Thursday, February 26, 2009

Counting down to bill cutoff

Thursday was a good, though not perfect day.

First, the Senate heard HB 54 Workers’ compensation amendments in Committee of the Whole, assuring the bill of a full debate on the Senate floor by getting it off general file.

Any bill not off general file by the end of the day Friday dies for the session.

The Senate quickly went through the bill and Sen. Charles Scott, as usual, took a few swings at attorneys, a profession he long has made clear that he holds in low regard. But he did manage the bill. It was good to see conservative stalwart Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton endorse the bill. Sen. Bebout noted that benefits for injured workers have not been increased for many years and said it is time to do so.

Children’s health insurance

Timing still tight

Over in the House, supporters of a bill that will expand the KidCare Chip program to cover more children with health insurance continued the rush to meet the Legislature’s General File deadline. After getting the measure out of the House Labor committee Wednesday night, the House Appropriations committee considered the bill, SF 39 Children’s health insurance program over the noon recess. The committee approved the measure on a 6-1 vote, with only Rep. Jeb Steward of Saratoga voting against the bill.

“I applaud this step,” Rep. Pete Jorgensen told the prime sponsor Sen. Mike Massie after the committee’s vote. “It’s a small step but it’s a step.”

Jorgensen has advocated for more aggressive efforts by the state to address the lack of access to affordable, quality care that plagues many residents of Wyoming.

The bill now goes to the House General File, where all supporters of the bill now need to ask their representatives to ask House Majority Leader Buchanan to make certain the bill is considered during committee of the whole Friday.

Here are some key points to consider mentioning to your representatives in email messages and any other conversation you can have with them.

Key points:
  • This is a successful program that currently serves approximately 5,700 children in our state. These are children whose families are earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level;
  • This bill proposes increasing eligibility up to 300% of the federal poverty level;
  • The state financial contribution for this bill is less than $100,000 ($94,355);
  • The federal contribution is 65% of the cost and amounts to $185,232;
  • The state premium per child is $188 per month which includes health, mental health and dental care. It is anticipated that the premium will increase to $200 per month on July 1;
  • Parents who earn between 201 and 250% of the federal poverty level would be required to contribute up to $40 per month (per child but only for the first two children) toward the premium and up to $250 per person in deductibles per year;
  • Parents who earn between 252 and 300% of the federal poverty level would be required to contribute up to $50 per month (per child but only for the first two children) toward the premium and up to $500 per child in deductibles per year;
  • This program supports working families who are doing everything they can to support their families.

As always, remember to lobby politely. Please don’t send an email blast to all 60 members. A comment of support for SF 39 to your House district’s representative will be most effective. If you have relationships with other members, please write separate messages to them.

Thanks for all your help advocating for Wyoming’s uninsured children.

Not perfect?

Why was the day not perfect? Well, SF 94, a campaign finance bill was heard. It raises individual contributions limits to $2,400 per election. The ESPC like to see the bill killed. There does not appear to be a compelling need to pump more money in elections in Wyoming.

Or, if contribution limits must be raised because of the rising cost of races for governor, the ESPC believes the state should institute tiers of individual contribution limits. Wyoming could raise individual contribution limits for statewide races – governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction – but have a second tier that retains the existing $1,000 individual limit for all other elections.

Campaign costs in the average contested Wyoming legislative race are low – about $15,000 for a contested state Senate race and around $8,500 for a contested House race, according to the Wyoming League of Women Voters.

Deanna Frey of the Wyoming Children's Action Alliance contributed to this report.

Children's health insurance

KidCare breathes

House Labor keeps bill alive

The KidCare Chip expansion won strong approval from the House Labor committee Tuesday, although getting through required yeoman’s work by sponsor Sen. Mike Massie of Laramie, seen at right, and considerable testimony from Patti Guzman, who manages the program for the Department of Health.

Sen. Massie and Ms. Guzman went through many questions as they explained SF 39 Children’s health insurance program. Their testimony proved there is no substitute for proper planning. And Ms. Guzman deserves plenty of credit for keeping a very tight ship as she runs the program. She handled all the questions about the program expertly and competently.

Frankly, Patti Guzman puts the lie to the negative stereotyping of bureaucracies, bureaucrats, and the management of government programs.

Rick Schum of Blue Cross/Blue Shield answered questions concerning “crowd out” – the idea that KidCare Chip will encourage people to leave private insurance. That doesn’t happen, Schum told the committee. It was important testimony supporting the bill.

House Labor Health and Social Services Committee Chairman Jack Landon noted he had prepared several amendments to address what he had believed were shortcomings in the bill. But after Sen. Massie, Patti Guzman, and Rick Schum answered question after question, Chairman Landon dropped his amendments.

“I’m more comfortable with this all the time. I’m just about to wear it out,” Landon said as the hearing of the bill passed the two-hour mark. He called for a vote and the committee voted 8-1 in favor of the expansion of the KidCare program.

Only Casper Rep. Lisa Shepperson voted against the bill.

Rep. Debbie Hammons of Worland, (a co-sponsor of the bill) AARP, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Wyoming Children's Action Alliance, the Wyoming Hospital Association, and the Equality State Policy Center testified in favor of the bill.

The bill next will be re-referred to the House Appropriations committee. It must be heard by the committee by end of day Thursday then return to the floor of the House to be considered in Committee of the Whole by the Friday deadline for hearing bills listed on general file.

Advocates who can talk with members of the House Appropriations Committee should urge them to support the measure.

Helium bill hits snag

On Tuesday, the bill to impose property taxes on helium produced in Wyoming passed the Senate, 21-9, with a relatively minor amendment. On Wednesday, the House failed to concur with the amendment, triggering a conference committee along with concerns that the bill will fall victim to House-Senate wrangling. Currently, helium is the only valuable mineral produced in Wyoming that is not subject to property tax.

And on other property tax topics …

On Tuesday, the Senate Revenue Committee heard House Bill 234, which proposed a property tax exemption for home, commercial and agricultural properties. For each property, the value would be determined by a three-year rolling average, and the amount of value in excess of the average would be exempt from property tax.

The bill had significant administrative problems, and the ESPC opposed it on those grounds as well as a broader opposition to hobbling the fair market value system. The Legislature has more direct options for reducing property taxes if that is the desired outcome.

The Senate Appropriations Committee ended one of those options on Tuesday by killing HB 68, the homestead exemption bill. However, a bill expanding eligibility for the property tax refund program already has passed both houses.

ESPC researcher Sarah Gorin contributed to this report.