Thursday, March 4, 2010

Legislature sets interim work

Better lobbyist disclosure on the agenda

Comprehensive lobbyist disclosure will help Wyoming people understand the value of the work done by the Wyoming Legislature. The issue will be among the topics considered by the Joint Corporations Committee over the next nine months.

The Legislative Management Council Thursday afternoon authorized the interim agendas for all 10 legislative standing committees and nine select committees. (Watch for it to show up on the Legislature's web site.)

The ESPC asked the Joint Corporations to take up fuller lobbyist disclosure because Wyoming's existing lobbyist disclosure laws may be the most lax in the nation. Lobbyists are required to disclose only four things:
  • Their sources of funding (the company or group that pays them);
  • Any loans, gifts, special discounts to legislators that exceed $50 in value;
  • Special events held for legislators (usually receptions held during the winter sessions);
  • The cost of advertising to influence legislation (thought with no definition of what that might be).
Several years ago, ExxonMobil flew in expert witnesses from Texas when it was trying to minimize it severance tax on gas produced by its operations in western Wyoming. But the company did not have to disclose how much it spent to do so. The ESPC believes the public would find such disclosure eye-opening.

But most lobbyists, including contract lobbyists who have client lists that include insurance companies, energy companies and utilities, disclose nothing because the law does not require it.

The ESPC will provide information about lobbyist disclosure laws in other states along with ideas for addressing issues specific to Wyoming when the Corporations committee meets to discuss the topic later this year.

Other topics of interest, including 'dog catching'

Along with the League of Women Voters, the ESPC asked the Select Committee on Legislative Technology and Process to determine how to record and make public more votes by legislators. Many committee votes and floor votes on amendments are not recorded. Recording them will keep legislators more accountable to their constituents.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee will analyze "Railroad Contract Carriers" and predatory lending.

The railroad contract carriers study comes from an effort by union railroaders to get the Legislature to pass laws to regulate small passenger carriers, more explicitly, the vans that carry them to and from trains. Railroaders work shifts are limited under federal law. When the shift ends, they must stop the train. The contract carriers then run a crew out to the stopped train, a job called "dogcatching." The crew on the train trades places with the new crew in the van, then rides back to its terminal in the van.

Unfortunately, these vans escape federal regulation so there is no requirement that drivers be tested for drug or alcohol use (as the railroaders are) nor are the vans subject to mandatory inspections. Railroaders have reported riding with drivers so fatigued that they fell asleep at the wheel. Since the vans use public roadways, public safety is also a concern.

Cheyenne-based military officials say predatory lenders have become a problem for military families. Those small loans usually carry extraordinary interest rates that capture borrowers in a debt trap.