Legislative updates – Feb. 19 & 20, 2014
by Wyoming HD 20 Representative Albert Sommers
February 21, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from the Capital on Thursday evening. Today, the House focused on debating bills in Committee of the Whole, and gave the budget a rest for one day. Both of my bills passed Committee of the Whole today, including the bill which clarifies language for rural health care districts. This bill, HB86, will ensure that rural health care districts have statutory authority to hire physicians, nurses, and staff. My other bill, HB146, is a study bill designed to address methods intended to increase the independence and professional credentialing of persons employed as senior human resource personnel. This bill came from my experiences serving on a state board, where we had continual problems with the HR position in the agency, despite the individual being a very good person. There must be a clear firewall between directors and subordinate personnel, and this does not always exist in state agencies. In our Education Committee meeting this evening we heard House Bills 124 and 114. HB124, will ensure that the Wyoming State Board of Education’s standards development will occur in a manner that allows the Joint Education Committee the opportunity to evaluate new standards prior to a legislative session, thus providing a check and balance to ensure the public has a body of last appeal during the standard setting process. I voted in favor of this measure, and it passed the committee. HB114 would have created a partially elected state board of education, and is similar to a bill that I co-sponsored last session. I amended this bill to include a balance of six elected members and six appointed members, but in the end I voted against the bill. I support the idea of a partially elected state board, because elected members are more responsive to the electorate, and I believe elected members would have more confidence to push back against the legislature to protect local control. However, this is a huge step for Wyoming to take, and I believe the idea needs to be fully vetted as an interim study by the Joint Education Committee. The public and education professionals in Wyoming need to fully weigh in on this idea, and we need to spend the time to really look at this issue. The bill did not pass committee, but there are several related topics that need a complete look in the interim, and they include whether to elect the state board, standards development, and student data security. Thank you.
Click here for the audio of this report (m4a file, 1.3MB, 3:10 mins)
Wednesday, February 19, 2014:
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Cheyenne on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, the last of the budget was introduced to the body by the House Appropriation Committee. Today, on second reading of the budget bill, members of the House will bring budget amendments to address issues they have with those recommendations. This is somewhat of a free-for-all, as members attempt to address concerns of their constituents. Some second reading amendments that passed include; $480,000 placed back into Senior Centers around the state; $5.3 million to the Community College Commission to help with increased enrollment; two amendments restoring current authority to the Wyoming Air Enhancement Program, which in my mind is critical for economic development in the state; Town and County funding was passed according to the Governor’s recommendation, not JAC’s; funding for grants to support local efforts in early childhood education; and $5 million to the University of Wyoming for a scholarship matching fund. Notable budget amendment failures include an amendment to develop a Medicaid Expansion program for the state which would have included a private payer option and a further increase in state employee wages over that recommended by the Joint Appropriations Committee. If we do not address the Medicaid Expansion population, Wyoming will likely have hospitals go broke. There is estimated to be $211 million of uncompensated care in Wyoming each year without expansion or some other solution. In the House Minerals Committee this morning we heard HB27, which brings up the issue of what to do if a U.S. Constitutional Convention is called. A Constitutional Convention could be called to consider one amendment to the Constitution or it could open the constitution up for a complete revision. HB27 would simply ensure that any Wyoming delegate to a Constitutional Convention would follow the will of the Wyoming Legislature when they vote at the convention. There is a group of individuals that want to use the threat of a Constitutional Convention to try to influence public policy, and there is another group who want to actually convene a convention. I do not support a Constitutional Convention, because I believe we in the West would lose all fights in this process. While I agree with the premise behind HB27, I believe we will have plenty of time to generate this law if a convention is actually called, so I voted against the bill.