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.
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.”