Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gay anti-discrimination bill fails

Apparently it’s the “Equality” part of “Equality State” that many representatives don't understand

By Sarah Gorin and Dan Neal
ESPC lobbyists

Last week, we asked “What part of ‘Equality State’ don’t legislators understand?”
After today’s vote on House Bill 142 - Discrimination, we think it must be the “Equality” part.

HB 142 simply added “sexual orientation or gender identity” to several places in Wyoming statutes that already prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national identity, religion/religious belief, sex, age, economic status, pregnancy, political affiliation, disability, ethnic background, ancestry, or inability to pay.

This bill provided an opportunity for those voting against recognition of gay marriages to leave that issue behind and go on record as opposing discrimination in such areas as employment, choosing juries, schools, and public accommodations (doesn’t that ring a bell, baby boomers?).

It’s little wonder that stories continue to emerge about students bullying their GLBT peers in schools and cyberspace, when their adult role models are so clearly sending the message that sexual orientation is adequate cause for demoting individuals to second-class status.

Please thank the representatives who voted for HB 142, and question the ones who didn’t.

Ayes: Representatives Barbuto, Blake, Bonner, Brown, Byrd, Campbell, Childers, Connolly, Craft, Esquibel (Ken), Freeman, Gingery, Goggles, Greene, Illoway, Kasperik, McOmie, Petroff, Roscoe, Shepperson, Steward, Throne, Wallis, Zwonitzer (Dan), Zwonitzer (Dave)

Nays: Representatives: Berger, Blikre, Botten, Brechtel, Buchanan, Burkhart, Cannady, Davison, Edmonds, Eklund, Gay, Greear, Harshman, Harvey, Hunt, Jaggi, Kroeker, Krone, Loucks, Lubnau, Madden, McKim, Miller, Moniz, Nicholas (Bob), Patton, Peasley, Petersen, Quarberg, Semlek, Stubson, Teeters, Vranish

Excused: Representative(s): Lockhart, Pedersen

For some funny and pointed observations on this subject, click on the link below to Mary Kettl’s column in the January 30 Casper Star-Tribune.

"The things we conceal and carry" by Mary Kettl

And While We’re Back in Time ….

Remember when southern politicians invoked “nullification” to preserve segregation in the face of federal civil rights laws? We’re back in time again, bringing “nullification” to bear on federal health care reforms.

Tomorrow, SJ 2 and HB 35 will be on final reading in the Senate and House, respectively. SJ 2 proposes to amend the Wyoming Constitution to say that Wyoming residents cannot be compelled to participate in any particular health care system or penalized for refusing to participate.

HB 35 began by criminalizing activity by any public servant to implement the Affordable Care Act, but now has been amended to a political tirade. It offers nothing in the way of health care.

While no one would argue that the Affordable Care Act is a perfect piece of legislation, it at least attempts to find solutions to the critical problems of uncompensated care, massive cost-shifting, cost containment, and the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of insurers.

Its initial implementation already has brought better health care to many Wyomingites, such as the previously uninsured who now can obtain affordable coverage through the federal high-risk pool, for young adults who can be covered on their parents’ policies, and to small businesses which are looking into utilizing the tax credit to purchase coverage for their employees.

The sponsors of these bills have not offered any ideas on how to keep our hospitals and nursing homes afloat or keep medical providers in our communities. Please use the HOTLINE information below to let your legislators know that it’s time to dump the politics and focus on actual health care.

Tipped workers

Two bills heard in committees Monday aimed to make changes in laws regulating pay for tipped workers.

HB131 – Tip sharing allows employers to require tipped employees to contribute to a pool shared by other tipped workers. Federal law limits the sharing to 15% of tips earned above the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Advocates say it enables a fairer distribution of tips among all of a businesses tipped workers.

The measure was approved unanimously by the House Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee after it adopted an amendment that makes plain that the employer cannot be paid from the pool.

Late Friday evening Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-HD13, Laramie) presented HB181 – Wage rates – penalties to the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee as a “small step” needed to make sure that tipped workers, particularly those working in restaurants, are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour for each hour worked. The bill provided tipped workers an opportunity to request a confidential investigation by the state Department of Employment if they could show that an employer was not paying the “tip offset.”

Tipped workers can be paid a minimum wage of just $2.13 per hour. If they don’t make the equivalent of $5.12 in tips for each hour worked in a week, the employer must make up the difference. Connolly’s bill also provided that if an employer failed to pay the difference, the employee could file a civil action to recover three times the amount due or $100, whichever was greater.

The committee defeated the bill, however, amid concerns from Rep. Keith Gingery (R-HD23, Jackson) that it did not provide for an appeal process for employers. Connolly tried to counter that worry with a promise to bring a floor amendment but the committee voted 4-5 to kill the bill.

League of Women Voters Lobbyist Marguerite Herman said the committee could address all its worries simply by dropping the exemption that allows employers to pay tipped workers a direct wage of just $2.13 per hour.

Herman's proposal is the real solution to the whole problem for tipped workers.Removing the exemption eliminate all the bookkeeping required to make certain a workers wages and tips bring the worker to $7.25 an hour.

But the legislature has refused to consider raising the tipped minimum and that's why Rep. Connolly offered this much smaller step address some of the issues surrounding the system. Many workers fear to complain when they're cheated out of wages, fearing retribution that could cost them their job.

Chairman Elaine Harvey, Rep. Joe Barbuto (D-HD48, Rock Springs), Rep. Bernadine Craft (D-HD17, Rock Springs) and co-sponsor Rep. Matt Greene (R-HD45-Laramie) voted for the bill.

Reps. Gerald Gay (R-HD36, Casper), Gingery, Hans Hunt (R-HD2, Newcastle), David Miller (R-HD55, Riverton) and Frank Peasley (R-HD3, Douglas) voted Nay and killed the bill.

Editor's note: As we post this, the LSO server is busy and we cannot provide the links to these bills. We will update the blog later with those links.

Citizens can register their opinions on specific legislation by using the “Online Hotline” or the telephone Hotline – 1-866-966-8683 or, in Cheyenne, 777-8683.