Politics

Medicaid expansion has been defeated again. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives soundly voted down an amendment to the state supplemental budget that would have provided federally funded Medicaid services to nearly 18-thousand low income Wyomingites. 

Cheyenne Republican Sue Wilson said the people who would qualify are working, but cannot afford insurance.

After being told that the Wyoming Department of Transportation has plans to improve safety on Highways 59 near Gillette and 20/26 between Shoshoni and Casper, the Senate decided to put that into law. 

The Senate adopted a budget amendment that requires WYDOT to hold public hearings, study the issue, and come up with a plan on how to make and pay for safety improvements this summer. Gillette Senator Michael Von Flatern  says the public meetings must take place next month.

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A proposed constitutional amendment would let the state treasurer invest money from the state’s non-permanent savings and trust funds into the stock market. 

The Wyoming House started work on the bill this week. House Appropriations Chairman Steve Harshman says the idea is to let the treasurer be more aggressive and get a better financial return. 

“And the rules are really changing, we used to think that interest bearing or bonds were always the safest. As we know now those aren’t always the safest as we once thought.”

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming Senate is working on legislation that would let the state take over permitting of uranium operations in the state.  

Senator Chris Rothfuss says the bill will save producers time and money. Currently Uranium operators have to fill out the same permits for the state and federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Rothfuss told the Senate that operators say that is burdensome.  

During work on the state supplemental budget the Wyoming House and Senate both defeated amendments to put more money into Highway 59.

The highway in northeast Wyoming has seen increased traffic due to the energy boom and deaths on the highway have nearly doubled since 2010.

The Governor had asked for 21 million dollars to add more passing lanes on the highway, but the Joint Appropriations Committee agreed to just 17 million for upgrades to BOTH highway 59 and U-S 20/26 between Casper and Shoshoni.  

It will take a conference committee to determine whether the State Board of Education may adopt the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. The standards say students should learn about climate change — and last year the House passed a budget amendment barring the State Board of Education from considering the standards.  

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Microsoft says it will spend 200 million dollars to expand its Data Center west of Cheyenne. 

Governor Matt Mead says it will create 25 permanent jobs and up to 600 construction jobs. Mead says it continues to show that efforts to diversify the economy via technology is working.

“When we are looking at for example low oil prices down to about $50 dollars it makes the point all the more that we need to diversify not just for the economy, but to provide as many opportunities as possible for our young people to stay in Wyoming.”

The Wyoming House of Representative has approved a cost of living increase for teacher salaries. The amendment was part of the debate on the state supplemental budget. Called the External Cost Adjustment or ECA, it provides extra funding for districts to use for teacher pay increases. 

Pinedale Republican Albert Sommers says teachers have not received a cost of living increase since 2009, mainly due to budget concerns.

Wyoming Public Radio's news director Bob Beck checks in with Morning Edition Host Caroline Ballard to discuss the session as the state legislature passes the halfway mark.

Wyoming Legislature

The Wyoming legislature will begin work on the state supplemental budget next week. 

Lawmakers asked several questions after hearing a two day presentation on the budget. Some are concerned about a lack of new funding for such things as teacher salaries, local government, and some nursing home services. There’s also a reduction in the governor’s request for highway 59 near Gillette. 

But an ongoing concern is over how much of the budget is funded using projected revenue. Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss says that funding model has people nervous.

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that allows the State Board of Education to consider the Next Generation Science Standards. But the Senate also added an amendment that has some concerned. 

Senator Eli Bebout changed the bill to say that the state board may consider NGSS in addition to others in order to -- quote -- "develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming." 

Bebout says his amendment requires nothing, but Senate President Phil Nicholas says it implies that the state board should come up with standards unique to Wyoming.

After an emotional debate the Wyoming House of Representatives passed a bill that allows the state to execute prisoners by firing squad if drugs for lethal injections remain unavailable. 

The House passed the bill 31 to 29. Republican Senator Eric Barlow of Gillette thinks there are still ways to avoid a firing squad. For instance the House version of the bill already requires the prisoner to be unconscious prior to the execution.    

Wyoming Democratic Party

The executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party will resign this month. That’s according to an email sent to lawmakers and leaked to the public Tuesday.

Party Chair Ana Cuprill asked Robin Van Ausdall to step down from the position. Cuprill declined to comment explicitly on why that is, but said Van Ausdall’s leadership has served the party well and has allowed the Democrats to remain a relevant minority party.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has given strong support to a bill that would allow the state to use a firing squad in a prisoner execution. Wyoming cannot currently obtain the drugs used to execute someone by lethal injection and a firing squad would be the backup method of execution.

Cheyenne Republican Bob Nicholas strongly opposes the approach and successfully amended the bill to say that if the state uses a firing squad, the condemned person will not be awake.

The State Senate continues debating a bill that would provide money to public hospitals in the state to help pay for uncompensated care.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tony Ross tried to reduce the 5-million dollars in the bill down to two-point-five million, but the Senate rejected that amendment.

Supporters say many hospitals are struggling with so-called “charity care”, but Ross worries that the bill may open the door to a long term commitment.

Without any debate, the Wyoming Senate gave initial support to a bill that would allow the State Board of Education to consider adopting the Next Generation Science Standards for Wyoming schools. Last year the House of Representatives added a budget footnote that kept the Board from considering the standards, in part because of concerns about how they address climate change.

The Senate never debated the issue. Senator Jim Anderson of Glenrock says removing that footnote will allow the State Board of Education to do its job.          

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Senate has given final approval to a bill that provides protections to gay and transgender people in the workplace.

Despite some minor opposition that it takes away rights from the business sector, the Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill 24 to 6. Cody Republican Hank Coe says it’s not a bill the Senate would have considered 15 years ago.

“Time has changed. This is 2015, we need to step up and do what we need to do and we need to pass this bill. Discrimination in the workplace, that’s what this bill is about, is just wrong.”

The Wyoming Senate continues work on a bill that is intended to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace. 

Much of the debate centered on whether the private business sector should be exempted from the legislation.

Lander Senator Cale Case says he opposes discrimination, but says the bill goes too far.

“But you can’t tell people who they should hire and who they shouldn’t in their private business. And I go back and I say it’s a stupid idea that you would discriminate on this basis. But liberty includes the right to be stupid.”

After killing Medicaid expansion on Friday, the Wyoming Senate began work on legislation that would help hospitals in the state pay for emergency room services or so-called charity care they provide to people who cannot pay. 

The Senate voted to put five million dollars into a fund to help hospitals address some of these debts. Cowley Republican Ray Peterson called it a one year band aid that doesn’t adequately address a more serious problem.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 5 to 4 to recommend a bill that would allow executions by firing squad in the state. 

The Department of Corrections says acquiring the drugs to provide lethal injections has become more and more difficult. Lawmakers says they need to find another option in case someone ends up on death row. 

Thermopolis Representative Nathan Winters voted against the bill because he has concerns that such executions might be cruel and unusual.

Legislative Service Office

Efforts to raise fines for workplace safety violations and deaths will fail in the Wyoming legislature. The Senate has decided not to hear a bill that would have increased penalties for workplace safety violations that result in deaths and the House defeated two workplace safety bills on Friday.

Representative Mary Throne of Cheyenne was the main sponsor.  

“I think it would send a message to those small number of companies who don’t have a commitment to safety, that we care. And if they don’t change their ways, they’re going to pay for it.”

The Wyoming Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would extend the state anti-discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Senate started work on language to expand exemptions for religious charities, religious non-profits and groups such as the Boy Scouts.  Senator Dave Kinskey says they are trying to strike a balance.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Senate has killed a bill that would have provided Medicaid Services to nearly 18 thousand people.  Only 11 of the 30 Senators voted for the bill.   Riverton Republican Eli Bebout said the time was not right, but Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss disagreed.  He said the need for expansion is great.

“For the last three years we’ve have the lives of 17,600 folks here in Wyoming in our hands to some degree with their access to affordable health care.  And we’ve worked hard over those years to come up with the best approach for Wyoming that we could put together. “

The State Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would remove binding arbitration in collective bargaining cases between cities and firefighters. That is when an arbitrator rules on a dispute and both sides must accept the decision. 

Republican Dave Kinskey, the former Mayor of Sheridan, says his community has too often been forced to live with the ruling of an arbitrator who lives out of state. 

He says non-binding arbitration would lead to quicker negotiations and return accountability to local government.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has given approval to a bill that bans discrimination for gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace and a variety of other areas. 

The committee voted 4 to 1 to support the bill after voting down an amendment that tried to strengthen the exception for religious institutions. Sheridan Senator Dave Kinskey says he supports the bill, but notes that some religious organizations have concerns.

The State Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would remove binding arbitration in collective bargaining cases between cities and firefighters. That is when an arbitrator rules on a dispute and both sides must accept the decision.  

Republican Dave Kinskey, the former Mayor of Sheridan, says his community has too often been forced to live with the ruling of an arbitrator who lives out of state.  

He says non-binding arbitration would lead to quicker negotiations and return accountability to local government. 

Legislative Service Office

The Wyoming House of Representatives is moving forward with legislation that would eliminate the writing assessment from the statewide testing. 

Writing and language is among the standards used to determine school performance, but Cheyenne Democrat Mary Throne says the writing and language assessment is arbitrary. Casper Republican Steve Harshman is a High School Teacher.  He says the state standards forced his school to water down its writing requirements.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow guns in schools, college campuses, and government meetings.    

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Senate gave initial approval to a Medicaid Expansion bill, but added an amendment that could keep the state plan from being adopted by the federal government. 

Riverton Republican Eli Bebout added a requirement that participants work up to 32 hours a week unless they’re disabled. The government has previously refused to consider such requirements, and Gillette Republican Michael Von Flatern called it a poison pill that hurts the bill. 

The Wyoming House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that is intended to force people from doing things that are against their religious beliefs. 

The House made an amendment to make it clear that the bill does not apply to government employees. For instance, if they oppose something like same sex marriage, a government employee must still issue a license. 

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