Archive | February, 2012

Drug testing public assistance applicants

Need for drug tests questioned

Sending message trumps lack of need for bill, sponsor says

Other legislation: Coal tax-break debate goes to Senate floor

Drug testing people who apply for public assistance may not save taxpayers any money and likely is unnecessary because Wyoming’s POWER program already imposes strict job training and other performance requirements on participants. The Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee considered House Bill 82 – Public assistance- drug testing Wednesday morning. The bill will require testing of applicants for illegal drug use to qualify for the public assistance program. Sponsors of the bill learned, apparently for the first time, that when Wyoming reformed its welfare program in the 1990s, it eliminated incentives to stay on assistance rather than take a job, according to Sen. Charles Scott. The benefit payments are very low and a family must be dirt poor to qualify. Yet one sponsor of the proposed law said that lack of need for the testing no longer matters. News coverage of the proposed bill has been so broad that killing the bill now will send the wrong message to the state, Sen. Ray Petersen, SD19, R-Cowley, told the committee. “Perhaps it is sufficient,” the senator said after hearing that case workers who oversee people enrolled in the Personal Opportunities with Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program can order a drug test and treatment if they believe an enrollee has a substance abuse problem, including an alcohol problem. (HB 82 does not address alcohol abuse.) But choosing to drop the proposal now will send a message “that we’re not going to impose these rules,” Petersen said. Describing his constituents as “ultra-conservative,” he said he signed on the bill as a co-sponsor because the people he represents wanted him to do so. “The reason is the frustration of the taxpayer,” he said. “They want solutions … it’s not so much money, it’s the incentive to make the right choices and getting off the dole.” He conceded, however, that HB82 “may be overkill.” Committee Chairman Scott, SD30, R-Casper, told sponsors that because of welfare reform in the 1990s, “I’m telling my constituents that we’ve driven the people off who have the drug problems.” Scott noted that virtually all the people who now qualify for the program face a significant life crisis, such as a divorce or have left an abusive home. The committee decided to continue working the bill and will resume discussing it at a Friday meeting. Sen. John Schiffer said he would offer an amendment to require drug tests of all applicants and existing program participants “on a random basis.” Several people speaking at the meeting said random tests are far more likely to discourage illegal drug use because people can prepare for a scheduled test. Concerns that the tests would be required of grandparents taking care of children handling the assistance for qualified grandchildren were brushed off by Schiffer. “If Granny’s number is up, her number is up,” he said. The Wyoming Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has warned that the bill is unconstitutional because it singles out a select group of people for the testing without probable cause. Rep. Marty Martin, SD12, D-Superior, said that the cost of the program could be higher than anticipated. He noted that a random testing program monitoring for a full panel of drugs would be far more expensive than the typical $35 per-test cost cited by sponsor Rep. David Miller, HD55, R-Riverton. Using Miller’s figure, Department of Family Services officials estimated the cost of simply testing the average of 68 monthly applicants would cost the state about $27,000. The bill specifically protects benefits for qualified children even if their parent or parents fail a drug test. The Equality State Policy Center noted that if a parent is disqualified, a designee assigned by them or the Department of Family Services would accept benefits for the disqualified parent’s child. But those payments subsequently are likely to be handed over to the parent who failed a test but has custody of the child. And under the bill, there would be no help for a parent to obtain treatment for abusing illegal drugs. (Read the Associated Press report on the Wednesday hearing here.)

Coal tax-break faces new questions

The Senate approved House Bill 38 – Coal valuation – industry factors in Committee of the Whole. (This bill formerly was titled Coal severance tax industry factor.) The Senate adopted a standing committee amendment that raised the factor to 79.5% for coal extracted in the Powder River Basin and 81.5% for coal mined elsewhere in the state. (Think Sweetwater and Lincoln counties.) The half-percent increase will ensure that the change is close to being “revenue-neutral” in the first few years it is used. The change will reduce the coal industry’s tax obligation in future years – a tax break for the mining companies. Though the bill passed, several concerns were raised. Sen. Scott questioned whether it meets constitutional requirements for a uniform system of taxation. The bill will set separate factors in statute for determining the direct cost ratio used to determine the value of the coal. Those factors are based on the location of a mine rather than employing a standard formula. Scott said an independent legal opinion from the Attorney General may be needed. The Wyoming County Commissioners Association has taken no stance on the bill because its members are sharply divided over its ultimate effect, the association lobbyist told the Senate Revenue Committee on Tuesday. The Casper Star-Tribune reported on the issue in Thursday’s editions. Wyofile also is tracking the bill.   (Editor’s note: updated Thursday, March 1 with news links on HB82 and HB38 and to correct a misspelling.)
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Redistricting hits Senate floor; House passes job safety bill

Screen in Senate displays redistricting plans

Redistricting takes stage in Senate

House gives big majority to workplace safety bill

Public records and meetings bills through House Judiciary

The Senate took up its once-a-decade duty of redistricting the Legislature Tuesday and looked prepared to move quickly to approve the bill. On the other side of the Capitol, the House Judiciary Committee approved two “sunshine” bills when it gave do-pass recommendations to SF25- Public records and SF27- Public meetings. Meanwhile, a job safety bill supported by the Equality State Policy Center and its allies won final approval in the House and now moves to the Senate. With a screen set up in the Senate chamber to allow senators to see both large and small changes to district boundaries, Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee Chairman Cale Case outlined the Wyoming population changes over the last decade that require substantial shifting of districts. The House approved the plan last week after significant amendment that kept one senator’s residence within the district that elected him. Chairman Case said the most difficult and controversial adjustments were made in eastern Wyoming north of Laramie County and in southwest Wyoming, particularly in the Star Valley and Uinta County. Population increases in Campbell and Sublette counties forced those changes. The chairman noted the committee tried to respect county lines so far as possible but noted that simple mathematics required by the federal concept of “One Person, One Vote” drove the setting of boundaries. The committee also had to work to protect the super majority minority House district (HD33) that gives Native Americans the majority population in a district and assures the plan is in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. The committee resolved a nagging question about whether senators in the middle of a 4-year term should have to stand for election again this year. An opinion from the attorney general downplayed concerns about voters placed in a different district because of the new boundaries. The AG said the shifts were simply “temporal distortions” that will be resolved in 2014, when people in those districts will be afforded an opportunity to vote for a senator. The committee used that argument to defend its decision to allow those senators elected in 2010 to retain their seats. Sen. Case emphasized the idea that the state constitution sets longer terms for senators to insulate them from the heat of public opinion. If the House is the cup, then the Senate, through longer terms, “is the saucer that cools the tea,” Case said. No senator challenged the committee decision Tuesday. The angst surrounding other aspects of plan surfaced in sharp criticism leveled by Sen. Ogden Driskill, SD1, R-Devils Tower. He charged that the joint committee that devised the plan was unfairly weighted in favor of the counties with the largest populations. The 13 smallest counties did not have a representative on the committee. “The process was somewhat flawed in this,” he said. “A big chunk of the northeast was left disenfranchised … (but) this process left all the big counties fully intact.” The result will be that a small county such as Weston County will find it difficult to elect a resident to the House and very difficult to elect a state senator, Driskill said. Driskill’s comments prompted a retort from Senate President Jim Anderson, who appoints members of Senate committees. He said that there was no attempt to favor any county and pointed out that his own county was split three ways by the Joint Corporations committee. “The idea that there was any protection on the part of my home county, that doesn’t hold,” Anderson said. The committee also heard from Sen. Curt Meier, who had found his residence left outside the district he represents when the committee submitted its original plan to the House. Meier devised a different plan that shifts the boundaries in Goshen County to include a strip the runs along the county’s eastern edge. By taking in nearly 500 people living in the state prison near Torrington, the district’s southern boundary could be pushed south to include Meier’s home. The House amended the plan to include those changes. Case offered an amendment to strike the Meier plan. He found no supporters in a voice vote on his attempt to return to what he considered the committee’s “more appropriate” plan.

Job safety

The House on Third Reading sent House Bill 89 – Workplace safety – employer assistance to the Senate. The bill approves funding for five new “courtesy inspectors” for the state Occupational Health and Safety division. It also appropriates $250,000 to provide grant funds to businesses that agree to work with OSHA to improve their company safety programs.

Here’s the vote:

Ayes:  Representative(s) Barbuto, Berger, Blake, Blikre, Bonner, Botten, Brown, Buchanan, Burkhart, Byrd, Campbell, Cannady, Childers, Connolly, Craft, Edmonds, Eklund, Esquibel, K., Freeman, Gay, Gingery, Greear, Greene, Harshman, Harvey, Hunt, Illoway, Jaggi, Kasperik, Krone, Lockhart, Loucks, Lubnau, Madden, McKim, McOmie, Miller, Moniz, Nicholas B, Patton, Pederson, Petersen, Petroff, Roscoe, Semlek, Steward, Stubson, Throne, Vranish, Wallis, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Zwonitzer, Dv.. Nays:  Representative(s) Brechtel, Kroeker, Peasley, Quarberg and Teeters. Excused:  Representative(s) Davison, Goggles and Reeder. Ayes 52    Nays 5    Excused 3    Absent 0    Conflicts 0

Public records and public meetings

The House Judiciary Committee approved two measures aimed at improving access to public documents and intended to assure the public’s ability to participate in public meetings, even if they’re conducted electronically. The committee amended the public meetings bill, SF27, to make the penalty for violation a civil penalty rather than a criminal misdemeanor. (Check the LSO website to see the amendment. It had not yet been posted early Tuesday evening.) The comittee also approved SF25 – Public meetings. Jim Angell of the Wyoming Press Association tried to alleviate concerns about what records must be made public, saying, “This bill opens nothing to public review that has not been pen since the 1970s.”
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HIV funding, drug testing for public assistance

Senate restores HIV funding

Discriminatory drug-testing bill aimed at poor passes House

Sen. Chris Rothfuss

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, SD 9, D-Laramie, announced via Facebook Monday that the Senate has approved an amendment to the budget bill that restores state funding for drug treatment for people with AIDS and HIV. Sen. Rothfuss’s Facebook post read, “SF1S3010 Budget Amendment to reinstate $400k for the AIDS drug rebate program has passed the Senate. A mirror Amendment has already passed the House. That will qualify as a maintenance of effort and maintain our eligibility for the Ryan White grant program.” Sen. Cale Case, SD25, R-Lander, offered the same amendment to the Senate last Thursday only to

Sen. Leslie Nutting

see it killed. The amendment was sponsored again Monday by Sens. Rothfuss, Leslie Nutting, SD7, R-Cheyenne, and Case. Rothfuss and Nutting spoke for it. Together, the federal and state funds pay for drugs essential to treatment needed by infected people who otherwise could not afford the care. (The Senate vote on the amendment had not been posted by the Legislative Service Office when this blog was posted about 5:40 p.m. Feb. 27.)

Public assistance drug-testing bill passed by House

A bill that will require families seeking public assistance through the POWER program to pass a drug test to qualify for benefits passed the House Monday. The measure, House Bill 89 – Public assistance-drug testing, passed on third reading 37-23 with no debate. The bill requires drug testing of applicants in the Personal Opportunities With Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program. Proponents say the testing will encourage users to seek treatment. Opponents have argued that the bill will discourage applicants who must pay for the drug test, offers no treatment for people who fail the test will punish the children of adult users by making it even more difficult for them to obtain benefits, and discriminates against the poor because other users of state services are not required to submit to drug tests. Read the engrossed copy of the bill, which includes all amendments, here.

Here’s the Third Reading House vote:

Ayes:  Representative(s) Berger, Blikre, Bonner, Brechtel, Buchanan, Campbell, Cannady, Childers, Davison, Edmonds, Eklund, Gay, Greear, Greene, Harvey, Hunt, Illoway, Jaggi, Kasperik, Kroeker, Krone, Lockhart, Loucks, Lubnau, Madden, McKim, McOmie, Miller, Peasley, Pederson, Petersen, Quarberg, Reeder, Semlek, Stubson, Teeters and Wallis. Nays:  Representative(s) Barbuto, Blake, Botten, Brown, Burkhart, Byrd, Connolly, Craft, Esquibel, K., Freeman, Gingery, Goggles, Harshman, Moniz, Nicholas B, Patton, Petroff, Roscoe, Steward, Throne, Vranish, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Zwonitzer, Dv.. Ayes 37    Nays 23    Excused 0    Absent 0    Conflicts 0 The Equality State Policy Center opposes passage of the bill. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Job safety bill gaveled through Second Reading

In other action in the House, HB 89 – Workplace safety-employer assistance was gaveled through Second Reading without debate. The ESPC supports the bill, which will add five new courtesy inspectors to the state Occupational Safety and Health division, allow the department to move two other positions to the division for the same purpose, and appropriate $250,000 to provide matching grants to qualified businesses seeking to improve their company safety programs. The measure will be considered on Third Reading Tuesday, Feb. 28.

“No COLAs” pension bill moves ahead

On Second Reading in the Senate Monday, senators quickly approved SF59 – Public employee retirement plans benefit increases. The measure includes requirements that any public employee retirement plan must be funded at 120% before the Legislature can consider giving a Cost of Living Adjustment to retirees. An amendment to reduce plan funding levels to 100% of actuarial need failed last week. Retirement system advocates will attempt to improve the bill, which includes an interim study of the system’s several plans, when it goes to the House.

Public records/public meetings

The House Judiciary Committee will consider SD25ENG – Public records and SD 27 – Public meetings Tuesday morning starting at 6:58 a.m. in Room 302. The Equality State Policy Center supports both bills.
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Partial victory for public health

House restores HIV treatment funds

Effort expected to go to conference committee 

Thursday was a long day for the Wyoming Legislature as it waded through dozens of amendments in both the House and the Senate, working well past 7 p.m. Public health advocates registered a partial victory when the House approved an amendment to the Department of Health budget that will restore $400,000 to demonstrate the state’s “maintenance of effort” and assure that Wyoming qualifies for funding through the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Program. These AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, known as ADAPs, provide FDA approved HIV-related prescription drugs to underinsured and uninsured individuals living with HIV/AIDS. The CARE Act gives states broad authority to set program eligibility criteria and to decide what HIVrelated treatments to include on ADAP formularies. Those federal funds are used to pay for medicine needed by people with HIV. (See Kaiser Family Foundation.) Wyoming has participated in the program since 2003, Rep. Cathy Connolly, HD13, D-Laramie, said when she introduced her amendment. The Department of Health intended to seek the appropriation again this year, but made a mistake. In a memo to Connolly, Department of Health Director Tom Forslund noted the error and wrote, “… the department requested an increase in the ADAP manufacturer’s rebate program for HIV/AIDS drugs of $400,000 to reflect the actual rebate amount receive in a biennium. “This was mistakenly identified as new funding, resulting in a recommendation that the general fund for this program be reduced by a similar amount.” Forslund noted the funding “may be necessary to meet the maintenance of effort requirement for the HIV/AIDS Program.” “There was no intention to cut this program,” Connolly told the House. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rosie Berger, HD51, R-Big Horn, spoke up for the amendment, too. She noted the mistake and urged the House to support the amendment. The amendment was approved in the House on a 44-13 vote.

Here’s the vote:

ROLL CALL

Ayes:  Representative(s) Barbuto, Berger, Blikre, Bonner, Botten, Brown, Buchanan, Burkhart, Byrd, Campbell, Cannady, Childers, Connolly, Craft, Eklund, Esquibel, K., Freeman, Gingery, Goggles, Greear, Greene, Harshman, Harvey, Illoway, Kasperik, Krone, Lockhart, Madden, McOmie, Miller, Moniz, Nicholas B, Patton, Petersen, Petroff, Roscoe, Semlek, Steward, Stubson, Throne, Vranish, Wallis, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Zwonitzer, Dv.. Nays:  Representative(s) Brechtel, Davison, Edmonds, Gay, Hunt, Jaggi, Kroeker, Loucks, McKim, Peasley, Pederson, Quarberg and Reeder. Excused:  Representative(s) Blake, Lubnau and Teeters. Ayes 44    Nays 13    Excused 3    Absent 0    Conflicts 0

Senate rejects amendment

Unfortunately, a mirror amendment offered in the Senate by Sen. Cale Case, SD25, R-Lander, failed on a 12-18 vote. That means the funding will be on the table when the budget bills passed by each chamber– Senate File 1 – General government appropriations and HB 1 – General government appropriations – 2 –go to a conference committee.
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U-turn on public records

Public records bill restored

Burns amendments stripped as Senate passes measure

Budget: Effort planned to restore HIV funding

Open government advocates watched the Senate reverse course on a public records bill Wednesday, deciding to strip restrictive amendments that had threatened months of work by public, private and nonprofit interests pushing for improvements in Wyoming’s public records law. Two floor amendments made Monday to Senate File 25 –Public records would have significantly reduced access to documents now available to the public under existing law. The amendments, offered by Sen. Bruce Burns, SD21, R-Sheridan, demolished a carefully crafted compromise bill supported by an array of interests. They include the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities Wyoming Press Association, League of Women Voters, Powder River Basin Resource Council, the University of Wyoming, the Equality State Policy Center, and the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts. But Sen. Curt Meier, HD3, R-LaGrange, brought new amendment language that stripped the Burns amendments from the bill on third reading. The ensuing debate revealed some of the fears underlying the resistance to public access to the information used by authorities to determine public policy. Some of it was aimed directly at the Wyoming Press Association. Sen. Kit Jennings, SD28, R-Casper, said he did not want to “give third parties with the power of paper and ink” the ability to “interfere” with his decision-making process. “I don’t want the press to tell me what to think,” Jennings said. But Majority Floor Leader Tony Ross, SD4, R-Cheyenne, had none of it. “This is about restoring faith in local entities and open government,” he said. “It’s all about openness.” Scrutiny comes with holding public office, he added, and “… is part and parcel of the place we find ourselves in.” Sen. Leland Christiansen sounded a similar theme, stating simply that the Senate should, “Keep public work open and transparent” During the three days of debate, several senators expressed concerns about being put in a position of divulging the contents of constituent communications that include details about the constituent’s life reasonably expected to be kept out of public view. Open government advocates like Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters believe that those sorts of details can be redacted from documents should someone request them. Others in the coalition behind the bill believe the state’s attorney general should review the matter to clarify whether those concerns are valid. The Meier amendments were passed and the bill itself won approval 19-11. (Editor’s note: Regarding this link, the LSO had not updated the SF 25 digest at 11:45 p.m. but the information ultimately will appear at the url.)

Public meetings

The Senate voted later in the day to pass SF 27 – Public meetings on its first reading in Committee of the Whole after only a few questions. The bill:
  • Prohibits meeting by electronic or other means that do not allow the public to see, hear or read the meeting contemporaneously.
  • Requires public boards to give at least eight hours notice of a special meeting. Interested persons must submit their names in writing to be placed on a notification list. Requires boards to specify the reason for conducting a meeting in executive session.
  • Gives boards up to 30 days to ratify actions taken in an emergency if the emergency continues after 48 hours.

Funding for HIV treatment program

Advocates for the state HIV treatment program have raised concerns that proposed cuts in the state’s 2013-2014 biennium budget may put at risk federal funding for treatment through the Ryan White Act. Those federal funds largely have paid for the treatment of people otherwise unable to afford the necessary drugs. Those fears were confirmed by Department of Health Director Tom Forslund Wednesday. He sent a memo to Rep. Cathy Connolly, HD 13, D-Laramie, and the governor that said the failure to ask for the $400,000 General Fund appropriation was simply a mistake. The state is required to meet a “maintenance of effort” requirement to get the federal funds. An amendment to rectify the mistake will be offered Thursday, Connolly said. Following two days of detailed presentations, both the Senate and the House completed their first reading of tthe budget Wednesday evening. Most sections of the budget won pro forma assent since the legislators tacitly agree to withhold real action until Second and Third readings. But the House abandoned that passive approach when it considered a section of the bill that authorized a $250,000 study to determine the feasibility of adding a men’s baseball team and women’s softball team to University of Wyoming athletics programs.
Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters contributed to this blog.
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