Archive | January, 2013

Domestic partnerships

Gay rights advocates demonatrate in front of the Wyoming Capitol

Civil rights take a step forward

Domestic partnerships bill approved by House panel

More action Tuesday on gun bills, voter ID, and campaign finance

Equal rights for all took a step forward Monday with passage by the House Corporations committee of a bill authorizing domestic partnerships in Wyoming. The measure offers people in domestic partnerships the same kinds of legal protections that married couples often take for granted. People in these partnerships can make medical treatment decisions and address other questions that the law currently reserves to next of kin if no marriage contract exists between two people, no matter what commitment they’ve made to a relationship. The domestic partnerships bill, HB 168, was paired with HB 169 Marriage definition, by House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee Chairman Rosie Berger, R-HD51, Big Horn. Berger, who at one point noted that it was a mistake to pair the two bills, took public comment for about 75 minutes from proponents and opponents of both bills. The prime sponsor of both bills was Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-HD13, Laramie. She and her co-sponsors declared that it’s time for Wyoming to “step up” on civil rights for the gay community. Public comments revolved around the religious understanding of homosexuality as interpreted by both fundamentalist churches and more liberal ones, and the importance of extending the protection of state law to same-sex couples equal to the protections and privileges the law grants married heterosexual couples. Rep. Lynn Hutchings, R-HD42, Cheyenne, who is African-American, told the committee that proponents of equality for people regardless of sexual orientation should not compare their struggle with the civil rights movement of the 20th century. She declared homosexuality “is a choice” unlike race. “Please stop carpet-bagging on our civil rights movement,” Hutchings said. That comment prompted a later a “push back” from Rep. James Byrd, D-HD44, Cheyenne, who likewise is African-American. “I find that comment distasteful,” Byrd said of Hutchings’ reference to carpet bagging. The lesbian, gay, and transgender community has experienced its own forms of injustice, he noted. Byrd said he asked himself how the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., might have addressed the question. “He would tell us that people are created equal,” Byrd said. In the end the committee voted down the marriage definition bill, which would have declared marriage a contract between two natural persons, rather than between a man and a woman. The vote was close, 4-5. But the committee voted 7-2 to send the domestic partnerships bill to the House floor for debate. It’s a major step forward for civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, especially given past years of struggle against legislation intended to bar both same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Here’s the committee vote:

Ayes:  Representative(s) Blikre, Byrd, Greene, Paxton, Petroff, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Berger Nays:  Representative(s) Gay, Kirkbride

Gun bills in House Judiciary

HB 103, Regulation of firearms-state preemption, sponsored by Rep Allen Jaggi, R-HD19, Mountain View, prohibits local governments from regulating gun use in any way (think about it.) HB 104, Firearm Protection Act, is a nullification bill sponsored by Rep. Kendall Kroeker, R-HD35, Casper. It prohibits federal agents from enforcing federal gun laws in Wyoming. The U.S. fought a long, bloody civil war over states’ rights. This bill will have no legal effect if passed but will send a chilling message to federal agents responsible for gun-law enforcement operating in Wyoming. Campaign finance – The House Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions will consider two campaign finance bills. The first, HB99 Campaign funds-personal use, prohibits a candidate from converting left-over campaign contributions for personal use. HB 187 Campaign finance, closes a loophole in state law by limiting contributions from a political action committee to any single candidate to $2,500 per election. It also raises the personal contribution limit in statewide races to $2,500. The ESPC supports both bills. Voting rights – The Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee will resume discussion of SF134 Voter identification. According to committee Chairman Cale Case, R-SD25, Lander, technical problems with the bill will prevent it moving forward, but the committee may consider an interim study of questions around the residence of voters. Pooling tips – The Senate Revenue Committee will consider HD112 Tip distribution policies, engrossed, which would allow restaurants and other businesses to require tipped employees to participate in tip pooling. The ESPC opposes this bill.
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Legislature takes up social bills

Rally set for equality in relationships

House panel will consider marriage equality, partnerships bills

First gun and abortion bills in other House committees Monday

Marriage equality, domestic partnerships, abortion, and gun legislation stand out among several controversial social bills the Wyoming House will take up on Monday. Our friends at Wyoming Equality have worked hard to organize around several bills aimed at ending discrimination that deprives people of their civil rights because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. With support from the Human Rights Campaign, they’ve hired an experienced lobbyist, Marian Schulz, to assist them. There’s a marriage equality rally at the Capitol Monday morning at 9. Called the Dress for Success Rally, the group will demonstrate to support the legislation through the morning. “Come dressed in your best business casual because we mean business!” the organizers say.

Rep. Cathy Connolly

Two of the Wyoming Equality-backed bills will be heard by the House Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee upon the noon recess. They include HB 169 Marriage-definition, and HB 168 Domestic partnerships-rights and responsibilities. Both are sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-HD13, Laramie. The House Judiciary Committee will hear two gun bills on the noon recess. The first bill, HB200 Concealed weapons-government meetings, requires people with concealed carry permits to get permission to take a concealed firearm into a government meeting. The second bill, HB 216 Deadly weapons in a courtroom prohibits taking a deadly weapon into a courtroom though it expressly permits a judge doing so. Topping off the social legislation hearings on Monday is a HB 97 No abortion after heartbeat. The measure outlaws abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat. The House Labor, Health & Social Services Committee will hear the bill 10 minutes after the House adjourns for the day. The hearing is in Room H-17, a small venue so people should arrive early if they want a seat. Chairman Elaine Harvey has scheduled 90 minutes of testimony, 45 minutes each for opponents and proponents of the bill.

But wait, there’s more …

A successful media lawsuit that forces the University of Wyoming to disclose the names of applicants for the UW president’s job spawned HB 223, Public records-institutions of higher education. It will make secret applications, references, and “records or information relating to the process of searching” for a president if the information could be used to identify a candidate. The gag rule applies to the university and Wyoming’s seven community colleges. If approved, the law takes effect immediately and will negate the media’s court victory. Worker safety – The Speaker’s job safety bill will be considered in Senate Minerals Monday. House Bill 52 Workplace safety initiatives offers another carrot to entice employers to participate in courtesy job safety inspections. If passed, participating employers will get a discount of up to 10% on their workers compensation insurance premiums. Medicaid Expansion – After getting out of the Senate Labor Committee on a “Do Not Pass” motion, SF 122 Expansion of Medicaid was heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee over the lunch hour Friday. Members of the Wyoming Coalition for the Medicaid Expansion spoke in both venues. There has been no testimony opposing the bill. Sen. President Ross has said he wants to get the bill up on the floor for a full debate. (See  “Medicaid Expansion negatory” for an explanation of this unusual procedural maneuver.) We understand that the ideological opposition to federal health care reform means the bill has virtually no chance this year – unless the public speaks up and demands doing what’s best for Wyoming citizens. The expansion saves the state about $125 million over seven years while improving population health. Pensions – The House Appropriations Committee decided Friday to draft a bill that would require an overall .5% increase in employee contributions to the big state plan, the Fire Fighters Plan B and the Game Wardens plan. Employers would be required to make the contribution. (The committee did not specify how this is done, although Chairman Steve Harshman, R-HD37, Casper, said it costs the state less to pay a .5% retirement contribution than to give a .5% raise.) A similar contribution increase will be imposed on employers in 2014. The bill structures the contributions so the contribution to the Big Plan is .5%; to the FF plan it is .225% and to the Game Wardens plan .9%. In another public employee pay move, the supplemental budget proposal bill includes a 1% “retention incentive” for all employees. The raise for employees making more than $125,000 will be held at $1,250. (So the football coach’s 2013 retention incentive will not be complicated by the base pay and incentives that brought him more than $800,000 in 2010.) Meanwhile, HB 45 Fireman pension plan A, was killed in House Appropriations on Thursday. It would have taken the mandatory COLA provision out of the plan.  
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Medicaid Expansion negatory

Medical Expansion ‘clears’ committee

Procedural maneuver may lead to Senate floor debate

Elsewhere: Vote ID bill Thursday; LGBTQ rights bills on Monday docket

A procedural maneuver got a proposal to expand Medicaid in Wyoming out of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee but enabled senators voting in favor of it to avoid going on record in favor of the idea. Committee members appeared to take little note of comment from organizations supporting the expansion. Not one public comment against the measure was offered during the meeting.

Sen. John Hastert

Though hampered by cold-sapped voice, Sen. John Hastert, D-SD13. Green River, laid out the advantages of the measure to a committee he considered skeptical. “Great things can happen if everybody can keep an open mind,” he said. Bill opponents argued that the federal government will not keep its promise of paying not less than 90% of the costs of the expansion. The committee voted down a “do pass” motion 4-1. Acknowledging the magnitude of the issue – there are millions of dollars at stake – Chairman Charles Scott, R-SD30, Casper, said he would support a “do-not pass” motion. Sen. Jim Anderson, R-SD28, Casper, made that motion and it was approved. The maneuver, a positive vote on a motion, means the bill will not be “laid back” and makes possible a potential Senate floor debate of SF 122 Expansion of Medicaid – though it is not assured. Two senators who support the Medicaid Expansion said Senate President Tony Ross promised a floor debate of the measure. The fiscal case for the bill is very strong: mandatory elements of the Affordable Care Act will require the state of Wyoming to spend a net total of more than $79 million between 2014-2020 to cover some 6,900 newly eligible children and a second group of people who are eligible under current rules but have never signed up. But the optional expansion to cover 17,600 childless adults who currently do not qualify will save the state millions of dollars. Services now covered directly from the state General Fund for programs such as colorectal screening and behavioral services will be covered by Medicaid. Dan Perdue, executive director of the Wyoming Hospital Association, reminded the committee that a state study found that those offsets result in a “swing” of more than $125 million, producing a net savings to the state of more than $47 million from 2014 to 2020. Unfortunately, years of ideological opposition to the Affordable Care Act means some legislators have painted themselves into a corner from which they seem unable to escape. They need constituents to express support for this program. The expansion of Medicaid will strengthen Wyoming’s hospitals and other aspects of the medical system, reduce cost-shifting that drives up insurance costs, and enable many uninsured state residents to get the care they need, including preventive care that will reduce costs across the system.

Here’s the committee vote:

Roll Call

Ayes: Senator(s) Anderson, J.L. (S28), Nutting, Peterson and Scott B Nays: Senator(s) Craft.

Voter ID bill in Senate Corporations Committee

The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee will hear SF134 Voter identification Thursday morning (Jan. 24). The bill demands that voters provide a photo ID. The measure requires that voters show a photo ID issued either by the state or the United States. That means IDs issued by the tribes of the Wind River Reservation would not be acceptable. Similar legislation was proposed in 2009 and failed in committee. The ESPC opposes the bill as an unnecessary obstacle to citizens exercising their right to vote. We know of no reports of voter fraud in Wyoming.

Marriage Equality and Domestic Partnerships

It looks like these efforts to extend basic civil rights to Wyoming’s LGBTQ residents will be heard by the House Corporations Committee on Monday. The bills are HB 169 Marriage Equality and HB168 Domestic Partnerships. Allies at Wyoming Equality are excited.   <
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Medicaid Expansion

A chance to do the right thing

Senate Labor, Health panel hears Medicaid Expansion bill

Committee should send proposal to floor for full public discussion

Members of the Senate Labor Health and Social Services Committee should endorse a proposal to adopt the federal Medicaid Expansion option in the federal health reform law. There are many good reasons for doing so. If the senators do the math, they’ll see the idea makes economic sense for the state. And it’s the right thing to do for the people who need the insurance coverage. Medical care is expensive. Many Wyoming families know they’re one accident or major illness away from financial devastation because they have no insurance. The Medicaid Expansion can keep the wolf from the door, however, for 17,600 Wyoming people. One concern of people hesitant to adopt the optional expansion is the federal government’s ability to provide the matching funding promised in the Affordable Care Act. Where is the evidence it will not? The federal government has never failed to make a Medicaid payment to the state, according to the director of the Department of Health. Our country rose out of revolution and has thrived because it always has risen to meet its challenges. It – and we – will again. And we should note that we don’t hear similar doubts s about the dependability of federal funds for highway maintenance and many other programs that are critical to Wyoming, such as federal mineral royalties or coal bonus bids. If Congress wants to balance the budget, that’s easy money to grab. Wyoming receives more federal aid to state and local governments, per capita, than any other state except Alaska. We receive aid from the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and other agencies. The Medicaid Expansion presents an opportunity to expand access to medical care to some of our most vulnerable neighbors. Many of them are working folks who don’t have health insurance provided on the job and who don’t earn enough to buy it themselves. Others suffer from chronic health problems and may need a procedure such as a knee or back surgery to allow them to again hold a job that makes them a more productive member of the community. Senate File 122 Expansion of Medicaid enables Wyoming to opt out of the expansion if the federal government does not live up to its promises to provide the lion’s share of funding necessary. It gives the committee a chance to give more than 17,000 of our neighbors the chance to build a health relationship with a doctor or to get a critical surgery they need to become employable again. We know several committee members worry about the federal government’s ability to meet the promised match in future years. But what is the alternative for individuals and families below 138% of the federal poverty level? Nothing else has been proposed to provide health care for them. They won’t get subsidies for purchasing health insurance on the exchanges. They have nothing except the cost-shifted care they can get in the emergency room – that is paid for through higher health service costs and insurance premiums for everyone else – with the added insult that much of this expense could have been prevented by providing access to basic health care for everyone. The senators should remember that Wyomingites are paying for this program through their federal income taxes. Should we see our money go to other states that are going to implement the Medicaid Expansion, and in turn place our employers at a competitive disadvantage against those states? The Medicaid Expansion bill is the second of two bills before the Senate committee Wednesday morning (Jan. 23). The hearing starts at 8 a.m. in the cramped committee room on the third floor of the Capitol, S-20. For additional information, see the Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Expansion news release and fact sheet.
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Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Expansion

ESPC joins broad Medicaid Expansion coalition

News conference set today in Capitol Rotunda

The Equality State Policy Center has joined a broad coalition of health care groups, women’s advocates, and good government proponents to advocate for the Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Expansion will outline its reasons for supporting the optional expansion of Medicaid under the 2010 federal health care reform law during a news conference today (Jan. 22) in the Capitol Rotunda at 2 p.m. The coalition believes expansion of the program will strengthen Wyoming’s health care system by providing health insurance coverage to many of our fellow Wyomingites who now postpone medical care because they cannot afford it. The expansion will help Wyoming’s hospital system deal with a significant portion of the $200 million in uncompensated care delivered in 2011. These losses represent treatment to patients who cannot afford the services they receive. The optional expansion adds an important category of people who now do not qualify for any Medicaid coverage – low-income adults without children. A Wyoming Department of Health study estimates expansion would give 17,200 uninsured people in our state access to health care. The expansion will provide coverage that will enable them to for pay their care, including ordinary appointments with a doctor or other provider. The Wyoming Department of Health also outlines how expanding Medicaid enables the state to save millions of dollars in general fund spending. (You can read more about that here.)

Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Expansion

The coalition, through Jan. 21, has grown to include 23 groups that strongly support the expansion: AARP American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network American Heart Association Consumer Advocates: Project Health Care Equality State Policy Center League of Women Voters of Wyoming People First of Wyoming Southwest Wyoming Recovery Access Programs (SW-WRAP) Wyoming Association of Churches Wyoming Association of Psychiatric Physicians Wyoming Business Coalition on Health Wyoming Chapter of the American Foundation on Suicide Prevention Wyoming Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Wyoming Chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians Wyoming Chapter of the American College of Physicians Wyoming Health Foundation Wyoming Hospital Association Wyoming Integrated Care Network (WY-ICN) Wyoming Medical Society Wyoming Nurses’ Association Wyoming Primary Care Association Wyoming Psychological Association Wyoming Women’s Foundation The Senate Labor Health and Social Services Committee will hear Senate File 122 – Expansion of Medicaid Wednesday.  
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