Archive | April, 2012

Workers Memorial Day in Casper

Natalie Moss addresses Workers Memorial Day commemoration in Casper.

Widow recounts husband’s tragic rig death

Lost workers remembered; promises made to living

Workforce Services announces hiring of new OSHA staffers

Chris “CJ” Moss, father of a toddler son and husband to his high school sweetheart, missed Valentine’s Day in 2007 but four days later phoned his wife Natalie to confirm he’d be home the next day after completing his shift. He never made it. CJ was killed on a Wyoming drilling rig on Feb. 19, 2007. He became one of 622 people killed on the job in the state since 1992. (Here are the names of 209 of those workers, an incomplete list.) “The day that C.J. was killed, someone made a decision to put profits and production above his safety,” Natalie Moss, widow of Chris “CJ” Moss, told about 30 people gathered Friday morning in Casper to commemorate Workers Memorial Day. She does not believe the supervisor on the rig where Moss was working thought her husband would be killed. CJ was unaware of the danger when he was sent to clean an area where a fire had recently burned and some electrical wires had been damaged, Natalie said. “I do know they sent him in there knowing they were putting him in a dangerous situation … in the mind of that person, the risk of safety violations were not as threatening as lost production or profits,” she said. Her husband was electrocuted. Killed instantly. Their son, just four years old at the time, will not have a memory of CJ’s deep laugh, a laugh far more entertaining to Natalie than the funny movies they attended together. Her husband loved their son. Natalie said his birth transformed CJ “from perfect husband to perfect father.” Natalie Moss drove 400 miles from Menan, Idaho to help remember CJ and other workers killed on the job in Wyoming. Workers Memorial Day is observed around the world every year in late April to remember workers killed and injured on the job. Friday’s event in Casper attracted state agency representatives, workers, and retired workers. Moss made the long trip to give a survivor’s account of what happens to a family when someone does not return home safely from a shift, and to support efforts to make going to work safer in Wyoming. The state’s abysmal worker fatality rate has driven recent efforts to build a stronger safety culture in the state. After Wyoming again recorded the worst fatality rate in the nation in 2008, Gov. Dave Freudenthal created a safety task force that recommended hiring a state epidemiologist. After 18 months, the epidemiologist produced statistics revealing that over the past 10 years, a Wyoming worker has died on the job every 10 days. Gov. Matt Mead made those findings public in January, Mead’s press secretary Renny MacKay attended Friday’s event and read a letter from the governor. “We are all proud of Wyoming – our people, our geography and our industries – but the rate of workplace fatalities Is unacceptable,” the governor wrote. “ … and it is time to put it under the microscope.” Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim Floyd celebrated passage of legislation during the recent budget session that expands OSHA and provides a half-million dollars for matching grants of up to $10,000 to help Wyoming businesses establish or improve their safety programs. He also told the commemoration attendees that workers themselves, not just employers, have a responsibility to ensure the safety of a job site and to speak up when they see a hazard that could hurt someone. John Ysebaert, director of the Office of Workforce Standards & Compliance in Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services announced that the seven new safety consultants already have been hired under the new law. He said the applicants were unusually well-qualified but said the department focused on each applicant’s “passion for safety.”

Sen. John Hastert calls on voters to question legislative candidates about job safety.

Sen. John Hastert drove from Green River early Friday morning to attend the Workers Memorial Day event. Like others, he praised the recent progress, but emphasized the importance of electing legislators committed to ensuring the safety of Wyoming’s workers. State agencies, he said, work with the tools the legislature gives them through statute. It’s a grave responsibility for policymakers and Hastert urged attendees to ask legislative candidates where they stand on worker safety and hold them accountable for their positions. While celebrating the progress made in the Legislature last session, Hastert echoed comments by Floyd that the state also must consider stronger enforcement of existing safety and health laws. That means fining offenders. Threat of a hefty fine changes behavior, he said. Drivers slow down, he said, when they know police are on the highways enforcing the law. “Getting these people back to their families safely after each shift should be a priority of every employer,” Natalie Moss said. It also should be the priority of every worker and of state policymakers who have the power to require everyone on a job site to make it as safe and as healthy a place to work as possible.  

Rev. Dee Lundberg prays for solace for those left behind when workers are killed on the job.

Editor’s note: Additional copy and two links were added to this post on April 30.
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Farm bill shuns rural development in Wyoming

Farm bill shuns rural development in Wyo

Nebraska think tank on rural affairs calls for more investment

Why does D.C. continue subsidies to the most wealthy?

A story from Wyoming News Service has us thinking a bit about the pending Farm Bill. The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska,  devotes much of its time thinking about federal rural policy and says Congress should invest more in rural America, including rural Wyoming. Here’s their assessment summary and recommendation: “Investment in rural development has fallen by nearly one-third since 2003. Action to reverse this decline is critical to creating and sustaining vibrant rural communities. The farm bill already includes a diverse set of rural development programs that serve a range of rural community needs. What we lack is significant investment in these programs. “What We Propose: In the next farm bill, commit at least $500 million over five years to a new Rural Community Renewal Fund. The fund would be allocated by the Secretary of Agriculture to existing rural development programs, with an emphasis on capturing emerging opportunities in areas such as broadband, renewable energy, food systems and ecotourism. Priority would be placed on communities suffering population loss, low median incomes, high poverty or sudden and severe job loss.” You can read more at the Center for Rural Affairs website. Meanwhile, here’s the transcript of the story from Wyoming News Service: (04/25/12) CASPER, Wyo. – A new Farm Bill being considered today by the Senate Agriculture Committee could bring big changes to Wyoming. The Center for Rural Affairs says the bill contains no money for rural development programs – such as micro-entrepreneur assistance, beginning-farmer initiatives and help for communities to upgrade water and sewer systems. Chuck Hassebrook, the center’s executive director, says it’s surprising to see that the bill expands farm program and crop insurance subsidies for the largest operations. “It does a good job of subsidizing the rich and powerful, but it does a poor of job of investing in the future of rural America and creating genuine opportunity for ordinary, rural folks.” The Ag committee is taking a look at amendments to the bill, and Hassebrook cites a proposal offered by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., which would limit subsidies for the richest farmers and ranchers. “I think if a husband and wife are making a million bucks a year, they probably don’t need a farm payment from the federal government. It would take the money that it saves and invest it in creating a better future in rural America for our kids and grandkids.” Rural development is funded through other programs outside the Farm Bill, which is one reason given by those who say it isn’t needed in the legislation. Farm-subsidy limits have long been debated, and Hassebrook expects another round as the bill is considered.
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What we get for our taxes

Old Faithful and Yellowstone are protected for our enjoyment by our taxes.

Take a look at what we get for paying our taxes

Tax Day serves as reminder of investment in public services

Tuesday, April 17, is Tax Day and, if you’re like me, you’ve been thinking about all that money we pay not just to the federal government but at the state and local level as well. It’s easy to gripe about it, but we should all think about what we get in return for our investment in public services. It’s a lot. We send our children to public schools. We know a safety and emergency services system is in place in case a prowler disturbs or fire erupts next door. The transportation system is well-designed by traffic and safety engineers. We may decide whether to drive those highways after consulting a weather report generated by the National Weather Service. In Wyoming, we invest tax revenues heavily in transportation, building a highway system that serves us well. I’m particularly in favor of passing lanes on those two-lane highways that seem so dangerous and of those snowplows that clear the divided highways like Interstate 80 and I-25. Both the state and federal government invest millions in those roads every year, trying to keep them in decent shape, in winter and summer, along with the patrol officers that enforce traffic laws and respond to disabled vehicles. But it’s Tax Day because we’ve all just paid our federal income taxes. So where does all that income tax revenue go? The National Priorities Project offers an interactive web page where you can see exactly how the federal government spends your income tax dollar. (And for a better look at the chart at right, go here.) If you paid $7,500 in federal taxes on your 2011 income, here are a few highlights:  
  • * $2,025 goes to the military. In Wyoming, think about the Air Guard and the training facility at Guernsey in addition to F.E. Warren and its servicemen and women stationed in underground silos. Another $330 goes to veterans benefits including education, training and rehabilitation.
  • Your grandparents may use Medicare insurance to help them meet their medical bills. Or perhaps you know a child kept healthy because of the KidCare CHIP program. You paid $1,605 for these programs.
  •  Science gets about $75 for research. The University of Wyoming has received millions in grant funds from the National Science Foundation.
More of your dollars go to care for and shelter the blind, the disabled, and the very poor. Other funds pay for energy and the environment, international affairs, housing, and, yes, interest on the debt. As a society, we often argue over government priorities. Some want to see more spent on the military. Others want more spent on education or science. But there’s no arguing the overall value of the services we pay for. Government research and services make it possible for business to grow because of its investment in Internet technology, satellite technology, air traffic controllers, patent and copyright protections, the court system, international trade agreements, insurance on bank accounts, and more. Together, we make certain that government offers an opportunity to get a good education. The police and the armed services keep us safe at home and abroad. The government we all pay for assures us that our food is safe and the water is clean. Paying taxes is not easy, but it serves us well. Remember that on Tax Day.
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Health Benefits Exchange Task Force suspends work

Barb Rea

They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

Health panel slips down path of old health care commissions

By Barb Rea ESPC health issues volunteer Last week the Wyoming Health Benefits Exchange Task Force quietly voted to suspend its work until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While this was meant to send a message to the legislature about the futility of the current decision-making process, it will surely look like a victory for those members of the legislature who are determined to shut down anything associated with reform of Wyoming’s healthcare system. This is another loss for the healthcare consumers in Wyoming. They are now left with no one trying to guide this ship through the stormy sea. I say ‘another’ because this is the exact set of circumstances that ended each of the versions of the Wyoming Health Care Commission. Good people, volunteers, directed to come up with solutions to improve our healthcare system, come together to try to get their arms around a complicated topic. It takes a year or two to get up to speed, but if you try to keep it apolitical, the legislature feels left out and the committee has to back up and add legislators. If the insurers are left out, the committee has to start over with a new direction that must end with a new insurance product. I’m not sure how many Health Care Commission executive directors there were, but each left the position out of this same frustration. Al Harris, a businessman from Green River and member of the task force, voiced his frustration early in the meeting last week. Two years ago, the task force was created by then-Governor Dave Freudenthal and clearly told to make a recommendation to the Joint Labor and Health and Social Services Committee about whether Wyoming should establish its own insurance exchange, partner with other states or default to the federal option. Then the next year, under new Governor Matt Mead, the task force was morphed into some sort of hybrid legislative committee adding more legislators and forcing them to reset while these new members came up to speed. In the winter budget session, the task force merely asked the legislature for an extension to continue studying the issue with the grant money awarded under ACA. Instead, the legislature directed the task force to produce not one but three full-blown exchange options – one that complies with the ACA, one that clearly violates the ACA and one that allows for a partnership with the federal government. Mr. Harris simply pointed out that the committee already decided that one of those options, building a non-compliant exchange, would ensure that we have two exchanges, one operated by the state and one by the feds, guaranteeing that both would fail. He pointed out that the task force did its best to keep the study apolitical. (And now the legislature is allowed to do whatever it wants, anyway.) I believe Mr. Harris thought he would be the only vote not to seek an extension of the funding the task force needed to continue its work, but each member of the committee fell like a domino, also expressing the same frustration, and the decision to stop working was made. Clearly, Wyoming does not have the leadership or the expertise to craft our own solution to this problem. We have the evidence before us. We already know Wyoming’s leaders are willing to leave large groups of our population uninsured. Our Medicaid program offers nothing for low-income, childless adults. We already know some Wyoming leaders are willing to settle for a cheesy product that is not insurance if we were to take over the Medicaid program and not accept a single dollar from the federal government. The Healthy Frontiers Program was not insurance and would surely have only added to the problem of cost-shifting and under-insurance that the ACA is designed to fix. We already know Wyoming won’t step up to the plate and regulate insurance companies. The state turned down two offers of $1 million to our Department of Insurance to help our insurance commissioner conduct rate review requests at the state level. We are now out of compliance with the ACA which requires states to conduct rate review or allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to provide this oversight. The ACA is forcing Wyoming and other foot-dragging states to set the bar higher: cover everyone with a comprehensive set of benefits and protect consumers from unfair and discriminatory insurance practices. And, under the ACA, the federal government picks up (or more accurately, provides the mechanism for redistributing) the cost. The way the ACA is designed now, Wyoming would benefit from this redistribution more than most states with more of our own federal income tax dollars coming back into the state. (State Progress Toward Health Reform Implementation: Slower Moving States Have Much to Gain, Urban Institute, January 2012) The current system leaves people out, is discriminatory and expensive. There is broad agreement that the solution must be a fundamental reform in the way we collect information about cost and quality and the way we pay for health care. Wyoming continues to bury its head in the sand instead of appointing an apolitical health-care planning board and allowing it to guide this process in the best interest of state citizens. If the legislature must be involved, the voters should not elect another person who doesn’t value health care for all as an essential part of the infrastructure a state needs to do business. People shouldn’t have to worry they will lose their healthcare if they get sick or change jobs. Insurance should work. It should pay for the care you need when you need it. Why do we put up with less? If the ACA is struck down, we still have a broken system to fix. Why not use the tools at hand to begin this work AGAIN?  
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