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ESPC & ACLU: Cease-and-Desist Unconstitutional Policy Discriminating Against Wyoming Voters

CHEYENNE, WY – The Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) delivered a cease-and-desist letter to Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray on Friday morning urging him to immediately end the discriminatory and unconstitutional policy of suspending the right to vote for an unknown number of Wyoming citizens. 

 The letter highlights the discriminatory practice by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, which violates both the United States Constitution and Wyoming Statute. It quotes the 2014 ruling McCutcheon v. FEC saying, “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders…” and the 2006 case Boustani v. Blackwell asserting,There is no such thing as a second-class citizen or a second-class American.”

“Every eligible Wyomingite that wants to vote, should be able to,” said Bri Jones with the Equality State Policy Center. “We’ve set up a Voter Hotline at (307) 314-2258. Anyone that encounters a problem casting a ballot early, absentee, or on Election Day should call the hotline immediately.”

Voters can cast ballots early at their County Clerk’s office or on Election Day next Tuesday, November 8th from 7 AM – 7 PM. A polling place locator and additional information can be found at EqualityState.org/WeVote.

The full letter can be accessed here.

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Vote By Mail Elections for Wyoming?

Written by Brooke Nisely

On September 15th the Joint Interim Corporations Committee met in Saratoga. One topic considered was changing the way Wyoming elections are administered by moving entirely to Vote By Mail (VBM) at the suggestion of the Wyoming County Clerks Association.

Currently three states conduct elections solely by mail (Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) and many have permanent VMB status as an option for voters. ESPC testified in favor of a VBM system because it increases voter turnout, simplifies the voting process, and because it saves taxpayer dollars.

A study conducted in 2003[1] on Oregon VBM resulted in significant results. The study found that 80.9% of individuals from every demographic prefer VBM. Women, the disabled, homemakers and those aged 26 to 38 reported to vote more often due to VBM. The study also indicated that VBM has no partisan advantage as a consequence of heightened voter turnout nor was there a difference between rural and urban voters.

In Washington[2], the former Secretary of State Sam Reed and current Secretary of State Kim Wyden, have take strong stances in support of VBM after a report was released in 2007. The report concluded that Washington’s VBM system boosted turnout, improved election accuracy and saved money.

A democracy operates at its full capacity with full citizen participation. Wyoming already has one of the most accessible legislatures in the country but we should be proactive in championing this Wyoming attribute. ESPC fully supports policies that allow maximum opportunity for civic engagement.

In addition to increased turnout and accessibility, VBM saves money and makes elections more affordable to administer. The Pew Center for States[3] found in two studies that if Colorado sent all registered voters ballots by mail they could cut cost by $1.05 per registered voter, and after the initial $1.5 million initial investment, Colorado would save $5 million over two fiscal years.

To review, Wyoming would benefit from a vote by mail system in three major ways: 

  • VBM would increase voter turnout,
  • make elections more accessible, and
  • save limited state and local resources.
At ESPC we believe in pushing our state government to better serve its citizens and we see VBM as a step forward to doing so.

The Joint Corporations Committee voted to not address VBM in the 2017 General Legislative Session and plans to return to the issue as an interim topic.

Additional Resources:

Wyoming County Clerks’ Association – Mail Ballot Election Pros and Cons
Wyoming County Clerks’ Association – Election Costs Survey Summary



[1]
http://www.prc.gov/docs/69/69897/Southwell%20Summary%20Report.pdf

[2] Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed. “Washington State’s Vote-By-Mail Experience.” 2007

[3] Cuciti, P. “Changing the Way Colorado Votes.” Pew Center on the States. 2012

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Farewell to the ‘Massacre Rule’

Wyoming just took a big step toward improving job safety.

On Friday the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration commission adopted new reporting rules that require employers to inform state safety regulators of any job-related injury that requires the hospitalization of a worker. Previous requirements dictated reporting an incident only if it resulted in the death of a worker or the hospitalization of at least three workers.

Worker safety advocates in Wyoming criticized the old rules for years, saying it meant a massacre or a death had to occur before anyone learned of serious on-the-job injuries. The change means that Wyoming OSHA will investigate the circumstances behind injuries serious enough to require hospitalization.

It’s an important change. In one of the many legislative hearings in recent years discussing Wyoming’s miserable job-safety record, a Riverton-area oil field worker reported that he had been electrocuted on the job. It turns out that luck was with him and one of his co-workers was a volunteer EMT. Though his heart had stopped beating — as he put it, he died — the EMT successfully revived him. Because he did not die and stay dead, and because three people were not hospitalized, the incident was not reported to OSHA. With no report, no investigator went to the site to determine why the electrocution occurred and what could be done to prevent similar incidents. There has been enough concern about this weak rule nationally that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration implemented the change which took effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Wyoming operates its own safety and health program; however, its safety and health rules must be at least as stringent as federal rules. When federal OSHA announced its change in reporting rules, it told businesses located in such State Plan States to “check with their state plan for the implementation date of the new requirements.” Though it encouraged these states to adopt the rules on Jan. 1, federal OSHA conceded that “some may not be able to meet this tight deadline.” Wyoming did not meet the deadline.

The commission finally acted at its Sept. 11 meeting in Casper and adopted the federal injury Reporting and Recordkeeping Rule as an emergency rule. It takes effect immediately. The revised rule requires that employers report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours. It adds the requirement to report all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, all amputations and all losses of an eye within 24 hours.

Approval as an “emergency rule” means the rule is in effect for 120 days, during which time the state can move through its own rulemaking process. OSHA Director Dan Bulkley told the commission Friday that the Office of the Attorney General has committed to promulgating the final rule within 120 days. (The emergency rule could be extended another 120 days, if necessary, Bulkley said.) Commissioner Peter Perakos of Cheyenne called the adoption a “huge step,” but he and other commissioners worried about alerting employers to the new rule. In its motion to adopt the rule, the commission directed state staff to ask the Workers Compensation division to notify employers.

Perakos urged OSHA to take out ads in newspapers in Casper and Cheyenne. OSHA staff noted that the increased reporting means a bigger investigation load for the agency. In fact, since the first of the year, state OSHA has received hospitalization reports from some companies that operate outside Wyoming as well as in-state, Bulkley said.

Wyoming OSHA functions on a tight budget. The small staff of compliance inspectors, the investigators who must examine workplace fatalities (and now injuries that require a hospitalization), suffers from high turnover and lacks experience. OSHA only has nine compliance inspector positions. Two are vacant and two have just been filled by recent college graduates.

Gov. Matt Mead and the legislators who say they don’t want to see workers injured or killed should determine how to ramp up the division’s budget. Protecting the state’s workforce is critical to maintaining a vibrant economy. Meanwhile, we can all bid a not-so-fond farewell to the old massacre rule.

— Dan Neal works as a volunteer with WyCOSH from his home in Casper. WyCOSH — the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health — is a project of the Equality State Policy Center. Published by WyoFile on Sept 15, 2015
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Citizens left out of the process

Jones: Citizens were left out of E. coli decision CasperStarTribune 8/21/15

Raise your hand if you knew about the state’s new E. coli plan before it was finalized. The Casper Star-Tribune recently reported that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, in one broad stroke, reclassified more than 76 percent of Wyoming’s streams from primary to secondary contact recreation. This means that roughly 88,000 stream miles are now allowed to have five times as much E. coli in them after very little public input from the people that use them most. This sweeping reclassification was years in the making but the fact is, almost none of us knew anything about it. Setting aside the merits of the decision, it’s apparent to the Equality State Policy Center that the DEQ failed to adequately reach out to the citizens and groups that would be most affected. While many conservation districts, which represent mainly agricultural users, were closely involved in the development of this plan, camping organizations, outfitter and guide services, and recreation groups were never notified. For example, in 2014 alone the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander led 121 expeditions into Wyoming’s mountains — and NOLS received no outreach from the DEQ. Gary Cukjati, Director of NOLS’ Rocky Mountain Branch, wrote to the EPA: “At no time…did DEQ contact NOLS, neither informing us of the existence of the process nor seeking comment on their decision, in spite of our being a significant commercial recreation user. It is our understanding that other outfitting operations were similarly unaware of the process.” He goes on to say that, as evidenced from the DEQ’s own record, “there was a notable lack of comments from the recreating public, who will ultimately bear the impacts of this decision.” What this means is, unless you stumbled upon one of two public notices buried in the classified section of this paper or caught one story in the Pinedale Roundup, you wouldn’t have known about the change. If it did cross your radar, you probably wouldn’t have understood the impact. For example, in a 30-second Wyoming Public Radio piece a DEQ spokesperson asserted the rule would only affect water bodies that flow occasionally. We now know that’s not at all the case; this decision reclassified scores of standing streams across Wyoming that are routinely used for recreation. A vigorous and open debate is what our country was founded on. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “…whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Our opportunity to participate in government and the management of our tax dollars, government agencies, and public assets is not and never should be limited to casting the occasional ballot. And the burden rightfully rests with elected leaders and public employees to deliberately cultivate a culture of openness and public access to government functions and decisions. It happens all too often that stakeholders and citizens are carelessly, and seemingly deliberately, left out of important decisions. Thankfully, in this instance, the DEQ has the opportunity to revisit this sweeping decision and re-open the process to allow for more comprehensive participation of Wyoming’s citizens and interested recreation groups. And we are calling on the DEQ to do so with earnestness and intent. The leaders we elect and employ must be thoughtful about public engagement. We shouldn’t have to be outraged or go to court to be heard. Good public policy should be crafted, debated, and enacted in the sunshine and this recent stream reclassification is no exception. Brianna Jones is the executive director of the Equality State Policy Center. The ESPC is a Wyoming fiscal and good-government watchdog organization.
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Wind River Native Advocacy Group Joins Equality State Policy Center

WRNAC-Capitol The Wind River Native Advocacy Center (WRNAC) joined as a coalition member of the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) in late April. “We’re delighted to have WRNAC as a coalition partner. They are doing needed and valuable work to inform and empower the citizens of the Wind River Indian Reservation,” said Brianna Jones, ESPC Executive Director. Formed in 2014, WRNAC is a not-for-profit, which seeks to empower Native Americans in Wyoming and focuses on reducing disparities in health, education, and income and in building racial equality and cultural understanding throughout the state. The WRNAC website is http://www.wrnativeadvocacy.org/. “We joined the ESPC so that we could have a stronger voice to educate the State of Wyoming about our unique roles as being both Wyoming and sovereign tribal nation citizens as it affects our health, economy and schools,” said Clarisse Harris on behalf of the WRNAC.  “We look forward to working in coalition with other Wyoming organizations through the ESPC to exercise our equal rights to be heard by the Wyoming State Legislature.” Over the past several years, ESPC has worked in communities on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Citizen Lobbyist Training is a signature ESPC program that trains citizens to become effective advocates. ESPC is expanding the program into communities across Wyoming. “In collaboration with our newest member, we’ll bring Citizen Lobbyist Training back to the Wind River Indian Reservation and surrounding communities,” mentioned Jones. “It’s a powerful program that gives citizens the tools they need to effectively advocate for themselves and their community.” The ESPC is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of 30 Wyoming organizations working to build civic engagement and advocating for accessible government, transparent and equitable tax policy, and on behalf of working Wyomingites.
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