Monday, January 19, 2009

Loud and proud in the halls of power

MLK Day brings ebullient crowd into Capitol

Martin Luther King Day demonstrators celebrated King’s annual holiday with a march from the old Union Pacific Depot to the Capitol, loudly, brashly reminding everyone of that American revolutionary’s commitment to equality and his drive to free all of us from the oppression of racism.

It was obvious the crowd also was energized by the impending inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s 44th president and the first black man to hold that office. Whoops and shouts accompanied every mention of Obama’s name until one speaker silenced them with a lame joke that Obama should not have been elected.

He recovered but the humor did not go over very well.

Still, with all this going on, one wonders why the legislature continues to work tomorrow at 10 a.m., the approximate moment that Obama will have his hand on a Bible swearing the oath of office. Any presidential inauguration is a great civic moment. We all should stop and take notice. Even our hard-working legislators deserve a pause.

Campaign finance in Senate

Meeting in Committee of the Whole Monday, the Senate gave its initial approval to SF-12, a measure that will raise campaign contribution limits in Wyoming races to $2,300 per individual per election. Lead sponsor Sen. Bruce Burns of Sheridan told his colleagues that the limits have not been raised since first imposed in the 1970s.

He also said he finds problematic that fact that federal law allows him to contribute $2,300 per election to a candidate for Congress but state law limits him to a contribution of just $1,000 to a candidate for statewide office such as governor or state auditor.

But the good senator's first argument assumes that the legislature picked exactly the right limit 30 years ago. We believe $1,000 was too high then and just about right now, particularly for a legislative race. It just does not cost that much to run in Wyoming.

And for argument 2, why not impose tiers that establish higher limits for statewide races and maintain the current limits for legislative races? Higher limits will crowd voters out of campaigns in favor of people with money to pass around.

The House takes up campaign finance Tuesday when its Corporations Committee considers HB-117, a measure proposed by Rep. Mary Throne of Cheyenne. It will limit contributions from Political Action Committees to $1,000 per candidate per election. The committee meets when the House recesses for lunch.

Medicaid shortfall seen

Department of Health officials told the Joint Appropriations Committee Monday that demand for Medicaid services is climbing in the recession as low-income workers lose their jobs. With the loss of income, they meet the state's very tight Medicaid qualification rules. The department now expects a $33.2 million shortfall. They agreed with Senate Chairman Phil Nicholas of Laramie that other services the department is required by law to deliver and funds needed for Development Disabilities waivers mean the department may be short $49 million.

Legislators will have to scramble to find funds for those programs and others pushed in new legislation, including proposed increases in mental health services.

Jennings explains missed hearing

Sen. Kit Jennings of Casper spotted me in the Senate lobby Monday and chastised me for claims in Monday’s posting that he missed a hearing of one of his own bills last week. Jennings said he had made arrangements to be called from a separate meeting when his bill, SF53 – Property tax deferral, came up in the Senate Revenue Committee. The bill came up but no one notified him, he said.

Jennings said I could have learned that simply by talking to him. He’s right. I apologize for the comment and the failure to follow through. The committee, meanwhile, has re-scheduled the hearing of the bill Tuesday when it meets over the noon recess.