Monday, January 24, 2011

A day at the legislative races

Arizona copy cat bill fails

Minerals committee refuses to move ALEC-motivated measure

In a session dominated by discriminatory legislation, justice advocates registered a significant victory Monday when the House Minerals Committee refused to put a troubling immigration bill up for discussion.

Members of the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee killed a bill modeled after Arizona’s controversial SB1070 by simply refusing even to offer a motion for passage. There was significant Establishment opposition to the bill, House Bill 94 – Illegal Immigration, including from the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Lodging Association.

The ESPC and its allies believed the bill would lead to racial profiling, split up families that include documented and undocumented people living in the state, would hamper police, who would have to devote resources to enforcing federal immigration law, and could spawn national protests that would adversely affect Wyoming’s tourism industry.

The bill was modeled closely on Arizona's SB1070. Reports by National Public Radio last fall tied the bill to the American Legislative Exchange Congress (ALEC) and the private prison industry in the U.S.

Chesie Lee, the lobbyist for ESPC-member group the Wyoming Association of Churches celebrated the victory with this message:

“Good News! ... After a lengthy hearing before the House Minerals Committee with many raising significant problems with HB 94 for Wyoming from diverse points of view, no one on the House Minerals Committee was willing to move the bill, so it died in committee being indefinitely postponed following some discussion.
“I believe the voice of the Wyoming Association of Churches on this issue was good and made a difference. … The room was packed with many having to stand in the hallway. Only a couple other than sponsors spoke in favor of the bill, but no one representing any organization spoke for it.”

Lee notes that some students plan a rally for 11:30 am on Thursday at the State Capitol to celebrate.
This is a great victory, especially considering the socially conservative tenor of this legislature. We all winced Monday when House Bill 74 – Validity of Marriage passed the House. The measure makes gay and lesbian marriage illegal in Wyoming, including existing marriages made legally in other states.

Advocates managed to narrow the number of representatives who favored the measure in earlier votes, but in the end fell still needed to swing three more legislators when the House voted 32-27 to pass the bill. (House Minority Leader Patrick Goggles was excused from the vote. Goggles is working his way through some significant family matters.)

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee killed one of three bills aimed at refining Wyoming’s Open Meetings and Public Records laws. The committee amended but approved a bill, House Bill 120 – Public meetings, requiring public entities to inform interested media outlets and others 24 hours in advance of special meetings. Those entities, such as city councils, boards, commissions, and conservation districts, still could schedule emergency meetings without the 24-hour notice when circumstances demand immediate action.

A provision that would have required audio recordings of all executive sessions held by public boards and entities was stripped from the bill via an amendment proposed by Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-HD 8, Cheyenne). Supporters, including the Wyoming Coalition for Open Government, the Wyoming Press Association, the League of Women Voters, and the ESPC hope to see that provision restored.

Reps. Sam Krone (R-HD24, Cody) joined Rep. Nicholas in voting against the measure.

The Judiciary Committee also approved HB 121, which seeks to impose a deadline, initially within three days, to ensure fulfillment of a request for public documents. Opposition from the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association led the committee to adopt an amendment aimed at giving a public board or agency more time to respond to complicated requests or requests for voluminous amounts of material.

The proponents had hoped to limit severely the ability of public agencies to charge exorbitant amounts for producing and providing copies of public documents, noting that taxpayers already pay for the initial creation of the documents.

Again, agencies opposing the measure convinced the committee they need the ability to recover costs of obeying state public records law intended to assure public access to government records. The committee stripped out a clause prohibiting charging labor costs associated with producing a public document. They also successfully amended the bill to allow agencies to charge for the costs of redacting information from documents that could jeopardize a police investigation or expose other information that is entitled to protection.

Proponents said such charges represent a “hidden tax” on members of the public.

Meanwhile, the committee killed HB119 – Public records and meetings – court proceedings. Committee member objected to provisions that made challenges of denial of access to meetings and public records the top priority in Wyoming courts. Supporters said the priority designation was essential to ensuring timely access to information essential to the public as it considers public policy decision-making by its elected and appointed leaders.

Quicker hits

Marriage law: The House Labor, Health and Social Service Committee narrowly defeated HB65 - Marital counseling and approved HB39 – Health Litigation Fund. The first bill would have required couples seeking to get married or divorced to get three hours of counseling before a marriage license or a divorce could be obtained.

Suing the feds: The ESPC opposed HB 39, which appropriates $2 million to support litigation to challenge the new federal health care reform law, suggested the funds could be better spent to train doctors, dentists, physicians assistants and/or other providers who deliver care in Wyoming communities that lack practitioners.

Chairman Elaine Harvey (HD26, Lovell) said the funding will support state efforts to challenge what many see as the federal government acting unconstitutionally and usurping states rights. The litigation fund will demonstrate to the federal government that “we’re … prepared to do what we need to do to push back on this legislation.”

Rep. Frank Peasley (HD3, Douglas) reiterated the states rights argument. “Our pushback has more to do with general states rights. If they can do this to us,” he said of the Affordable Care Act, “they can do anything to us.” Peasley conceded Rep. Keith Gingery’s point that potential travel costs laid out in the bill are exorbitant if the state simply intends to file friend-of-the-court briefs as it joins lawsuits conducted by other states against the new law.

Reps. Gerald Gay (HD36, Casper), Matt Greene (R-HD45, Laramie), Hans Hunt (HD2, Newcastle), David Miller (HD55, Riverton) joined Peasley and Harvey in supporting the bill.

Reps. Craft, Barbuto and Gingery opposed the measure, which passed on a 6-3 vote.

Campaign finance: The Senate on Monday defeated on a 15-15 tie vote an effort to strip disclosure amendments made to Senate File 3 – Campaign Finance – organizations. This is the bill that will change state law to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allows corporations to funnel unlimited amounts of money into independent expenditure campaigns to support or oppose candidates for election. The measure ultimately won final passage by the Senate on a 28-2 vote.