Sunday, February 1, 2009

Discrimination and money

Rallies for equality scheduled at Capitol

Discrimination and money. Money and discrimination. Then mental health. It will be a busy day Monday at the Capitol.

The House Judiciary Committee will plunge into controversial legislation Monday morning including one bill that will extend protection against job, education and other discrimination based on sexual orientation and a second that calls for an amendment to the state constitution that would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

The discussion of HB 203 – Discrimination precedes by one day the committee’s plan for a hearing on HR 17 – Defense of Marriage. That measure has prompted plans for at least two demonstrations at the Capitol, one Monday and one Tuesday. Details about the rallies are listed below, but here’s a quote from one old Wyoming pol who disdains the proposed amendment. He made the comment to Meg Lanker, a University of Wyoming student who wrote an op-ed piece on the issue for the campus newspaper:

"I can't imagine anything more inhuman, insensitive and unfair."
-Al Simpson, former U.S. senator from Wyoming

"I can't imagine anything more inhuman, insensitive and unfair. Wyoming people believe in getting the government out of their lives. It's the precious right of privacy, the precious right to be left alone. Why can't we extend that to all our other fellow human beings?" -Al Simpson, on the Defense of Marriage Amendment.

Discrimination against young and old

Later during its Monday meeting, the committee is scheduled to consider another House joint resolution that will renew the polarizing dispute over tort claims against doctors. Most Wyoming residents might assume that that question was settled in the 2004 general election when voters rejected capping noneconomic damages for people injured by a doctor or another medical provider.

But not so. Advocates of caps have been itching to try it again. Rep. Tim Hallinan, a Gillette doctor, scratch that itch by becoming the lead sponsor of HJ 6 – Noneconomic damages – constitutional amendment – 2.

The ESPC sees the dispute as discriminating against people without jobs, particularly the young and the elderly. Working people still will be able to claim an economic loss if a medical injury prohibits them from resuming their job after an injury. So a surgeon injured by another doctor, for example, could sue for the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income she reasonably anticipated.

But a 14-year-old injured by the same surgeon could prove no loss of income. Limited to noneconomic damages, an injured minor whose ability to work was permanently lost to a medical injury still could claim only up to $250,000 for loss of enjoyment of life. That person could be condemned to a life of poverty on the public dole.

Meanwhile, there’s no proof that imposing caps will enable the state to attract more primary care physicians. Virtually every rural area in the country is finding it difficult to recruit doctors. Capping noneconomic damages will not make good jobs available for doctor’s spouses in rural areas nor somehow lighten the load on rural docs, who find themselves on call because there simply is no one else to call in their little town.

Mental health and Workers' Comp

The Senate Labor Committee at 7 a.m. Monday will again take up SF 18 - Mental injury-workers' compensation. Sponsored by Sen. John Hastert of Green River, the bill would improve benefits to emergency responders who suffer a mental injury such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome while working.

Current law says any mental injury must be caused by a physical injury suffered on the job. That's an inane requirement. A a fire fighter traumatized by the death of a brother or sister fire fighter killed on a fire should not have to prove a physical injury such as smoke inhalation caused his PTSD. There's a lot of talk about taking care of war veterans who return to this country with mental conditions that require treatment. Workers' comp should include mental health benefits. Emergency responders deserve necessary counseling and other treatment if the job leaves them unable to cope with the daily stresses of life.

Money – two property-tax relief bills

On Monday, the House likely will debate two bills to reduce property taxes: HB 68 and HB 87. House Bill 68 funds the homestead exemption in current Wyoming law (which cannot be implemented unless funded). House Bill 87 reduces the "assessment ratio" for "all other property" (residential, agricultural, commercial) from 9.5% to 8.25%. The assessment ratio is the percent of total assessed value used to compute taxes, so reducing the ratio reduces taxes. The homestead exemption is targeted specifically to homeowners.

Reducing the assessment ratio will give a small tax reduction to homeowners; however, it will provide significant tax reductions to telecom companies and the Wal-Mart distribution center just outside Cheyenne.

The difference is striking. For example, using the median home value of $184,194 in Lincoln County, the property tax due under current law would be $1,100.32.

Under the homestead exemption, it would be $823.64 ($276.68 less).

Reducing the assessment ratio would generate a tax of $955.54 on a median value Lincoln County home ($144.78 less than under current law).

The homestead exemption reduces taxes more for lower-value homes, whereas reducing the assessment ratio gives the same percentage reduction across the board.

Equality State Policy Center researcher Sarah Gorin has analyzed the effects of both bills in counties throughout the state. Loyal readers of Equality State Watch can use the chart to get an idea of how each proposal would affect property taxes in their counties.

Rallying for equality

The proposal for a constitutional amendment that is somehow supposed to protect marriages has spurred college students and other citizens to schedule rallies at the Capitol opposing HJ 17 tomorrow and Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee will meet to take testimony and vote on the resolution Tuesday at 7 a.m. in Room 302 at the Capitol. The ESPC urges everyone to contact the members of the committee and urge them to kill the bill.

Here’s information about the two rallies:

Monday rally

These details are from Dee Lundberg, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Casper:

"If you are getting this here's the deal. the holy spirit was moving this morning at church and a group of our folks are planning on going to Cheyenne tomorrow to protest against the Marriage amendment bill due to be heard Tuesday morning. . . I will speak at that hearing along with others, but this too is a chance for folks to get involved.

"Otherwise . . . you will soon be invited in another E-mail to join us in Cheyenne at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Monday Feb. 2, at the state Capitol.

"PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD to your friends, and congregants, here and especially closer to
Cheyenne . . . "

Tuesday rally

These details are from Meg Lanker, a University of Wyoming student, who decided to put together protest when she realized she could not stand by while the legislature considers taking away rights from fellow citizens.

“This Tuesday, stand up for civil rights and make your voice heard. Come join your fellow Wyomingites for a rally Tues. Feb. 3rd at 1:00 p.m. at the State Capital Building in Cheyenne against the Defense of Marriage Amendment. Several legislators are slated to speak, along with Rev. Dee Lundberg of the United Church of Christ of Casper.

“Why rally, you say?

“Well, the House Judiciary Committee is discussing a bill on Tues. to amend the Wyo. Constitution that will say the only recognized marriage in Wyoming is between a man and a woman. Drafts of this bill have been introduced since 1994 and failed every time.

“This time, out-of-state evangelical Christian groups and churches, such as Focus on the Family, have gotten involved, sending out national "Action" alerts and lobbying at the State House.

“Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Wyoming, but this amendment would invalidate same-sex marriages performed out of state, effectively divorcing happily married couples.

“With declining revenues and uninsured Wyoming children going without necessary checkups, this is what your legislators are discussing. This proposed amendment smacks of unnecessary government intrusion into ordinary citizen's lives.

“Just because the election is over doesn't mean we have to be quiet. Let's voice our opinion loud and clear on Feb. 3rd, and let the legislators of the State House & Senate know that we do not support this amendment.

“For More Information:

“The Details:
Rally at 1 p.m., State Capital Building in Cheyenne. Feel free to make and bring signs about civil rights being equal rights or about Wyoming being the equality state.

“Please email Meg at or call her at 307-752-7460 so we know approximately how many people we will have for our permit. Also, if you would like to carpool or drive, please email or call Meg. We already have people willing to drive here in Laramie.

“Don't forget, Tues. Feb 3rd! Bring friends and come to the State Capitol to make your voice heard!”