Monday, February 28, 2011

The conference committee finds “marriage is hard”

We had expected the conference committee on House Bill 74 – Validity of marriage to present a report to the Senate and the House on Friday, saying there would be no compromise over civil unions.

But the conference report was never delivered to House Majority Leader Tom Lubnau. Members of the House conference committee were informed by Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-HD13, Laramie) that the compromise they approved last Thursday failed to include some essential wording changes.

Given the weekend, advocates and opponents alike ramped up their lobbying efforts. Rep. Edmonds lamented to the conference committee that the controversial effort to enable Wyoming to void same-sex marriages made legally in other states and countries “has been foisted on the six of us.”

The conference committee is comprised of Reps. Edmonds, Kendell Kroeker (R-HD35, Casper), and Jim Roscoe (D-HD22, Wilson) and Sens. Floyd Esquibel, (D-SD8, Cheyenne), Larry Hicks (R-SD11, Baggs) and Leslie Nutting (R-SD7, Cheyenne). Rep. Kroeker and Sens. Hicks and Nutting are co-sponsors of the bill.

Rep. Edmonds told the conference committee she decided to abandon her agreement to last week’s compromise, which stripped a House amendment to the bill and also took off a Senate amendment aimed at recognizing same-sex civil unions made in other states. Edmonds said she instead would take the position that the committee should endorse the bill in the form that it passed the House.

Sen. Leslie Nutting said that Edmonds new position “is to say the Senate has no say at all … I see that as a real problem.”

The conference committee went through a series of proposed amendments but each of them failed, leading Sen. Nutting to say, “Marriage is hard.” No doubt a legion of her constituents would agree.

The committee agreed to Sen. Nutting’s request to schedule one last meeting of this conference committee on Tuesday (March 1) at 12:15 p.m. Rep. Kroeker asked that the committee quickly call it quits if no one comes to the meeting with a proposal for a compromise.

If the committee fails to reach a compromise, the leadership of the House and the Senate could appoint a different conference committee to continue the effort to change the bill to make it acceptable to members of both chambers. The leadership also could simply decide not to appoint another conference committee and the measure would fail.

The later course is the ESPC’s preferred outcome.

Public meetings bill fails
The Senate on Monday killed HB 120 – Public meetings on third reading. The measure would have required public boards and commissions to provide 12 hours’ notice of a special meeting, announce the reason for executive sessions, and make audio recordings of executive sessions.

The ESPC supported the bill, which was part of a package of refinements to Wyoming’s Open Meetings and Public Records laws. House Bill 119 – Public records and meetings – court proceedings was killed in the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate voted down HB 121 – Public records in Committee of the whole last week.

Here’s the Feb. 28 vote on HB 120:
Ayes: Senator(s) Case, Christensen, Cooper, Dockstader, Esquibel, F., Hastert, Martin, Meier, Nutting, Perkins, Peterson, Ross, Scott and Von Flatern.
Nays: Senator(s) Anderson, Barnard, Bebout, Burns, Coe, Driskill, Emerich, Geis, Hicks, Hines, Jennings, Johnson, Landen, Nicholas P, Rothfuss and Schiffer.
Ayes 14 Nays 16 Excused 0 Absent 0 Conflicts 0 For a look at all the bills mentioned in this report, please go here.

Photo above shows the conference committee on HB 74 during its meeting Feb. 24.