Friday, January 21, 2011

Second week ends on low note

What part of “Equality State” don’t legislators understand?

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved SJ 5 - Defense of marriage – constitutional amendment. The proposal would amend the Wyoming Constitution as follows: “A marriage between a man and a woman shall be the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

Testimony on the bill, which opened Wednesday and was continued this morning, was similar to that presented just days ago in the House Education Committee on HB 74 - Validity of Marriages.

HB 74 specifically provides that marriages between more than two parties are void (e.g., polygamy). This topic also came up in today’s discussion of SJ 5, when three senators, Bruce Burns (R-SD21, Sheridan), Larry Hicks (R-SD11, Baggs) and Chairman Drew Perkins (R-SD29, Casper) wondered aloud why opponents of the proposed amendment talked only about same-sex marriages and not polygamy.

Linda Burt, executive director and lobbyist for the Wyoming Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (an ESPC member group), explained that the proposed amendment violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. She said the proposed law restricts the right of two people of the same gender to marry; however, state law does not burden the rights of two people entering marriages involving a man and a woman.

The prohibition against polygamy applies to everyone, regardless of whether a plural marriage is composed of men and women, only women, or only men. Since it is applied evenly, the prohibition against polygamy does not violate the Equal Protection clause, Burt said.

The committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Leland Christensen (R-S17, Alta) who said he hoped to give some latitude when it comes to property owned by a gay or lesbian person.

The bill originally said:

"A marriage between a man and a woman shall be the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

The Christensen amendment substitutes the following language:

"Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Wyoming. Any other relationship shall not be valid or recognized as a marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof by the state or any of its political subdivisions."

The ESPC intends to check with several attorneys to see if the language does provide the latitude Sen. Christensen intended. One attorney consulted in the Capitol said he did not see how, since the language explicitly prohibits any political subdivision, which would include the courts, from acknowledging a homosexual couple's relationship as a legal civil union or other legal construct.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Perkins, Sen. Hicks, and Sen. Christensen voted for SJ 5. Sen. Burns and Floyd Esquibel (D-S8, Cheyenne) voted against it.

More Equality next Monday …

The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee will take up HB 94 - Illegal immigration, at 7:30 am. The bill mirrors Arizona’s controversial measure.

Tax exemption, anyone? No data required …

The House Revenue Committee today took up HB 143 - Manufacturing tax exemption. The bill continues a sales and use tax exemption for purchases of manufacturing equipment that was originally enacted in 2004 over opposition from the ESPC.

The exemption was set to sunset at the end of 2010, but was extended for a year by the 2010 Legislature in order to study how the exemption might be changed to better accomplish its original purpose of encouraging the creation of manufacturing jobs.

Although the ESPC was not successful in blocking passage of the exemption in 2004, we successfully advocated for the first annual reporting on the costs of a tax exemption. The 2010 report shows:
  • manufacturing jobs as a percent of total Wyoming employment has declined since passage of the exemption;
  • the absolute number of jobs ticked up only slightly and then contracted significantly with the recession;
  • the benefits offered to full-time employees in the manufacturing sector are comparable to those in other sectors of the Wyoming economy, but the benefits offered to part-time employees are less than in other sectors; and
  • the exemption primarily has benefited the state’s refineries, which upgraded equipment and claimed the exemption. In 2010, for example, a refiner claimed $128 million in exempt purchases, and $138 million the previous year.

The total lost tax revenue from this exemption is approximately $53 million, or about $10 million a year since it was enacted.

The Wyoming Business Council, Cheyenne LEADS/Wyoming Economic Development Association, and several manufacturers spoke in favor of retaining the tax exemption. None of them provided any concrete data about jobs created or sustained for this $53 million investment.

Proponents repeatedly stated that the tax exemption is needed as a recruiting tool for economic development, although why Wyoming, without personal or corporate income taxes, also needs a manufacturing tax exemption to compete with other states remains a mystery.

In addition to going over the report, the ESPC questioned the fairness of a tax policy that provides a sales and use tax exemption for one sector but not another, especially in the absence of any additional revenues from economic development the exemption was supposed to generate.

Rep. Mike Madden (R-H40, Buffalo) successfully amended the bill to apply only to purchases of equipment to manufacture a new product line or expand capacity. A further amendment by Rep. Dave Miller (R-H55, Riverton) included equipment to “lower emissions.” Pollution control equipment already is exempt from property tax so, if ultimately passed, this provision will mean that pollution control equipment – an ordinary part of doing business in this day and age – will not be taxed at all.

The bill passed the committee on a 6-2 vote. Chairman Pat Childers (R-H50, Cody) and Representatives Greg Blikre (R-H53, Gillette), Rita Campbell (R-H34, Shoshoni), Miller, Owen Petersen (R-H19, Mountain View), and Clarence Vranish (R-H49, Evanston) voted yes. Representatives Madden and Mark Semlek (R-H1, Moorcroft) voted no. Rep. Pat Goggles (D-H33, Ethete) was excused.

1 comment:

Renn Oldsbuster said...

It appears that some Wyoming legislators are foolish. If, as in Utah, one of their primary goals is to prevent polygamy, the proposed legislation does exactly what is needed to protect it. Polygamists do not seek or obtain more than one marriage license. Their informal unions are private and legally irrelevant (unless regarded as adultery - which was permanently decriminalized by the Lawrence v. Texas decision).

If anything but a legally-licensed heterosexual marriage is "void", then you might succeed in prohibiting gay marriages, but you make polygamous unions utterly unprosecutable because they are considered "void" and therefore legally valueless.

Utah goes one step further by calling such unions legally void, then incarcerating people who participate in them. Does Wyoming want that?