of coffee.”

Kinskey argued his bill was necessary because firefighters now have the upper hand in negotiations with city officials. In 1965, the Legislature approved a bill that stated if the union and city can’t agree on a contract within a specified time period, the issue is decided by an arbitrator whose decision is binding to both parties.

Under SF 123, the ruling by an arbitrator would only be advisory, and city officials would have the last word about what the firefighters’ contract would contain.

“The system has worked for 50 years, and there’s no reason to change it,” maintained Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River), who added that SF 123 would “leave the city holding all of the cards.”

Kinskey said in the spirit of compromise, he offered an amendment that would leave arbitrators’ rulings binding on issues dealing with safety equipment. His change was adopted, but it wasn’t enough to persuade a majority to vote in favor of his bill.

“Why is there one particular group of employees, cities and towns only, that has collective bargaining rights, and binding arbitration rights, when no other employees in the state of Wyoming do?” Kinskey asked.

The frustrated sponsor, in his final pitch for the measure, said cities delegate outside arbitrators “inappropriately and unconstitutionally” to make fiscal decisions without ever being held accountable by voters.

“I have reviewed every arbitration decision in the state of Wyoming I could get my hands on, and not one was about safety,” Kinskey said. “It’s about money, pensions, benefits, wages.” He spit out “money” disdainfully, like a dirty word.

Sen. Bill Landen, a Casper Republican who originally signed on as a co-sponsor, praised KInskey for his work on the bill, but said, “I don’t think we’re quite there yet” in solving the city government problems Kinskey outlined.

“Ultimately, it’s our job to represent our districts back home,” Landen said. “I’ve heard from city officials from Casper, and they’re just not for this bill.”

Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange), who offered two amendments that didn’t pass, said, “It seems like both side are saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway.'”

Meier said the issue would be a good one for an interim topic, so it could be studied by a legislative committee for the next year. Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), who voted against the bill a few minutes later, agreed that an interim study might find a solution for some cities’ problems with the current system.

“Let’s do our work in next interim, and come back with something that’s a compromise that is that middle ground [we’re seeking], instead of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction,” Rothfuss said.

“I personally don’t think it’s necessary for an interim study. It’s something that’s worked for a half-century,” Fender said. “But if the Legislature wants to do that, obviously it’s their prerogative. We’ll be there.”

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On Monday, Medicaid expansion opponents in the Wyoming Senate complained there was no way for the state to possibly track the cost savings the Department of Health plans to use to finally give the state’s working poor health insurance.

Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) and Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) listened, then went to work. On Wednesday morning they offered an amendment that fully responded to all of the bitching and moaning expansion critics did just 48 hours earlier.

The pair threw out the mess their colleagues left them, after opponents had insisted on adding what Von Flatern called a “poison pill” to Senate File 129. It was in the form of a new requirement that all able-bodied Medicaid expansion recipients would have to work 32 hours a week to get a watered-down version of the full Medicaid benefits others already qualify for automatically.

Without stripping out that provision, there was no way the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would ever grant the waiver Wyoming needs to expand Medicaid to an estimated 17,600 low-income, childless adults. So Nicholas and Von Flatern returned to the original version of SF 129 that included the SHARE plan federal officials said would likely get CMS’s approval.

Next, they answered the complaint from senators who said there was no way for the state to track the so-called savings in existing health programs the Department of Health (DOH) said would make the SHARE plan “revenue neutral.”

By reducing the cost of health programs that were no longer needed or could be significantly reduced because the working poor would now be able to get assistance through Medicaid, the DOH said the expansion could be paid solely with federal dollars beginning in 2016. Nicholas and Von Flatern created a tracking system that allowed health officials to identify potential savings that could go into a new “Medicaid Expansion Reserve Account.”

The best part of the solution was the way federal dollars could be used to fund the first year of Medicaid expansion, while savings would be stashed into the reserve account, and not even a dime from the account could be spent without the Legislature’s authorization. Lawmakers would be able to save money and be ready for the time the feds cut back their share of the cost to no less than 90 percent by 2020.

The entire revision was the result of hard work by two statesmen who had developed a foolproof plan to answer literally every criticism senators had made against Medicaid expansion.

But the problem with foolproof plans is that often fools still need to approve them. A high percentage of state senators in Wyoming either didn’t understand how these new elements improved the proposal, or they realized it and simply didn’t care.

Some members insisted on dividing the revised SF 129 and voting separately on portions. It’s unknown whether their action was because they weren’t smart enough to grasp the totality of the plan, or they just wanted to torment supporters by killing off a piece at a time.

But when the haze that had covered the entire process was lifted, a majority of senators left their indelible mark on the final product. They stomped on that sucker like a giant stink bug, and seemed to be quite happy with their smelly little handiwork.

The whole process took about two hours, and for supporters of Medicaid expansion who could see how much the proposal had been improved overnight, it was indeed painful to watch.

The Senate put back the work requirement that will doom the state’s waiver request, even if the CMS accepts the dreck that’s left over once the upper chamber and the House get done with it.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), the longest serving state senator in Wyoming’s history, was the most interesting to watch as the majority saved only a tiny framework of the plan. Someone who still cares might be able to put this wretched Humpty Dumpty back together in a manner that could even faintly resemble Medicaid expansion, but only if the viewer scrunched up his face and intently stared at it while squinting into the sun.

The Senate got rid of the tracking process many had screamed for the day before, so these self-important watchers of the taxpayers’ money didn’t have to bother giving the newly identified health program savings a thumb up or down. They ended up saving the concept of the Medicaid expansion reserve account, but with no one identifying what money could be stored in them, it didn’t matter much.

They reminded this observer of bratty little kids who went on a shopping trip with mom and screamed they wanted a shiny toy they had picked out together and promised to share. When their mother tossed the item into their cart, the precious tykes yelled that it was no longer good enough, because they saw something they liked much better in the aisle up ahead.

And by the time mom pulled out of the supermarket parking lot, the new treasure was broken into what seemed like a hundred pieces, and the kids pointed at each other, hoping there really wouldn’t be enough blame to go around this time, so they would be spared any punishment.

Scott, the Senate’s most vocal critic of Medicaid expansion two years in a row, changed his mind last month when he saw an opening for his beloved health savings accounts to be used for an alternative expansion plan. He had foisted the accounts onto the state a few years ago when he convinced the rest of the Legislature to adopt his “Healthy Frontiers” plan, which died after a single year due to lack of interest and lawmakers taking away the money.

After the Senate opened up debate on SF 129 by taking a jackhammer to Scott’s additions, he has spent most of his time pontificating for his colleagues that any plan someone else offers is inferior and would no doubt bankrupt the state.

Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), who penned the poison pill amendment Monday and got it put back in the bill Wednesday, has also acted like Debbie Downer all week, looking for ways to show everyone Medicaid expansion is an awful idea, just as he had determined more than two years ago.

SF 129 is still alive, if barely, and resembles nothing as much as a cadaver tied onto a stick, being carried around and occasionally tossed into the air as if that would revive him.

Watching legislators who should know better go out of their way to spike a version of Medicaid expansion that showed real promise was much more heartbreaking than just watching them say “no” over and over last year. The working poor deserve much better than this insulting treatment from their representatives in the Capitol. Then again, so do we all.

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Opponents of a bill that would take away binding arbitration for professional firefighters in six Wyoming cities have a great argument: Why try to fix a system that’s been around for 50 years and isn’t broken?

That logic didn’t win the day on the first reading of Senate File 123, which advanced on an 18-11 vote. But firefighter supporters are hopeful backers of the measure will see that changing the system would create an unfair one in which the cities always win at the expense of public safety.

The sponsor of SF 123, Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan), tried to frame the issue as one that has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do about local officials being able to control their budgets. He said it wasn’t directed at the firefighters’ performance.

“They are all brave men and women doing work to keep us safe, and our hats off to them,” Kinskey said. “But this bill is about funding and revenue and responsible management of local governments. … It’s about fairness to all employees and the public, and it’s about respect for the voters.”

In 1965, the Wyoming Legislature recognized the right of paid firefighters to collective bargaining and binding arbitration. Five years later the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the system.

Kinskey’s bill would strip away the binding arbitration and make it non-binding and only advisory for city councils, which would have the final say on contracts between the two parties.

Does that sound even remotely like a fair system? Or a necessary change?

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said Kinskey’s bill is aimed at helping his city, Sheridan, which has had five lawsuits filed against it by firefighters in the past decade.

“It concerns me that to fix a system for one city, we’re going to break a system that has worked very well for mine,” Rothfuss said.

Kinskey, though, maintained his bill isn’t just intended to help Sheridan. He said Cheyenne has been in arbitration with firefighters seven times since 1985.

“[Binding] arbitration has grown over time to where it represents an extraordinary cost to the system,” Kinskey said. “Arbitration can typically cost cities $30,000 to $35,000. Unions bring in a labor lawyer from Denver, so their costs have to be about the same.”

The Sheridan senator also claimed most arbitrators come to Wyoming from Colorado, so they have no ties to the state and aren’t accountable to the public. But Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) said there are Wyoming legislators who are on the list of available arbitrators, and he noted former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan has arbitrated cases in Sheridan.

“The process has worked very well for 50 years,” Hastert said. “Before the Legislature goes on record against firefighters, we should have compelling evidence that the system hasn’t worked. We don’t have that.”

Hastert said Wyoming firefighters have traditionally accepted less pay so they can have better training and safer equipment.

“If you take away binding arbitration and go voluntary, you will no doubt sacrifice public safety,” he added.

Sen. Bernadine Craft (D-Rock Springs) said in Wyoming cities, “We don’t go to binding arbitration right off the bat; it’s only used as a last resort.”

“In the last 50 years, we’ve only done it a few times,” Craft said. “The whole idea is it’s really better [for cities and firefighters] to find common ground.”

She said arbitration is a system of checks and balances. “I’m not sure how we could improve upon it,” Craft said. “If the governing body has the power to say, ‘Well, thanks anyway, this is what’s going to happen,’ that doesn’t strike me as fair.”

Joe Fender, president of the Federated Fire Fighters of Wyoming, said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s Senate vote but the union will keep trying to defeat the bill.

“A point that needs to be made is that the relationship between the cities and firefighters is a 365-day relationship that is every minute of every day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Fender said. “We’re here for the citizens, and binding arbitration is here because we can’t strike, nor would we ever turn our backs on the citizens we protect.”

 

Members of the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday made short work of the proposed Restoring Constitutional Governance Act (RCGA), which, among many things, would legislatively declare “Wyoming is not a battlefield.”

House Bill 91 was sponsored by Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper), who probably would have had better luck trying to pass the “Pat Benatar ‘Love Is a Battlefield’ Bill.” Legislators in Wyoming seem to prefer bills that declare what something is, rather than what something isn’t, and the committee probably could have gotten behind something as positive and catchy as the Benatar Bill.

Maybe next year. This year, the panel — which is usually tasked with approving bills that have some sort of appropriation in them — decided 5-1 there really wasn’t a need to restore constitutional governance in Wyoming, because it only went away in the minds of some Tea Partiers who were adamant about protecting rights we never lost.

But thanks for the thought, Rep. Kroeker. Perhaps one day, when the federal government really is out to get all of us, your deep sense of paranoia will pay off in a big way.

Kroeker explained HB 91 was inspired by a kind of perfect storm of constitutional craziness, beginning with the United States holding prisoners at Gitmo without charging them with any crimes and sometimes not even letting them talk to a lawyer, which, as anyone who watches any iteration of “Law and Order,” “CSI” or “NCIS” will tell you, is neither legal nor cool.

Public servant Kroeker obviously doesn’t want to see anyone in Wyoming terrorized in this manner, so HB 91 would have prevented the arrest or capture of any person in Wyoming, or citizen of the state, “under the law of war.”

It doesn’t matter whether Congress or the president authorized the use of military force, or used the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or a similar law that used deadly force against anyone in our state, or “intentionally subject(ed) any citizen of Wyoming to targeted killing or murder,” because Kroeker’s bill would have made all of that illegal and prosecutable under the Wyoming Criminal Code.

That goes for assault, battery, kidnapping or murder, “as applicable.” The only exceptions would be for those serving in the land or naval forces or the militia, “when in actual service in time of war or public danger.” In those cases, the Uniform Code of Military Justice could still be used — especially if someone who actually believed in the U.S. Constitution was ever in the White House again.

As Kroeker outlined the bill for the panel, he explained that a federal judge had ruled the NDAA unconstitutional, and while a stay was later lifted, that underlying determination had never been changed.

It’s funny, but Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne) didn’t recall it exactly that way. An attorney, he said a three-judge federal appeals court unanimously overturned that decision, so there’s no longer an active case or controversy.

Nicholas said despite Kroeker’s contention Wyoming citizens could be arrested under the NDAA, in fact, it only applies to aliens who are not U.S. citizens.

“I’d like to know where you get your information from, and why it’s different than mine,” Nicholas told Kroeker.
Acting Chairman Tim Stubson (R-Casper) noted the NDAA covers any person who participated in the 9-11 attacks, and was a member or associate of al-Qaida or the Taliban.

“As I understand your bill, a federal agent who arrests them in Wyoming is going to be guilty of a felony under this act,” Stubson said.

Kroeker said he doesn’t think so, as long as the arresting officer made sure the suspect was charged with a crime and able to see an attorney, “as opposed to just sticking them in prison and forgetting about them.”

Even alleged terrorists need to be given their day in court, Kroeker said, and “treated like every other criminal.”

Nicholas reminded Kroeker that federal law has supremacy over state law. “We can’t arrest a federal officer for violating a state law if he’s performing his lawful duties enforcing federal laws,” the lawyer said.w

But Kroeker disagreed. “I would argue if someone is ignoring the rights that are guaranteed in our Constitution, he is not following federal law because he’s performing an unconstitutional act,” the Casper legislator said. “We would have the right under state law to arrest him.”

“We may differ in that opinion,” Kroeker added. Yes, we think that exchange constituted a disagreement.

Clearly, Kroeker’s bill wasn’t ready for prime time this time, but maybe he could improve it.

Our earlier “Benatar Bill” suggestion was a silly idea, and would likely meet the same fate as HB 91 did at the hands of the House Appropriations Committee, which is comprised of some pretty tough (and sharp) cookies. But perhaps the 1980s pop icon could still be useful in a campaign to bring Kroeker’s bill back next year, if she would just rewrite a few lyrics:

“We are strong/ No one can tell us we’re wrong/ Searching our hearts for so long/ Both of us knowing/ Wyoming’s not a battlefield.”

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In a major victory for pro-choice advocates Tuesday, a House committee killed a bill requiring pregnant women to be told they have the right to view an ultrasound of their fetus and must wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

Of course, since the pro-choice stance won, that means the anti-abortion legislators who sponsored House Bill 156 lost again on an issue they’ve tried and failed to pass many times since it was first offered in 1993.

Several Wyoming women and physicians urged the House Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee to reject the attempt to insert government into the private doctor-patient relationship. Six of the nine-member panel then voted to reject HB 156.

Anti-abortion groups, individuals and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper), described it as a harmless measure that simply gave women more information so they could consider the reproductive options.

“If you’re pro-choice, you really should be in favor of this bill,” freshman Rep. Cheri Steinmitz (R-Lingle) told one opponent of HB 156.

But many who testified said the bill was far from harmless, and placed an undue burden on women in Wyoming.

Elizabeth Hiatt described how having an abortion several years ago was the hardest decision she’s ever made in her life, and having to wait 24 hours before the procedure could be done “would have just added one more day of stress” she certainly didn’t need.

Hiatt cited research that indicated a majority of women turn down an opportunity to view an ultrasound of their fetus — not an “unborn baby,” as the bill states — and 98.6 percent of those who see the ultrasound still choose to terminate their pregnancy.

Sharon Breitweiser of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice Wyoming noted that several physicians testified ultrasounds are regularly used to help determine the health of the pregnant woman and her fetus, and the government doesn’t need to interfere with decisions that should be left up to doctors and patients.

She added that Wyoming only has one small clinic in Jackson that performs abortions, and the vast majority of women here go to other states. The expense of traveling to Jackson and the lost time if women are required to spend an extra day in the state’s most expensive city would be an undue burden on pregnant women, Breitweiser said.

Sponsor Reeder said while there is an exception in the bill for the health of the mother, “A rape or incest exception would only hide information from women in a traumatic situation.” He emphasized there would be no script required for doctors talking about the issue with patients, and they would only need to tell them they could see an ultrasound.

Donna Adler of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne supported the bill. “It’s not forcing anyone to see something she doesn’t want to see,” she said. “This bill is good for women.”

A registered nurse, Mary Dowd, said an ultrasound would simply help women make an informed choice.

“If you oppose women’s right to fully informed consent, then you aren’t pro-choice, you’re pro-abortion,” she asserted.

Gloria Davies, director of the Life Choice Pregnancy Care Center in Cheyenne, said her organization has counseled more than 10,000 women since it opened in 1988. She claimed that “96 percent of them choose life” after receiving counseling.

Davies said one client who saw her ultrasound asked her, “Why didn’t someone tell me it was a real child in there? I had been told it was a glob of flesh.”

Rene Hinkle, an OB-GYN and co-founder of the Cheyenne Women’s Clinic, argued that putting the Wyoming Legislature between a woman and her doctor “is a very dangerous precedent.”

If the bill’s proponents really want to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, she advised, “You need to increase access to long-term, affordable, safe contraceptives.”

Hollis Hackman of the Wyoming Psychological Association in Sheridan said the role ultrasounds play in a pregnant patient’s care should be made by physicians who have had the necessary medical training, and not politicians.

After public testimony, the TRW Committee discussed the bill. Steinmetz said while some people testified the measure is unnecessary because many physicians already give patients an opportunity to see the ultrasound results, the state needs a “framework to make sure it’s being done.”

Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) said he believes “every conception is precious, and every child deserves a loving family.”

“The best way to accomplish that is a matter of love, not law,” he concluded.

Steinmetz, Scott Clem (R-Gillette) and Dan Kirkbride (R-Chugwater) voted for HB 129. Voting no were Barlow, Committee Chairwoman Ruth Ann Petroff (R-Jackson), Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson), John Freeman (D-Green River), Lloyd Larson (R-Lander) and Fred Baldwin (R- Kemmerer).