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Wyoming LWV 2016 Wyoming Legislative Report
Week 3, Feb. 22, 2016
LWV Lobbyist Marguerite Herman
marguerite.herman@gmail.com, 307-630-8095

The second week of the 2016 Wyoming Legislature ended with approval of budget bills by the House and Senate. The third week focuses on finding compromises between the two versions, which lay out about $3 billion to run state government for 2017-2018. Democrats in the House and Senate voted “no” on HB1 and SF1 to indicate their disapproval of the spending priorities of the two budget bills.

In order to balance the budget at a time with declining energy revenue, the Legislature is using the so-called “penny plan” to cut agency budgets 1 percent, plus drawing from the state’s rainy day account. The final amendments of the budget bill debate Friday were “budget balancers” from the $1.8 billion rainy day account: $35 million in the House and $40 million in the Senate.

The Senate voted down three budget amendments on Friday that would have expanded Medicaid to cover about 20,000 low-income adults and saved the Wyoming Department of Health about $33.5 million. Listen to debate on the main amendment by going to the audio archives, the first afternoon session on Friday. (http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2016/audio/senate/s021916pm1.mp3 ) The main Medicaid expansion debate starts at the 1:24 mark and ends at the 1:55 mark.
Wyoming LWV is a member of the Healthy Wyoming coalition that has been working for expansion for about four years. Thirty-seven Wyoming groups have come out in support of expansion, and Gov. Mead has moved from quiet urging to an open challenge to the Legislature, whose approval is necessary. The only visible opposition is by the Liberty Group. Only 18 states remain that haven’t expanded Medicaid.

Meanwhile SF86 – Medical Assistance Program Design is up for final approval today in the Senate, which serves mostly to ensure expansion never happens in Wyoming. The bill by Sen. Charles Scott sets up a ridiculously under-financed ($20,000) multi-year study of a way to design an elaborate system of limited medical care to poor people – and a prohibition against expansion in the meantime. It looks a lot like the Healthy Frontiers program of Sen. Scott that the Legislature abandoned several years ago.

Another heavily-lobbied budget amendment involves school funding, and the House and Senate have very different versions that must be compromised. The governor recommended full funding of the external cost adjustment (ECA) – a kind of cost of living – that the court-approved funding formula includes. The Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) subjected that to a 1 percent cut the first year of the biennium and 2 percent the second, totaling $45 million. Districts that are losing students said that cut would be devastating. The House voted to restore the ECA but to cut transportation funding by 15 percent. In the Senate, transportation is 100 percent, but the ECA is ½ percent the first year and 1 percent the second.

You can read the hundreds of budget amendments and their fate – and the content and status of all 170 House bills and 109 Senate files – on the Legislative Service Office Website http://legisweb.state.wy.us. Click on Bill Tracking on the home page, then Bills.

As bills leave one chamber and cross over to the other, they are “engrossed” form with approved amendments. Make sure you are reading that latest version. To see all the action to date (including roll call votes), look at the bill’s Digest.

Deadlines will come quickly now. Measures must pass second reading in the house of origin Monday and third reading Tuesday. House and Senate committees now concentrate on bills from the other chamber, which must emerge to floor debate by Feb. 26. General File ends next Monday. The session ends March 4.

Wyoming LWV opposes SF37 – Boards and Commissions Party Affiliation, which is in House Corporations at noon Monday. It responds to complaints by the governor’s office by increasing the number of people of the same party affiliation allowed on boards and commissions. It ignores the possible relief of easing appointment districts or any other requirements. LWV contends that political diversity benefits government.

Information about the session

Temporary quarters for the Wyoming Legislature is the Jonah Business Center, 3001 E. Pershing Blvd., during construction work on the Capitol and Herschler Building, Use the Jonah Guidebook by the LSO for maps, seating charts, session calendar and other information. http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/docs/2016JonahGuidebook.pdf

The LSO Website (http://legisweb.state.wy.us) has links on its home page for information about the session, the bills and the legislators. There is a direct link to the “online hotline” to get brief messages about individual bills to all House and Senate members. If you want to target messages to certain lawmakers, find their email addresses and phone numbers on the “Legislator Information” link.

LSO is streaming audio of JAC meetings and House and Senate floor debate, as in the Capitol. Click on the Audio Broadcasts of the 2016 Session link on the LSO Web home page to hear current or archived debate.

Use information on the Session Activities link on the LSO home page to keep track of bills as they are worked in committee and debated on the House and Senate floor.

The Budget

In addition to the $3 billion general appropriations bills, the Legislature has separate bills for state capital construction (including the $300 million Capitol renovation), school construction, local government funding and spending $165 million in one-time federal abandoned mine lands funding.

Other budget bill issues:

  • The JAC deleted the State Board of Education’s “coordinator” position, seen by some as a move by the Department of Education to decrease the SBE’s independence. The Senate added back the $135,000 position for one year, with a report on board governance. A similar amendment failed in the House.
  • The Senate deleted the Youth Behavior Risk Survey (and about $135,000) from the Department of Education budget.
  • The House and Senate rejected amendments to restore about $1.6 million to the Community College Commission for an adult literacy program.

Other Issues in the 2016 Session:

  • The Senate killed SF14 Student Data Privacy and Transparency by Joint Education on third reading but then reconsidered and passed the measure, and it will be heard in the House Education Committee this week. School administrators contend the proposed protection of students’ cell phones and social networks prevents schools from acting quickly to protect students. This raises the question about what privacy students have.
  • SF30 Initiative Review Process is from the leadership Management Council to require that proposed ballot initiatives be in bill form when they are submitted to the Secretary of State. This is a good idea for the initiative sponsor, the voters and the Legislature. In House Corporations this week.
  • SF54 Appropriation to Local Governments-Codification by Joint Corporations Committee to codify (and perhaps avoid rancorous and time-consuming future debate) on a distribution formula for cities, towns and counties. This got just 3 votes in committee and died on General File Friday.
  • SJ1 Right of Privacy and Right to Know constitutional amendment by Joint Corporations Committee to assert people’s right to privacy, limited by the public’s right to open public meetings and records. Failed in Senate Committee of the Whole 13-16.
  • SF2 Attorney General Opinions – Legislative Request specifies that requests for opinions do not come from individual legislators, but from the House or Senate during sessions and by the Management Council during interims. Passed Senate 17-13, will be heard in House Corporations this week.
  • SF48 Criminal Justice Reform by Joint Judiciary provides alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes, including probation with substance abuse treatment, to better use state resources for truly violent criminals. It has a price tag of about $5.5 million, but the argument is that it saves spending on prison beds. Died on Senate General File.