Poison pill threatens public records bill

Action needed on Public Records bill

Job safety sees strong support; coal tax cut passes House

Sen. Burns

Two floor amendments to Senate File 25 –Public records adopted by the Senate Monday change the bill to significantly reduce 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. The Wyoming Press Association, League of Women Voters, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and the Equality State Policy Center will actively oppose the bill if the Burns amendments are not removed. One amendment deprives the public of access to “records of pre-decisional and deliberative communications of the agency officials or employees which are integral parts of the decision-making process, including suggestions, advisory opinions, recommendations, projections, proposals and deliberations.” The provision, which was approved by an overwhelming voice vote, enables elected and appointed decision-makers to withhold all sorts of information, such as tax projections critical to budget decisions. It seeks to shield officials from public scrutiny while they’re reaching a decision, which is an important process for the public to understand. It’s a poison pill that supporters can’t accept. It’s important to note that Wyoming’s existing law mirrors the federal Freedom of Information Act. This amendment goes far beyond federal law in terms of what records would be exempt from public disclosure. The second amendment will prevent public access to communications to members of a public entity unless the communication goes to a quorum of its officers. The ESPC asks people to contact their state senators and ask them to strip the amendments or vote against the bill. (Editor’s note: This portion of this blog was edited slightly 2 hours after the first Feb. 20 post at about 5:45 p.m.)

Minerals Committee backs job safety bill

The Equality State Policy Center does not often find itself joining the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the Wyoming Mining Association and the state’s largest oil and gas producers to support passage of legislation. But industry, labor advocates, the Trial Lawyers and the ESPC lined up behind House Bill 89 – Workplace safety-employer assistance. The measure creates a $250,000 fund to finance grants to businesses that need help to implement safety programs and to buy necessary safety equipment. The bill also adds inspectors, officially titled “occupational health and safety consultants,” to the Occupation Safety and Health Division. The “consultants,” on invitation from a company, would advise them on establishing a company safety program and would inspect job sites to point out hazards and violations of safety law. The company would not face fines though it a timeline would be established for the company to address its compliance issues. Industry representatives said the cooperative approach by the state will help reduce job fatalities and injuries. “The way the bill is crafted, it will help us an industry,” said Paul Ulrich, who lobbies for Encana, one of the state’s largest natural gas producers. “Consultation does work.” Labor representatives, including Kim Floyd of the AFL-CIO and Tim Wells of the carpenters union, endorsed the bill as a good first step. But both contended that the state’s mines have developed a culture of safety because they are subject to at least quarterly inspection by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. That federal agency quickly imposes stiff fines for violations and punitive fines if workers are injured. Enforcement works, they said. Both industry and labor said the bill could create more job opportunities for Wyoming workers by putting small local contractors in a position to qualify for work with larger companies.

Coal tax break

HB38 – Coal severance tax industry factor passed the House on third reading. The ESPC believes the bill erodes the tax base by reducing the industry’s tax obligations on future production. Efforts will be made to block passage in the Senate, but the proposal has considerable momentum.

Here’s the vote on the bill:

ROLL CALL

Ayes:  Representative(s) Barbuto, Berger, Blikre, Bonner, Botten, Brechtel, Brown, Buchanan, Burkhart, Byrd, Campbell, Cannady, Childers, Craft, Edmonds, Eklund, Freeman, Gay, Gingery, Greear, Greene, Harshman, Harvey, Hunt, Illoway, Jaggi, Kasperik, Kroeker, Krone, Lockhart, Loucks, Lubnau, Madden, McKim, McOmie, Moniz, Nicholas B, Patton, Peasley, Pederson, Petersen, Petroff, Quarberg, Reeder, Semlek, Steward, Stubson, Teeters, Throne, Wallis, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Zwonitzer, Dv.. Nays:  Representative(s) Blake, Connolly, Davison, Esquibel, K., Goggles and Roscoe. Excused:  Representative(s) Vranish Conflicts:  Representative(s) Miller Ayes 52    Nays 6    Excused 1    Absent 0    Conflicts 1

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