Archive | February, 2013

Tip pooling bill dies

Sponsor gives up on tip pooling

Withdraws bill from “free committee” consideration

HB112 took wages for distribution to others by employers

The tip pooling bill finally expired this week when the sponsor withdrew it from consideration by a conference committee Thursday.

Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff

Sponsor Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff convinced legislative leadership to name a “free committee” to take the bill up. Unlike an ordinary conference committee, which is restricted to working only on the differences in the versions of the legislation passed by the House and Senate, a free committee can work on all aspects of a bill. But Petroff called off the discussion. In a Thursday story that appeared in the Sheridan Press, she blamed the media for distorting the bill’s effect. “Because the perception has gotten so far off base because of some of the media coverage, we didn’t want to proceed and have people think we were trying to harm the employees,” Petroff told the Sheridan paper. Though couched in assurances that the bill, HB 112 Tip distribution policies, would ensure fair pooling of tips to a “team” of employees, the ESPC believes one intention of the sponsors was to legalize an employer’s use of money that servers contribute to tip pools to pay the federal minimum wage owed other workers. Here’s how it would work: State law says a worker cannot be considered a tipped employee unless they receive at least $30 per month in tips. Most bus staff and many other workers don’t meet that threshold. Employers must pay those workers the federal minimum wage of $7.25. But if employers can force those workers into a tip pool, they will receive more than $30 a month in tips. Once a worker hits that threshold, the employer can pay the state authorized “tipped minimum” wage of $2.13/hour rather than the federal minimum of $7.25/hour. With the pool set up, the employer then can close her checkbook and take money from the tips pool to bring the bus staff (and/or other “qualifying” employees) up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The bill is dead for 2013, however, the restaurant industry will not give up its effort to get their hands on wages earned via tips. Tip pools have been legalized in many other states. They are authorized under federal law with fewer restrictions than those Rep. Petroff included in her bill. Unfortunately, most of the targets of this legislation are low-wage workers with few benefits. A 2011 paper titled “Tip-Misappropriation, Minimum Wage, and other Common Service Industry Wages Issues” notes this: “The typical tipped employee is an adult woman who is poor and has few fringe benefits. Of all tipped employees, 70% are women, 47% have a high school education or less, 45% are age 30 or older, and almost 15% are below the federal poverty line (more than double the rate for all workers). “Compared with all working people, food service workers are only about half as likely to have health insurance, sick leave, and retirement benefits, and only two-thirds as likely to have paid vacations.”
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Tip pooling and fuels tax

Tip pooling bill on edge of grave

Fails in conference committee; Will it rise again?

Hike in fuels tax clears Senate; pension bill in limbo

A bill allowing restaurant owners to establish and manage tip-sharing pools may be dead for the session – or maybe not. Meanwhile, more money for Wyoming roads will be coming soon in the wake of the passage of a 10-cents-a-gallon hike in fuel taxes. Servers in the state have been watching the tip pooling measure. The Senate on Wednesday approved House Bill 112 Tip distribution policies, engrossed, but tacked on two amendments. Both addressed criticism that the bill imposes a wealth distribution plan on tipped employees and paved the way for employers to use tips taken in by one server to bring the earnings of other servers up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Sen. Drew Perkins, SD29, R-Casper, authored one of the amendments to make the bill, as he said, more capitalistic. His change gave servers the right to “opt out” of an employer’s tip pooling plan. Several critics noted that server could expect fewer and less desirable work shifts. A second amendment added on Third Reading by Sen. Curt Meier, SD3, R-LaGrange, aimed to prevent employers from using the tip pool to pay the “offset” necessary to assure that all employees make at least $7.25/hour. The language was criticized as vague and off the mark when debated on the floor but Meier made his intention clear and the amendment was approved. The Meier amendment became the linchpin of compromise efforts in the conference committee. The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, HD16,

Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff

R-Jackson, accepted the Perkins amendment but called the Meier amendment “circular” and said it would make the tip pooling unworkable. She said employers already use voluntary tip pools to bring the pay of some employees, such as bussers and drink servers, up to the federal minimum wage, Federal law allows employers to pay a base minimum wage of$2.13/hour to tipped employees. If their total tips do not make up the difference between the base minimum and the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, the employer must make up the difference. The payment is known as the “tip offset.” Petroff said employers already use shared tips to pay that difference, essentially taking wages from one employee to ensure that a second employee’s pay meets the federal minimum. Sen. Phil Nicholas, one of the Senate members of the conference committee, complained that the bill “sanctions the food industry to run roughshod over everybody.” When fellow Sen. Leland Christensen noted that 47 other states allow tip pooling, Nicholas challenged him to show a statute from another state that does the same thing as HB112. The bill puts the state in the position of enforcing the federal minimum wage law, Nicholas said. “It’s not the state’s responsibility to enforce federal law,” Christensen made a motion to approve a compromise leaving the Perkins amendment in the bill but removing the Meier amendment. Petroff supported the motion but Perkins, Nicholas, Rep. Patrick Goggles, HD33, R-Ethete, and Rep. Mike Madden, HD40, R-Buffalo, opposed it. “We’ve finished it,” Madden said as the conference committee adjourned. Madden said later that he believes the bill is dead. Christensen indicated Thursday evening that an effort may be made to resume the discussion with a second conference committee.

Other bills

Fuels tax hike approved –The Senate passed HB 69 Highway funding on Third Reading on an 18-12 vote. With no amendments on the bill it was immediately signed by the House Speaker and Senate President as House Enrolled Act 38. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

ROLL CALL

  Ayes:  Senator(s) Anderson JD S02, Anderson JL S28, Burns, Christensen, Craft, Emerich, Esquibel, F., Geis, Hastert, Hines, Johnson, Landen, Nicholas P, Nutting, Ross, Rothfuss, Schiffer and Von Flatern.   Nays:  Senator(s) Barnard, Bebout, Case, Coe, Cooper, Dockstader, Driskill, Hicks, Meier, Perkins, Peterson and Scott.   Ayes 18    Nays 12    Excused 0    Absent 0    Conflicts 0

Pensions –A bill originally aimed at strengthening three of the state’s pension plans also must go through a conference committee to address major differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. House Bill 250 Public employee retirement plans originally directed the state to pay for increasing contributions to the pension funding formula. The Senate added amendments requiring state and other public employees to pay half those contributions. A conference committee has been appointed but as of late Thursday afternoon, no meeting had been scheduled.  
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Guns in schools 2

Educators don’t want guns in class

Panel hears the good, bad, and ugly about guns in schools

UW, college presidents,districts, teachers, police oppose HB 105

The haunting tones of the theme to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly rang from Wyoming Gun Owners Association Director Anthony Bouchard’s cell phone as yet another witness stepped up to tell the Senate Education Committee why it’s a bad idea to allow concealed guns in state schools, community colleges, and at athletic events. Bouchard quickly turned the sound off, but not before Chairman Hank Coe asked if Clint Eastwood was joining the packed hearing of HB 105, Citizens’ and Students Self-Defense Act. The bill opened the door to guns in schools by allowing school employees with concealed carry permits to take a concealed gun into school district buildings after notifying the school district superintendent and school principal or other person responsible for a district building. University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan outlined a long list of reasons why the UW campus should remain gun free, chief among them the fact that college-age students are much safer on university campuses that bar guns compared to the risks they face off campus. Weapons in classrooms “would have a chilling effect” on academic instruction for both students and faculty, he said. Jason Vela, chief of police for the Northern Wyoming College District said the Gillette campus has well-trained officers. He was among many speakers who noted that obtaining a concealed carry permit does not require any crisis training. Proponents hit the gun lobby’s often recited talking points that ‘a good guy with a gun might stop a bad guy with a gun’ and that recent gun mass gun shootings have taken place in “gun-free zones.” Bill sponsor Rep. Allen Jaggi referred to holders of state concealed carry permits as “this select group.” But opponents noted that a person pulling a private weapon to fire at a shooter might find himself the target of a SWAT team responding to an emergency at a school. “A person with a gun will be taken out,” said Steve Barlow, assistant dean for student services at Central Wyoming College in Riverton. Others expressed worries that students would quickly learn which teachers “carry” and could try to get their guns. One administrator expressed deep concern about allowing guns in school athletic events. He said he once had to shield a door to a referees’ dressing room from a hostile crowd. He said he faced them down but wondered how differently he would have reacted if he knew the crowd was armed. Others noted that virtually all teachers have stories of confrontations with angry parents. Some get physical, one Cheyenne administer said. He reported that a parent had to be pulled off a school employee the parent attacked in a school office. Upon conclusion of nearly two hours of testimony, Chairman Coe called for a motion. When none of the committee members offered a motion on the bill, Coe declared HB105 dead for the session. (Editor’s note: Jason Vela’s name and title were corrected Feb. 9.)
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Guns in schools

Senate Ed panel eyes concealed guns in schools bill

Measure also OKs guns on UW, college campuses

Other action: Public pension bill clears first Senate floor vote

The Senate Education Committee will take testimony on a controversial House bill Friday morning that allows certain people to take concealed guns into schools and other buildings. Current law bars guns from most public schools. House Bill 105 Citizens’ and Students Self-Defense Act allows school employees with concealed carry permits to take a concealed gun into school district buildings after notifying the school district superintendent and school principal or other person responsible for a district building. The committee, under Chairman Hank Coe of Cody, will open the morning hearing at 8 a.m. (Feb. 8, 2013) in room S-11. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-HD19, Lyman. Under HB105, parents or guardians of students could carry a gun into their student’s school provided they notify the person responsible for the building and they have a concealed carry permit. The measure also allows anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon to take a gun into any facility at a Wyoming college or the University of Wyoming. It also specifically allows those with concealed carry permits to take a concealed gun to any athletic event conducted on public property. The measure is one of a passel of bills that either liberalize Wyoming gun laws or attempt to thwart anticipated new federal gun control laws in the wake of shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and elsewhere that claimed dozens of lives. Proponents have taken the position that more guns in schools might have prevented some of the deaths in the mass shooting in Connecticut and elsewhere.. Opponents say that the potential for accidents in schools or heated arguments at athletic events that could turn violent make this poor public policy for Wyoming.

Public pensions

Public pensions again were addressed in the Senate Thursday when Sen. Curt Meier, R-SD3, LaGrange, explained a bill that will pour $5.5 million into the system in FY 2013 and FY 2014. House Bill 250 Public employee retirement plans is part of an effort to have all the state’s retirement plans fully funded in 30 years, or 2042. It increases employee contributions to the plan by .5% beginning Sept. 1, 2013. Employer contributions to retirement funding will increase .5% on Sept. 1, 2014. In what is, in effect, a pay increase, Meier noted that the bill calls for employers to pay the additional employee contribution due Sept. 1 2013. The bill Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas, R-HD10, Laramie, reminded senators that properly financing the funds maintains a good plan that serves both the state and its employees. He noted that legislators considered closing the existing defined benefit plans to move to a 401k-like defined contribution plan for state employees. A study of the cost of closing the existing plan revealed that it would cost the state about $1 billion, he said. Nicholas and Meier were among the senators backed the very conservative plan on a voice vote in Committee of the Whole. The bill still must pass second and third readings.

Voting rights

Also on Thursday, Senate leadership referred to the Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee a bill that will ease restrictions on restoring voting rights to non-violent felons. The measure passed the Wyoming House Wednesday. State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R –HD43, Cheyenne, hopes to make it easier for non-violent felons to become voters. He drafted HB 129 Voting rights, which would reduce the waiting period for restoration of rights from five years after completion of any sentence, probation and parole requirements to just one year. The bill represents an effective way to help disenfranchised citizens become active participants in civic life.

Still of concern

Two other worrisome bill were passed by the House and sent to the Senate. House Bill 228 Transfer of federal lands – study funds a study of transferring all federal lands in Wyoming to the state or private individuals (Remember, I get Titcomb Basin), except for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, Devils Tower and Fossil Butte national monuments, Fort Laramie, and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. House Bill 237 Unemployment – Worker misconduct requires the state to deny unemployment insurance benefits to workers who are terminated for “willfully” doing something the employer considers against her/his interests. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Tom Reeder, R-HD58, Casper. A pro-job safety bill, HB95 Railroad crossings-on-track vehicles, won unanimous approval this week in the Senate Transportation committee. The proposed law would require drivers to obey all crossing signals at railroad crossings when an “on-track vehicle” used by right-of-way repair crews approaches the crossing. The bill is a safety measure aimed at protecting both the public and railroad maintenance workers.
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Voting rights

Make it easier to restore voting rights

Bill cuts waiting period for ex-felons from 5 years to 1

Feb. 4 last day for Committee of Whole in house of origin

A bill easing restrictions on restoring voting rights to non-violent felons looks likely to be heard on the floor of Wyoming’s House of Representatives Monday. The first floor debate in each house is called “Committee of the Whole.” If a bill is approved in Committee of the Whole, the Second and Third REading will follow on three consecutive days. (A bill can be amended in each of these three debates.) Since we’re at the halfway point of the 40-day General Session, any House Bills or Senate Files that are not brought up Feb. 4 for the first of these three potential floor debates in their chamber of origin will die. State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R –HD43, Cheyenne, long has sought to make it easier for non-violent felons to become voters. Wyoming, he said, imposes the “third-worst” restrictions in the nation limiting restoration of voting rights for felons. Virginia and Kentucky prohibit restoration of voting rights after conviction for any felony.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer

  This year Rep. Zwonitzer drafted HB 129 Voting rights, which would reduce the waiting period for restoration of rights from five years after completion of any sentence, probation and parole requirements to just one year. The Equality State Policy Center stands firmly in support of the measure as an effective way to help disenfranchised citizens become active participants in civic affairs. In Wyoming, nearly 6 percent of the population has been convicted of a felony, according to the American Civil Liberty Union’s Jennifer Horvath. She noted restoration of voting rights can improve public safety. Research has shown that former felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes. The Department of Corrections supports the bill, noting that part of the system’s rehabilitation efforts including promoting “pro-social behavior.” In short, people who can and do the right thing in one aspect of social life will act positively in other areas of life. The Equality State Policy Center conducts voter education and mobilization efforts in low-income precincts in communities across the state. Volunteer canvassers often are surprised at the high number of people they meet who cannot vote because they were convicted for committing a felony. Many ex-felons are not aware that they can or could have had their voting rights restored five years after completion of sentence. Zwonitzer’s bill improves the restoration process by turning it over to the Department of Corrections, where it can be integrated with other correctional programs. On completion of sentence, the person would be issued a certificate that notes voting rights can be restored one year later by filing an application to the department. An application would be issued with the certificate.

Also in Committee of the Whole …

Supporters of the idea of keeping public lands in public hands should watch what happens to House Bill 228 Transfer of federal lands – study. The measure seeks an $18,000 study of transferring all federal lands in Wyoming to the state or private individuals (I’ll take Titcomb Basin), except for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, Devils Tower and Fossil Butte national monuments, Fort Laramie, and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. That’s right, all the U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands, including wilderness, and national wildlife refuges could be transferred not just to the state but to private parties. There’s another effort to undermine workers that could come up in Committee of the Whole in the House. House Bill 237 Unemployment – Worker misconduct would require the state to deny unemployment insurance benefits to workers who are terminated for “willfully” doing something the employer considers against her/his interests. This potentially could discourage reporting violations of workplace safety rules. The supplemental budget bill will be heard this week. The Legislature uses special rules for the bill, which follows mirror processes in the House and Sentate. It likewise must get through Committee of the Whole on Monday. Under the special rules, each chamber hears an explanation of the bill during Committee of the Whole but amendments are prohibited. Legislators are urged to bring amendments for Second and Third Readings. The mirror bills are HB1 General government appropriations and SF1 General government appropriations-2. The bills outline about $223.7 million in additional state spending. The Senate has only one other measure listed by Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas on its General File (the list of bills waiting to be heard). The measure, SF 109 Highway and road funding, would use a diversion of severance tax revenues to send $53.5 million to the Department of Transportation for highways; $14.3 million to counties for roads; and $3.6 million to cities and towns for streets. Those diversions would occur in FY2014. The amounts are projected to increase in FY2015 and 2016. On adjournment Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee will consider HB 95 Railroad crossings – on-track vehicles. The bill will require drivers to obey all crossing signals at railroad crossings when an “on-track vehicle” used by right-of-way repair crews approaches the crossing. The bill is a safety measure aimed at protecting both the public and railroad maintenance workers.
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