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).

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After adding a “poison pill” work requirement to a Medicaid expansion bill its sponsor said would mean automatic rejection of Wyoming’s federal waiver request, the Senate on Monday approved the measure 18-11 on its initial reading.

The main question to ask senators now is, “Why did you even bother to pass Senate File 129?” If all they’re going to do is approve a meaningless bill that doesn’t have a chance of being enacted — apparently in the hope an uninformed public will give them credit for at least “doing something” to help the working poor — why not at least be honest and tell people they don’t care? Aren’t they proud of what they’re doing?

Proponents of Medicaid expansion are still glad to see the bill live to see at least another reading in the Senate, with the hope the work requirement amendment offered by Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) can be stripped out of SF 129 on its third and final reading, which should come Wednesday. If that’s not possible, they at least want to see the Senate provide some flexibility in the provision so it doesn’t automatically kill expansion of the program.

Bebout’s amendment requires the state to negotiate with the federal government to include a provision that Medicaid expansion recipients who are not disabled are required to work at least 32 hours a week. Without that provision, Wyoming will not agree to expand Medicaid so an estimated 17,600 low-income, childless adults — three-fourths of whom already work — will be able to get health insurance.

Watered-down health insurance, not as good as traditional Medicaid, but insurance nonetheless.

Bebout explained to the Senate he knows his amendment is controversial. “But I think it’s very important we put in this provision, because if they are able and can, then they should in fact work,” he maintained.

But Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette), who sponsored SF 129, which includes the SHARE plan that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told Wyoming officials would likely be approved for a waiver, strongly opposed the amendment.

“You cannot force [enrollees] to work for the Medicaid program, so CMS will turn us down right away,” Von Flatern said. “That’s the poison pill aspect of this.”

Anyone with even a limited knowledge of how the waiver process works and the history of Medicaid expansion knows he’s right.

The senator said Bebout’s amendment is confusing, because there is no definition of what a disability is, and whether the provision would cover physical and/or mental disabilities.

Bebout said he will clarify the disability question in a later amendment. “It’s really not intended as a posion pill,” he said. “We have made a lot of progress on Medicaid expansion in terms of waivers that are available to the state today that were not available two years ago. … I think it is something [the federal government] would certainly consider.”

But there is a major difference between considering a few new options and doing something that the feds fundamentally oppose. Von Flatern said while he would also like to see a work requirement in the bill, he assured his colleagues “this will not fly with CMS, so I urge your defeat of this.”

So the Senate approved by a 17-13 vote an amendment that’s sure to kill the expansion effort if the bill passes as it is now written.

And this is supposed to be the sensible chamber of the Legislature. Even if SF 129 makes it out of the Senate, just think about what kind of other unworkable provisions and bizarre mandates could come out of the right wing of the House, where crazy is considered the norm. They might decide the disabled don’t deserve a free ride for all that new health insurance they’ll be getting, and they should also work for it right alongside the “able.” Or they could increase co-pays and premiums for the poor ten-fold, so no one can even afford to sign up for the program.

After the Senate poisoned the well, it turned to the question of how much money hospitals in Wyoming might be able to recoup in funds that are now lost to uncompensated and/or charity care.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), chairman of the Senate Health, Labor and Social Services Committee, approved of SF 129 when it contained his plan to include health savings accounts. But the full Senate rejected his costly plan last Friday, and Scott didn’t see anything else on the horizon he could support — especially a proposal like SHARE, which is actually revenue-neutral because of savings in other programs.

Scott claimed Medicaid expansion would only reduce the $200 million annual uncompensated care at hospitals by 6 to 7 percent. The number is so low because Scott insists on using highly questionable two-year-old estimates that 4,600 of the state’s 17,600 uninsured working poor actually have some type of private health insurance, so only 13,000 actually need Medicaid expansion.

“You may see a little more or a little less than [a 6 to 7 percent reduction] but you aren’t going to see enough that you can say the problem is solved,” Scott said.

Other senators, though, said in states that have expanded Medicaid, uncompensated care has dropped by up to 40 percent. Those numbers are documented by states and the federal government.

Another irritating part of the debate Monday was the insistence by opponents there’s absolutely no way the feds will live up to their promise to never pay less than 90 percent of of Medicaid expansion costs after 2020. These legislators appear to have come to a unanimous consensus that the costs will soon be split 50-50 between the feds and Wyoming, just like traditional Medicaid is funded now, and they present those figures as fact — with absolutely nothing to back it up.

Scott, who originally moved for passage of SF 129, used every argument he could think of to push for “no” votes by the end of the debate. He said the state won’t raise taxes on minerals or the rate of sales tax, because “they’re as high as they should be,” so the only thing left for Wyoming to do is cut funds for higher education and aid to cities, towns and counties.

“If you vote for this, you’re condemning those people to a major cut two years, three years, four years down the road,” he said.

With “supporters” like Scott, Medicaid expansion certainly doesn’t need any enemies. But it has a lot of them in the Senate anyway, and undoubtedly more in the especially conservative House.

Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) told fellow senators they have seen the intense political pressure that’s been applied to get them to support Medicaid expansion. “Imagine the position you’re putting future Legislatures in — the pressure (from opponents) to actually take away an entitlement,” Burns said. “How successful do you think that’s going to be?”

Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) likely saved SF 129 from being defeated on first reading Monday by asking the Senate “to work the bill through the full reading process (of three readings).”

But Nicholas also had a lot of questions about the measure, along with a healthy share of criticism. He said the Legislature will ultimately have to decide if it’s better to fund Medicaid expansion or cut social service and health programs that are now operated by the state.

The president said some popular programs may have to be sacrificed to pay for expansion, which would take “a lot of courage” on the part of legislators. He said legislators will have “to look at covering more people with the same dollars.”

Nothing has really changed about the Legislature’s attitude against Medicaid expansion for the past two years, even if one bill was finally approved early in this year’s process. Opponents still raise the phony argument that it’s inconceivable the federal government will pick up at least 90 percent of costs.

With passage of the work requirement, the Senate has shown it’s still ignorant about the fact the poor deserve to have access to health care, just like other Wyomingites. There’s absolutely no reason to punish them because they get sick.

Legislators know they can disrespect the poor because low-income people also have no access to lawmakers — unlike the energy industry and others who have no problems getting friendly legislators to listen to what they want.

We haven’t even mentioned that a majority of lawmakers have shown absolutely no remorse about pissing away $110 million in federal funds during the past two years by refusing Medicaid expansion, and they’re poised to do it again unless the federal government is willing to put work requirements on people who are either already working the mostly crappy minimum-wage jobs that are available or are too sick to do so because they can’t afford proper health care.

And these guys have the nerve to complain about the federal government, which is at least trying to keep people healthy while state lawmakers push roadblock after roadblock in front of the working poor, just to make ideological points against Obamacare? It wouldn’t make their actions any less despicable, but a little honesty about what they’re doing would be welcome — and necessary, if they are ever going to be held accountable for their actions.

 

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We knew things would be going a little slow in the Wyoming Senate’s Great Medicaid Debate on Friday when President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) stood up early in the proceedings to ask, “What exactly is a waiver?”

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s got a bigger workload than just about everyone else in the Capitol, and he may have been asking the question to make sure newer members know what are the underlying issues for Medicaid expansion in the state.

Plus, it would be just too unnerving if the leader of the entire chamber didn’t know about the waiver process. This is the third consecutive year of the expansion effort, and waivers are a pretty basic piece of information. Nobody’s been hiding what this is all about.

For the new kids in the class, a 511 waiver is what the state of Wyoming will request from the secretary of Health and Human Services, who decides if states want to administer legitimate demonstration projects unique to their populations or just want to run the program as cheap as possible, no matter what the cost is to beneficiaries.

Under the Medicaid law, waivers can be requested from any state that wants to start “innovative or experimental state health care programs.”

Is Wyoming’s proposal either innovative or experimental? You be the judge.

The state of Wyoming has never officially asked the feds for a 511 waiver, but obtaining one is the ultimate goal. To make such a request, state lawmakers must first agree on a Medicaid expansion plan, and that has never happened. After Friday’s session, it’s starting to look doubtful they’ll reach a meeting of the minds this year.

The situation was much more hopeful last fall, after the Wyoming Department of Health (DOH) and the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) negotiated and came up with an expansion plan named SHARE.

SHARE wasn’t comparable to traditional Medicaid, because it would require the working poor to pay health insurance premiums and co-payments that many cannot afford. But it would have provided some assistance to the 17,600 people whose low incomes make them eligible for Medicaid, if state officials would just give the program a green light.

CMS would still have to decide if the plan was worthy of a waiver, but DOH Director Tom Forslund came back from the talks saying he’s 98 percent sure the feds would approve it.

The problem is the chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee — Sen. Charles Scott, a Casper Republican who is the longest serving legislator in the state’s history — abhors SHARE.

Scott offered an alternative bill that his committee adopted the day it shelved SHARE. His plan is based on the “Healthy Indiana” plan and features health savings accounts (HSA), an element he’s been in love with since he created the ill-fated “Healthy Frontiers” program for Wyoming several years ago.

Healthy Frontiers had its funding from the Legislature yanked after only one year, because very few poor people signed up for it. Scott thinks the state’s Medicaid expansion program will only succeed if it has HSAs, because the accounts will combine a large amount of state funds with $50 a month put in by the poor.

Scott likes to say this gives Medicaid expansion beneficiaries “skin in the game,” and he believes making them contribute to their own HSA will give them an incentive to spend less money on health care, because if they ever leave the program they can take a portion of the funds with them.

The main problem with the plan, which Scott admits, is that the feds aren’t used to Medicaid programs that use HSAs, except Indiana, which has struggled for about a year to get approval. Scott told his Senate colleagues that the accounts would be “a sticking point” for the CMS, but he is stuck with it anyway because he believes without HSAs, Wyoming “would lose all of its bargaining power.”

Also, Scott’s plan would cost the state about $65 million in 2016, while SHARE is revenue-neutral, because it will use savings in other social services programs made possible because Medicaid recipients won’t need them anymore.

Scott thinks the feds will jump to accept his plan, because they want more states to come on board. But others aren’t so sure. After listening to Scott explain his HSA incentives and his questionable and confusing concept of using “invisible money” the first year so the state doesn’t have to put funds into the front-end of the program, Nicholas called time-out.

“I’m not prepared to accept your propositions on face value,” he told Scott.

As it turned out, neither was half of the Senate. An amendment to put HSAs into Senate File 129, which mirrors the SHARE plan, was defeated on a 15-15 tie vote.

As he headed out during the lunch break, Scott was not happy with the turn of events. He only let SF 129 out of his committee because it contained his alternative ideas, and without them in the bill, he acted kind of like a kid who took his baseball home so the game couldn’t continue.

“Unless somebody comes up with something I don’t know of that can be a real control upon utilization of costs, then I have to vote no [on SF 129],” he said.

The defeat of his amendment, he added, “turns it into just a conventional Medicaid expansion, and those are too expensive, bad for the clients, and likely to get us in trouble in a few years when the feds renege on their promise [to pay at least 90 percent of the cost of expansion].”

Scott predicted if SF 129 is approved and implemented, within three years Wyoming will have to come up with $50 million to $70 million a year, which would result in tax increases, cuts in education and reductions in money for local governments.

The Senate went in for an afternoon session that leaders hoped would result in a vote on first reading, but it quickly became apparent legislators had too many questions about the SHARE bill for it to receive a fair hearing of its pros and cons. The Senate debate will continue at 10 a.m. Monday, giving legislators three nights to sleep on it.

So what does this mean for the bill’s chances? Marguerite Herman, lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, said after Scott’s amendment failed, “He did his ‘data dump’ — saying everything he knows about Medicaid, whether it pertained or not.”

On the plus side, she said senators seemed to be engaged on the issue. “I think Charlie drops his advocacy of the bill, but whether he is unalterably opposed, I don’t know,” Herman said.

But she added that SF 129 “appears to be the only vehicle Scott can attach himself and his health savings accounts to in the foreseeable future.”

Anne Ladd, CEO of the Wyoming Business Coalition on Health, said she doesn’t know whether the defeat of the HSAs will result in more or less support for the bill. “But people are continuing to ask good questions about what this all means,” she said.

“They’re getting past the ‘We hate federal money’ piece and talking about the merits of different portions of the bill,” Ladd added. “I’m encouraged by that.”

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State Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said when he decided to sponsor Senate File 108, he called it “a courtesy bill.”

That innocent-sounding description crumbled pretty quickly. “The misunderstanding of the bill is incredible,” Driskill said after the Senate adjourned Thursday. “The discontent and actual hatred that’s been stirred up by it has been shocking to me.”

What happened to make the measure go so far off course, even before the full Senate debated it? While Driskill saw the bill as a way to bring some civility to the occasional tense situation that may exist between game wardens and landowners, the Wyoming Game Wardens Association (WGWA) saw a bill that would severely limit wardens’ ability to do their jobs and make it easier for landowners to abuse their hunting privileges. Cases such as the Carter Ranch in Ten Sleep and the more recent Sagebrush Ranch case near Gillette, where landowners profited illegally by selling their landowner licenses to non-resident hunters, would be more difficult to investigate and prosecute. The bill would encourage this kind of illegal behavior as a result, WGWA believes.

Driskill said he would “reassess” the bill over the weekend. “I’m sitting on it until Monday,” he said. “I would say there’s a very high likelihood that I would either ask for it to be removed from the [general file] or ask the majority floor leader to sit on it.”

SF 108 would make it a law for game wardens to notify landowners when they need to go on their property. Driskill said this is common practice in the agriculture world, but it’s not universal. With a few operators, he explained, there is “a great animosity between landowners and the Game & Fish Department.”

“This bill aimed to fix that,” the senator said. “What it really said is you should have the courtesy to ask landowners if it’s OK to go on.”

“Our game wardens are there to protect and manage the animals we hunt and fish; our wildlife is public,” said Catherine Thagard, director of a nine-group coalition, the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Deer, elk and all other species do not recognize our man-made boundaries, and the responsibilities of a game warden do not end when an animal crosses a property line from public to private.

“From a sportsman’s perspective, we unanimously oppose the bill because it enables de facto privatization of our public wildlife once they jump the fence,” Thagard added.

The bill could potentially violate the “Open Fields Doctrine,” according to the WGWA, a constitutional premise developed from a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1984. The high court determined that “open fields do not provide the setting for those intimate activities that the Fourth Amendment is intended to shelter from government interference or surveillance.”

“Government agents can cross fences and trespass without a warrant or reasonable suspicion,” the court determined, “because fencing and ‘no trespassing’ signs cannot change the non-private character of an open field.”

Dan Beach of the WGWA called the language in SF 108 “extremely vague.”

“It states that no officer could enter any private land without the permission of the landowner or lessee,” he said. “This law would make it illegal for a sheriff’s deputy or game warden to simply drive up to a ranch house to speak with a landowner for routine communication without permission.”

The bill was portrayed as going to cause a big rift between landowners and the Game & Fish Department,” Driskill related. “It caused a lot of stress.”

He noted game wardens tell landowners when it’s necessary for them to enter their property, but the practice isn’t mandatory. He said he had several constituents who asked him to sponsor the measure.

“In truth, everything that [game wardens do] now that works, this bill did nothing to restrict.”

While the bill tried to protect landowners’ right to privacy, Driskill claimed it also benefited Game & Fish employees.

“My thought is it was probably a good way to sort out the bad eggs,” the Republican said. “If someone’s got their gates locked and said ‘absolutely not, you cannot come on my place,’ if I was the guy in the red shirt, I’d probably have a bit of heightened suspicion about what’s going on and maybe pay a little more attention around that place.”

SF 108 contained several exceptions in which the law would not have to be followed. A game officer authorized to enforce the act could enter any private land without permission if reasonable suspicion or probable cause existed that a violation of law had been, was being, or was about to be committed.

Other exceptions included investigating a report of illegal hunting, fishing or trapping activity; to dispatch crippled or distressed wildlife; or to respond to emergency situations, accidents or other threats to public safety.

Even with those exceptions, the bill hamstrings a warden investigating illegal hunting or fishing activities, according to WGWA.

Ultimately, Driskill said, he will probably pull the plug on his own bill because he does not want it to damage the good working relationship he said he has with the department.

The lack of courtesy in times of conflict, he concluded, “leads to heartache and hard feelings.” But the bill he sponsored to make the situation better clearly wasn’t the answer.

“I got numerous emails and phone calls that claimed this was going to destroy game birds and damage the protection and propagation of wildlife, which isn’t true,” the lawmaker maintained. “I really felt like we could have fought for it on the [Senate] floor, if we felt like it.

“But I think all it would have done is what [opponents] predicted – you’re going to cause a rift at some point.”

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Q: Why did the House Judiciary Committee vote 8-1 Wednesday to repeal Wyoming’s gun-free zones at schools, city council meetings and football games?

A: Because those places just aren’t safe without guns! Heh heh …Wait a minute, that’s not funny. Why on earth do state legislators think it’s OK for people to pack heat at our schools?

Turns out the joke is on us, for electing these jokers — at least it will be if the Legislature actually loses its collective mind and passes House Bill 114.

The above locations aren’t the only places the bill would allow people who have valid concealed carry permits issued by the state of Wyoming to take their weapons. Here’s the whole list:

Any meeting of a governmental entity; the Legislature and all of its committees; any public school, college or professional athletic event (whether or not related to firearms); any public elementary or secondary school facility; and any public college or university facility.

But don’t worry — HB 114, the brainchild of conservative Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman), will still prohibit permit holders from carrying guns into courtrooms. After all, there has to be some decorum and common sense somewhere. This isn’t the Wild West, is it?

Depending upon one’s mood and personal politics, the two-hour hearing was either the most entertaining or horrific way someone can spend a morning at the Capitol. Sometimes, it was both.

Several supporters of the bill dramatically showed the committee they were wearing empty holsters, apparently to symbolize the powerlessness they feel when they are told they can’t bear arms everywhere they go.

How brave of them to still enter the committee room knowing that for the duration of their stay they could be at the mercy of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups they kept mentioning as the kind of threats all Wyoming citizens have to worry about daily.

Of course, if HB 114 passes, next year the entire audience plus all nine members of the House Judiciary Committee will be able to legally carry concealed weapons, as long as they obtain the all-important permit.

But one legislator who won’t be carrying a gun is Rep. Charles Pelkey, a freshman Democrat from Laramie. An attorney and former journalist, he was the lone vote against the “Wyoming Repeal Gun-Free Zones Act.”

“The way that bill is written right now, anyone who can get a concealed carry permit can walk into my kids’ school with a gun,” Pelkey said. “I don’t have lot of faith. They talk about the right to bear arms, but that engenders a certain responsibility, a certain trust and a certain skill level. … I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have guns in schools.”

Perhaps Anthony Bouchard, director of Wyoming Gun Owners, could talk some sense into Pelkey and the other critics. Bouchard could have been a legislator himself, perhaps sitting on the Judiciary Committee, if he hadn’t been trounced in the Cheyenne Republican primary last August.

Bouchard had a direct message for opponents of Jaggi’s bill: “If people who testified against this bill don’t like it, they should petition [legislators] to change the Constitution.”

The gun rights advocate lashed out at “government officials who are getting paid very well — some in six-figures — to lobby against their government, and against the Constitution, which they have taken an oath to protect.”

Bouchard nearly worked himself into a frenzy when he mentioned the massacre of 33 people committed by a well-armed madman at Virginia Tech in 2007. While the media couldn’t shut up about all the gun violence, he said, nobody seemed too interested two years later when, at the same institution, a woman was beheaded.

He quoted a policeman: “When I first arrived at the scene, I saw a gentleman who had a head in his hand.”

Bouchard’s point? “This is the stuff we breed when you keep people defenseless,” he said.

Bob Wharff, Wyoming representative of the Utah-based Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a group that promotes private management and commercialization of wildlife, saved most of his rage for faculty at the University of Wyoming who spoke against HB 114.

“I guess I’m a little shocked, a little surprised, that those who are tasked with educating people in this state, in my opinion, either do not understand what the Wyoming Constitution says, or who think it’s irrelevant,” Wharff said. “I happen to believe otherwise. To our members, it matters.”

He wondered what these educators would say “if somewhere in our state we said the First Amendment is not honored.”

“Do we want to allow that right to be restricted?” Wharff asked. Uh, actually it’s several rights, and no.

He wasn’t done. “I believe it’s very inappropriate for the state to make people victims, and I believe that’s what this law will correct,” Wharff said.

Ted Schueler, a UW student, told the panel he had served as a military sniper and also spent two years training a Washington state police force how to respond to the threat of an active shooter.

“I believe this makes me an expert,” he said, noting that UW’s police chief has never issued a waiver to him or any other concealed carry permit holder to wear a gun on the Laramie campus.

Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper), a member of the committee, had a question for Schueler that required a long and possibly rehearsed preface. “To me it’s just grossly unfair that the country would ask you to put your life on the line to protect our freedoms, and you come home and you’re told you’re not even allowed to protect yourself on campus,” the Republican asked. “As someone in that position, how do you feel?”

“I feel surprised; that’s the best way to put it,” the student replied. “To be fighting for the freedom of other Americans and not being able to protect myself – I guess surprised and a little hurt as well.”

People who testified against HB 114 had to be prepared to deal with some pissed-off legislators, especially the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton).

Donal O’Toole, a member of the UW Faculty Senate, said the idea of allowing guns on campus runs counter to experts’ recommendations that weapons should be made less accessible to high-risk students.

Miller interrupted to inform the speaker that the hearing didn’t have anything to do with suicide, even though some others had mentioned the issue.

“[Suicide], as you probably heard in testimony today, generally occurs at home,” Miller said. O’Toole told him at universities, dorms are students’ homes.

The chairman asked him how many students who have committed suicide were concealed carry permit holders. When O’Toole said he didn’t know, Miller said, “My guess is the number would probably be close to zero.”

O’Toole noted Wyoming has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, but Miller had heard enough and told him his testimony wasn’t germane to the issue.

Rachel Keating, a UW Staff Senate member, said her organization’s recent poll on the issue of concealed carry showed support from only 7 percent, while 76 percent were opposed. The remainder, she said, wanted individuals to receive significantly more training in shooting than is now required for a permit.

“I just want to make a comment,” Miller interjected. “I don’t know of any major, real problems at UW. I had three kids graduate from there, and not one said there were any security problems.”

“People feel safe on campus. But many people think it would become a less safe environment if there were suddenly more guns on campus,” Keating countered.

“We’re just trying to look at future actions with this bill, and you’ve seen what some of these [terrorist] groups can do,” Miller maintained. “To keep something horrible from happening, we need a quick response.”

Miller then took a strange shot at UW’s administration. “I wish the UW president and the law enforcement chief would be [informed about] some of the higher security things that are going on at a national level,” he said. “Just be aware of those.”

Chris Boswell, UW’s vice president for governmental and community affairs, opposed the bill but suggested a number of amendments that were included in Idaho’s concealed carry law last year.

“There are limitations to it,” he explained. “An enhanced concealed carry permit requires additional training. Secondly, Idaho’s law does not allow concealed carry in dormitories and residence halls, or at certain athletic and entertainment events.

“Those seem like reasonable things to consider,” Boswell said.

Pelkey, meanwhile, said he believes HB 114 won’t have a difficult time winning approval in the House.

“It’s going to take someone in the Senate to kill it,” he predicted.

 

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Since there’s only one Medicaid expansion bill left in the Legislature after Wednesday morning’s action, it’s suddenly looking a lot better.

That doesn’t mean it became a stronger bill (it didn’t) or its chances of actually passing in the Senate are now better (they aren’t).

But after the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee finished its legislative surgery on Senate Bill 129, it passed 4-1. However, it’s not encouraging that two of the “yes” votes said they’re still on the fence and don’t know how they will vote on the final reading.

Labor Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) merged HB 129 — which started as the SHARE plan that was negotiated by the state and federal governments — with his own alternative bill, SF 66. Then he tabled his measure in favor of the hybrid bill, which now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it survives, the bill will be sent to the full Senate for what promises to be one of the most contentious debates of the session.

Scott put his potentially bill-killing health savings account (HSA) provision into SF 129 because he said it was the only way he would support any Medicaid expansion. Last year he was the leading opponent and helped defeat every expansion bill proposed, but at the end of the hour-long meeting he said if it’s not amended further, he will “probably” vote for final passage of SF 129.

The bill was originally sponsored by Sen. Michael Van Flatern (R-Gillette). SHARE would require the poor to pay small premiums and co-payments in exchange for a watered-down version of Medicaid that does not cover mental health patients and substance abusers. He supported all of Scott’s changes, but he had no choice if he wanted to see it advance.

The sponsor noted the SHARE plan has already been vetted, and he’s “98 percent” sure it would be approved by the feds. Van Flatern added it would “bring the biggest economic boom we could have,” and create an estimated 800 new jobs.

Scott’s new provisions would require beneficiaries to contribute to HSAs, which will be funded primarily by the state. Individuals will need to put $50 a month into what he has dubbed Personal Health and Wellness Accounts.

Scott maintained these accounts will provide more money for health care than SHARE, but didn’t mention his plan is projected to cost the state $65 million in 2016, while Van Flatern’s original bill was “revenue neutral,” because costs would be offset by savings in other social services programs.

Scott said the HSA approach is a critical part of the expansion plan. While SHARE might be rapidly approved, the senator said, it would leave Wyoming with “no bargaining power” with the feds.

“They get us all the way in, and then there’s no incentive to bargain [with us] and agree to the health savings account,” he related.

No matter how they feel about the end product, expansion proponents know SF 129 is now the only game in town. They’re gearing up for a tough fight to get the bill to Gov. Matt Mead’s desk so he can sign it into law.

But there remains a lot of solid opposition to any form of Medicaid expansion in both chambers from the GOP’s right wing, and lobbyists who have made preliminary Senate vote counts acknowledged Wednesday they face an uphill battle. If the vote was today, they would likely lose.

If SF 129 does not pass, there will be at least two major consequences:

— An estimated 17,600 low-income, childless adults will be shut out of Medicaid expansion for the third consecutive year. These are the working poor who are caught in the “Medicaid gap” — the state won’t expand the program, and they do not qualify for any subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. So they go to emergency rooms, increasing health care costs for everyone, and putting Wyoming hospitals in economic peril with up to $200 million a year in uncompensated care.

— Now that he’s finally on board with expansion, it would be a huge defeat for Mead. In his State of the State address, the governor told lawmakers that Medicaid expansion must pass this session, because Wyoming can’t afford to delay it any longer. Last week he let it be known he favored SHARE, but he will sign any Medicaid expansion proposal the Legislature passes.

Sounds kind of desperate, doesn’t he?

If SF 129 doesn’t become law, legislators in favor of expansion would still have some options, including adding the program to the supplemental budget. A straight vote on the hybrid bill, though, remains the best chance to win approval.

Here’s another possible stumble on the way to expansion: The Legislature could pass SF 129, but the federal agency in charge of waivers for a Medicaid demonstration project in the state could refuse to give it a green light. Scott admitted the amended bill may be looked on unfavorably by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The chairman said he expects any negotiations with CMS to be tough, and predicted the process could take up to another year. If it does, Medicaid expansion may not take place until late 2016 or early 2017 — meaning Wyoming would lose all three years of the federal government’s offer to pay 100 percent of the costs.

The state has already thrown away $110 million in federal funds by rejecting Medicaid for the working poor in the past two years. Opponents ignore this fact and are more worried the feds might renege on their promise to never pay less than 90 percent of expansion expenses after 2020. If the federal portion ever dips below that number, SF 129 has a provision to automatically discontinue the program.

Sen. Bill Landen (R-Casper), a member of the labor committee, said, “I’ve really tried to get there [in support] on this piece of legislation, but I’ve got to tell you, I’m not there yet.”

Still, Landen said he would vote in favor of the hybrid bill in committee to get it on the Senate floor for discussion. “I think the people deserve that,” he said.

“I’m not on board yet, but I think this is the best [bill] we can offer the Senate as a whole,” agreed Sen. R. Ray Patterson (R-Cowley).

Scott, Landen, Peterson and Sen. Bernadine Craft (D-Rock Springs) voted in favor of SF 129. Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) voted against moving it out of committee.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved $100,000 on Tuesday for a controversial public lands study the vast majority of Wyoming sportsmen say they don’t want.

Senate File 56 will now go to the full Senate for debate on first reading. If it is approved three times, the measure will move to the House.

The focus of the bill was originally a study aimed at finding out what impact acquiring federal public lands would have on the state. The sponsors of the bill clarified their intent last week by amending it to say SF 56 would only apply to the state managing certain U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands, not owning them.

With that change, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the bill. However, at the Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Converse/Platte), when asked about the wording change from “transfer” to “manage” and how the state intended to manage lands they did not own, stated that “ownership is a type of management that the study will investigate.”

The Appropriations Committee voted on Tuesday 3-1 in favor of the $100,000 appropriation for the study, with Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) the only member to vote against it.

All of the state’s sportsmen and conservation organizations oppose the bill. Conversely, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Utah-based group that promotes private management and commercialization of wildlife, supports the bill, according to Bob Wharff, SFW’s representative for Wyoming.

Catherine Thagard, director of the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance, said the diverse, nine-group coalition that represents 50,000 Wyoming sportsmen is unanimously opposed to the bill.

“Hunters and anglers, particularly in Wyoming, value our public lands and our access to them. We realize the management of federal lands is not perfect, but we feel transferring management to the state is not the best thing to do at this time,” she said. “State lands are much more regressive regarding the ability [of the public] to hunt and fish and access than federal lands.

“Nobody is asking for this [study] to be done,” she stressed.

Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) asked Bridget Hill, director of the State Lands and Investments Office, if the federal government has expressed any interest in state governments managing these public lands.

“Not that I’m aware of,” she replied.

Neil Thagard of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) said his group also opposes the bill.

“We’re concerned that, if over time, it’s decided that land [ownership] should be transferred, what happens to our hunting and fishing opportunities in the state?” he asked.

The TRCP spokesman said camping is not allowed on state trust lands. “For those of us who like to travel into the backcountry during hunting season, not being able to camp would be a real restrictive measure,” he said.

SAC member Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) asked a member of the sponsoring committee, Sen. James Anderson (R-Glenrock), why was the transfer of ownership in federal lands to the state changed last week to make it only apply to management.

“If this is not a 180, it’s at least a 90-degree turn for this committee,” Burns stated.

Anderson said the Agriculture Committee’s amendment to make the study exclusively about management of federal lands represents a compromise that should move the bill forward.

“Rather than have this kind of iron-fisted, militant approach to do these things, this is opening the door to start the conversation,” he said.

Catherine Thagard said the SAC’s decision to approve the $100,000 appropriation means her coalition and other opponents will work harder to educate state legislators about their concerns with the bill.