Monday, March 3, 2008

Interim intrigue

Labor Committee will propose Workers' Comp study

Advocates for workers apparently have succeeded in their efforts to convince the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee to open a study of the Wyoming Workers' Compensation system over the coming year.

It's a tribute to the workers and their advocates who began pushing last month to broaden public awareness of the problems injured workers face when they get hurt and need the benefits promised by the system. Rep. Jerry Iekel of Sheridan called Workers' Comp "the elephant in the room" when the House Labor Committee met to consider interim topices. He told those attending the late Monday meeting that he spends easily half his constituent service time helping people struggling with the Workers' Comp system.

With all the bills out of committees, many of the standing committees on Monday talked about the potential topics for consideration during the interim period — the months between the end of the budget session and the opening of the General Session next January.

Monday morning, all five members of the Senate Labor Committee listed Workers' Comp as a priority. Members of both the House and Senate committees said they want to examine the adequacy of death benefits. Kim Floyd of the Wyoming State AFL-CIO urged the committee to look at the difficulties injured workers encounter when they seek compensation for temporary or permanent disabilities. House Committee Chairman Jack Landon said he wants to look at the benefits schedule for the agency.

Opening the law will require careful attention from workers and others. Some will see the interim study as the opportunity to achieve other goals, such as eliminating co-employee liability. Expect others to argue that rather than increasing benefits, the system should cut premiums charged employers for the coverage that protects them from civil lawsuits even when they are culpably negligent.

Other topics considered by the House LHSS Committee include:

  • Plan review - the system that new hospitals must adhere to that requires review of construction plans and construction inspection.
  • Provider reimbursement (essentially the need to increase the Medicaid payment schedule.
  • Access & Affordability
  • A closer look at the aspects of Senate File 85, the Health pilot project rejected by the House committee last week. It rests on the idea of offering health insurance to selected participants who are working poor. The program called for state subsidized health accounts that the state could use to push people to adopt healthy lifestyles and take advantage of preventive care.
  • Smoke-free Wyoming.
The House and Senate committees will meet jointly on adjournment tomorrow to pare the list of topics to propose to the Legislative Management Council when it meets Thursday night.

Other committee ideas

The Technology Committee discussed its plans to propose expansion of the Legislature's underlying electronic technology infrastructure. The committee discussed hiring a consultant to help design the system. Members want to to more to make the legislature's website more user friendly, transmit messages between the houses of the Legislature, keep citizens more informed about development of individual bills, and accommodate electronic voting (should it ever be adopted by the leadership). The ESPC suggested the future plan definitely should include electronic voting (there's some government accountability) and consider a system that would enable video streaming from the Legislature, including location of cameras and other needs. Might as well think positive about what we can do. Live video from the Legislature would provide the far-flung residents of the state to observe first-hand and would provide incredible education opportunities for the public schools, colleges and the University of Wyoming.

The Minerals and Economic Development Committee wants to continue efforts to spur pipeline development to get gas and oil out of Wyoming just as fast as we can ... the committee sees it as an effort to reduce the gap between the price paid for gas at the Opal hub versus hubs elsewhere in the country.
The committee also heard proposals to
  • Review workforce issues. Joan Evans ot the Department of Employment urged the committee to examine its "Sector Strategy Approach"to meet workforce needs. Rep. Deb Hammons said more communication is needed between state educators and Evans' department to coordinate efforts so that public school and college graduates will be prepared for the jobs available in the state.
  • Look at the Wyoming Business Council to assess its performance as the key element of state economic diversification efforts. Hammons said the council seems to spread its money around rather than employing a more targeted strategy.
  • Review the Siting Act.
  • Consider bonding needs for big industrial projects. (The Mining Association wants this.)
  • Revisit the Revolving Loan Fund Accounts bill (House Bill 66.)
The Revenue, Judiciary, Appropriations, Transportation, Agriculture and Tribal Relations committees will meet to discuss interim work Tuesday.

Campaign finance - Still

The House-Senate Conference committee will meet Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to consider resolving differences between the two house on House Bill 9 - Campaign finance reporting. Ever optimistic, we hold out hope that something good will come from this.