Sunday, February 13, 2011

Equality in the Equality State

House may not bring up anti-equality amendment
Medicaid studies backed by House Labor, Health committee

By Sarah Gorin
ESPC researcher and lobbyist

The House leadership reportedly is considering the option of not bringing up SJ5 - Defense of marriage – constitutional amendment, for debate. SJ 5 proposes amending the Wyoming Constitution to say that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Wyoming.

A proposed constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote, and apparently proponents do not have close to the 40 votes required to get the measure through the 60-member House. A debate will take hours, hours that will kill other bills waiting to be heard, and could well be futile if the votes are not there.

There are reports that the House leadership also does not want to add to the state’s fame on national television:

YouTube - Rachel Maddow- Wyoming anti-abortion bill advances

The House already has approved HB 74 – Validity of marriage, which recognizes marriage as a contract only between a male person and a female person, and not involving more than two parties. The bill also prohibits recognition of marriages or civil unions contracted in another state, if the relationship does not meet the above criteria.

HB 74 is awaiting debate in the Senate. We encourage readers to contact their Senators. Send a gentle, polite email message outlining your reasons for opposing the bill. The legislature’s Hotline enables you to leave a message asking your senator to vote no on HB 74. Be sure to leave your name and a telephone number for the senator to call you back should he or she be so inclined.

Health care still chronically ill …

ON Friday, the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee heard and approved two bills relating to the Medicaid expansion contemplated by the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Medicaid currently provides health care coverage for people in four categories, all low-income: the aged, blind and disabled; children; pregnant women; and caretaker adults. Under the ACA, Medicaid will be expanded to include everyone with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level.

Those who already have insurance will be able to keep it. Everyone else with incomes above 133% of poverty will have the opportunity to purchase private health care coverage under state health insurance exchanges, which are supposed to provide transparency for the consumer. The federal government will provide subsidies to help pay premiums to those with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

The two bills considered and approved by the committee today look at two different aspects of the Medicaid expansion. SF 50 - Medicaid options study, will examine alternatives to Medicaid – e.g., can it be provided more cheaply in a different format?

SF 102 - Medicaid cost study, will look at the costs of the Medicaid expansion in its current form.

The committee discussion revealed a great deal of misinformation about the ACA, along with a fair amount of hostility. This seems to be spawned, at least in part, by frustration with the current Medicaid program, where costs continue to rise just like other health care costs.

The dense interconnectedness of health care costs will require some sustained attention from legislators. For example, Medicaid is undeniably a substantial source of funding to our state’s health institutions, nursing homes, county hospitals, pharmacies, and private medical providers.

While this is not justification for simply throwing money at all these entities, any significant reduction in Medicaid spending will adversely affect them and consequently the availability of medical care to Wyoming residents.

The Equality State Policy Center is a member of Consumer Advocates: Project Healthcare (CAPH), which is working to educate the public and decision-makers about the ACA and other health care proposals from the consumers’ point of view.

On February 22, CAPH will host an informational meeting for any and all interested parties about the new federal insurance pool for people with pre-existing conditions who have not been able to obtain coverage. Premiums for the Pre-existing Conditions Insurance Pool (PCIP) are significantly less than those for the state’s high-risk pool.

The meeting will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Laramie County Public Library in Cheyenne.

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.

Elections law

County commission districting bill moves forward

Legislature responds to Wind River Voting Rights Act win with potential political quarantine

By Sarah Gorin
ESPC researcher

The Week news magazine always includes a short article called “Boring but Important,” often featuring a governmental process issue that has a significant impact on policy. The ESPC advocates on many such “Boring but Important” issues, which are hard to draw attention to but can affect any area Wyomingites feel passionately about, from education to health care to today’s topic, voting.

We’ve talked previously about SF 14 - Counties – election districts. The bill was brought following a successful Voting Rights Act lawsuit against Fremont County that was filed by several Native American plaintiff.

Voting Rights Act lawsuits focus on discrimination and the reality that HOW candidates are elected can determine WHO gets elected.

The lawsuit alleged that electing county commissioners at-large from the county illegally diluted the Native American vote, making it difficult if not impossible to elect a tribal candidate. A federal district court judge agreed and ordered the county to create five county commission districts from which to elect its five county commissioners. This districting has been accomplished and the first election held on January 18. (The county’s appeal of the decision is pending in federal appellate court.)

Current Wyoming law allows county residents to vote on increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five, and also to vote on whether they want county commission districts. If voters approve districting, however, the only option is single-member districts – one commissioner per district.

Although Fremont County’s county districting was done under federal court order and ultimately resulted in single-member districts, its initial response to losing the lawsuit was to offer a districting plan with a majority Native American district to elect one commissioner, and an at-large district to elect the other four commissioners.

This “hybrid” districting proposal was aimed at preserving the status quo as much as possible, and also was described as a kind of “political quarantine” for the Native American population.

SF 14 changes current law to allow hybrid districting. The ESPC has been working against the bill due to the potential for using hybrid districting to discriminate, not only in Fremont County but in other areas of the state where there are geographical concentrations of minority populations.

SF 14 has passed the Senate and was heard Tuesday (Feb. 8) and again Thursday in the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. The House committee adopted amendments offered by Rep. John Patton (R-H29, Sheridan) to include a multi-member district option as well, so counties could design any combination of single, multi-member, or at-large districts.

The bill passed the committee 6-3, with Chairman Pete Illoway (R-H42, Cheyenne) and Representatives Allen Jaggi (R-H18, Lyman), Kendell Kroeker (R-H35, Casper), Patton, and Tim Stubson (R-H56, Casper) voting yes. Representative Lisa Shepperson (R-H58, Casper) was not present but left a yes vote.

Representatives Gregg Blikre (R-H53, Gillette), Jim Byrd (D-H44, Cheyenne) and Jim Roscoe (D-H22, Wilson) voted no.

And now let’s look at the money …

SF 3 - Campaign finance – organizations, passed second reading in the House today and will be up for its third and final vote on Friday.

SF 3 changes Wyoming law to comply with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allows corporations to make unlimited independent expenditures directly from corporate funds (as opposed to corporate political action committees, which are funded by individual contributions from corporate employees, directors and/or shareholders).

The ESPC has worked hard to keep these new independent expenditures identifiable. It would be easy to create a front organization funded by an independent expenditure from a corporation, hiding the true source of the money from voters and candidates.

The Wyoming Senate added an amendment requiring printing or announcement of the top three contributors to the organization making the independent expenditure. This approach was rejected by the House, which appears on track to adopt an amendment requiring independent expenditure organizations to file like political action committees.

The House version will go back to the Senate for “concurrence,” that is, the Senate will vote on whether to agree with the House amendment. If the Senate votes not to concur, a conference committee will be appointed to try to resolve the differences between the two houses. The conference committee will be comprised of three members from each house, two who voted for the bill and one who voted against.

Another area where process counts

Tuesday’s defeat of SF 52 -Teacher tenure, on third and final reading in the Senate was a victory for due process. It would have changed current “continuing contract” law in Wyoming to allow firing of teachers for any reason, papered over with a hearing process that did not include any basic due process rights such as the right to respond to one’s accuser or to directly confront evidence.

The Senate subsequently passed two bills with a much better approach: SF 70 - Education accountability, and SF 146 - Teacher accountability act. These bills now will move to the Wyoming House for further action.

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.