Digital Privacy Task Force

Can Wyo protect personal data in techno era?

Digital privacy task force faces broad scope of work

Witnesses testify via Google Hangout; next meeting may be streamed

This week the Wyoming Legislature’s Task Force on Digital Information Privacy decided to develop legislation that will require the state and local public agencies to protect private data of Wyoming residents that the agencies hold in electronic formats. The new Task Force, which held its first meeting in Casper June 19, also decided to develop standards regulating law enforcement’s access to a person’s electronic data, including possibly requiring a warrant to search an electronic device confiscated in an arrest. The task force also agreed to review two pieces of legislation that failed in the 2014 session but were assigned as interim topics to the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee. One of those measures aims to establish the privacy rights of employees who use company-owned electronic devices – such as protecting social media or bank account passwords – while fairly assuring an employer the right to make certain a company-owned device is used appropriately by a worker. Technology has developed so rapidly that federal and state laws simply are not keeping up, according to a representative of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties in the digital world. In the meeting, the first testimony was from one of the task force’s own members. Flint Waters, the chief information officer for Wyoming’s Department of Enterprise Technology Services, outlined current state practices for handling data and noted they are based on administrative decisions rather being spelled out in law. The state, he said, needs to develop standards so its management of personal data will not depend upon the person who holds his position. He noted Microsoft officials compare the current tide of data “to the raindrop” while the next decade will flood society with “the ocean” of data. The EFF’s Adi Kamdar suggested there may be a need for an independent agency to oversee use of data and technology, such as automated license plate readers and facial recognition technology that when combined can reveal great detail about any person’s life and daily activities. Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a trade association that includes some of the biggest operators on the Internet, including eBay, PayPal, AOL, and Google, said the task force should learn first what laws already exist to protect consumers from fraud and other perils, and how users can employ existing technological services and tools to protect their private data themselves. He said policymakers should be more concerned about the use of information rather than the collection of information. The task force includes four legislators and four people appointed by the executive branch. Sen. Chris Rothfuss is chairman. At the end of the meeting, Sen. Cale Case said his greatest concern was the situation noted by Waters. “The state does not have an affirmative obligation to protect the information we do have,” he said. He and other task force members agreed that developing language to impose such obligation should be a high priority. With cooperation from Waters’ agency and LSO, the meeting Thursday was considered a “Beta test” of using technology such as Google Hangout to bring witnesses to the meeting. Kamdar spoke from San Francisco. Szabo said he was in an airport lounge. And committee member Even Brande, president of Handel Information Technologies, Inc. of Laramie, likewise was traveling. Brande testified via broadband  about his company’s methods of protecting the personal data of state social services clients. Rothfuss said it may be possible to make the next meeting available to the public via live streaming. The task force will meet in Lander July 31 and August 1. The location remains virtual at this point.
Comments are closed

Tension over EPA, Wind River Reservation boundary

Wisconsin groups dispute tribal authority, fuel fire

ESPC  report addresses questions about Indian Country law

Tribes scorn revival of assimilation and termination ideas

The Equality State Policy Center moved this week to provide objective information about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determination that Riverton and other lands lie within the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation. The EPA determination has been challenged by the State of Wyoming and others. Gov. Matt Mead and the Wyoming congressional delegation claim the EPA exceeded its authority when it made the decision. The decision and subsequent comments by local leaders in Fremont County stirred political and racial Fremont County. When a Wisconsin group – identified in 1994 as a “hate group,” according to the Casper Star-Tribune – announced plans for a workshop and conference June 13 and 14 in Riverton, Wind River tribal leaders quickly responded. They went to the news media with assertions that the groups, the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA) and the Citizens Equal Rights Foundation (CERF), use bigoted language and misrepresent the historic treaties and federal law that establish the legal framework under which tribal nations operate. “CERA’s dangerous ideas hark back to deeply harmful United States policies promoting Native American assimilation and termination of tribes and reservations,” Dean Goggles, who sits on the Northern Arapaho Business Council, told the Associated Press. The ESPC has compiled a report explaining the administrative and legal process that produced the boundary determination and answering other questions about its effects on people living in the disputed area. Titled “The Wind River Reservation Boundary Dispute – Some Facts,” the report uses a question-and-answer format to help explain the matter. The report notes that in 2008, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes jointly filed an application with the EPA for “Treatment as a State” (TAS) under the Clean Air Act. As part of the process, federal law required the EPA to determine whether the 1905 opening of 171,000 acres of reservation land to white settlement extinguished the reservation status of the land. On Dec. 13, 2013, the EPA approved the Tribes’ TAS status. It also issued an 83-page legal analysis concluding that the 171,000-acre area remains part of the reservation. The EPA decision is under appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Judicial District.

Wisconsin groups oppose tribal sovereignty

Unfortunately, tensions have been heightened by CERA and CERF, two groups known for their opposition to tribal sovereignty. Leaders of CER and CERF routinely distort facts about tribal sovereignty, according to Borderlands Research and Education (BRE), a Washington state group that tracks “anti-Indianism.” A recently released Borderlands bulletin lists a number of CERA/CERF distortions of the legal status of tribes and their treaty rights. You can read the Bulletin here.
Comments are closed

Felon voting rights restoration reviewed

Judiciary Committee eyes felon voting rights

Current law requires five-year wait after completing sentence

Parole Board wants restoration decision shifted to ‘ministerial function’

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee will address Wyoming’s handling of the restoration of felon voting rights this year. The panel’s chairman called for the drafting of two pieces of legislation focusing on the issue during a meeting in Rawlins Tuesday, May 13. The Equality State Policy Center supports restoration of felon voting rights. We believe that punishment should end upon
Sen. John Schiffer Chairs Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. John Schiffer
Chairs Senate Judiciary Committee

completion of sentencing requirements. Moreover, research has found that formerly incarcerated people are far less likely to commit another crime if they have their rights AND vote. Historically, stripping convicted felons of voting rights was one of the techniques used in the South to prevent African-Americans from voting. Mike Krampner, formerly an attorney in Wyoming and a Friend of the ESPC, asserts that it has nothing whatever to do with a person’s integrity or fitness to vote. It’s important to simplify the restoration of rights. The state should adopt procedures used in other states that restore the rights automatically when a sentence is completed and a person convicted of a felony no longer is under the supervision of the state. The committee wants to make the process more practical. Committee Co-Chairman John Schiffer, R-SD22, Kaycee, directed the Legislative Service Office (LSO) to draft a bill to remove the restoration authority from the Wyoming Parole Board. Parole Board member Doug Chamberlain (a former House speaker) said the decision to restore rights is based purely on facts and does not require a judgment of character. The board simply assesses whether the candidate meets the requirements for restoring rights as spelled out in state statutes. That’s a “ministerial decision,” Chamberlain said, and does not require the judgment of the board’s members. The second bill Chairman Schiffer asked LSO to draft will address qualifications for restoration of voting rights. Presently the state requires that: the convicted person must have been guilty of a non-violent felony or felonies related to a single incident; must successfully complete all sentencing requirements; and must wait five years. DOC Director Bob Lampert said prisoners are given packets that note their ability to have their rights restored after the five-year wait. But people forget and the former prisoners often cannot be found to remind them, he said. Schiffer said the new law should restore rights automatically to prisoners on the day of release. The restoration of rights should not be extended to people convicted of committing felonies in two or more incidents. Sen. Bruce Burns, R-SD21, Sheridan, said the draft law should be modeled after Wyoming’s felony expungement statute that allows expungement of drug-related felonies as well. The ESPC agrees that the ministerial responsibility should be placed with the Department of Corrections (DOC). The department holds the prisoner’s records. The new statutes also should require restoration of rights automatically upon completion of sentencing. The DOC can assess a felon’s record on the date of release from prison or parole and determine whether the felon meets the basic qualifications.  
Comments are closed

Bells toll at 2014 Workers Memorial Day commemoration

Photo of Workers Memorial Day commemoration in Cheyenne.

Aapril 28, 2014 Sarah Kellogg of SAFER reads names of workers killed on the job in recent months to people attending the annual Workers Memorial Day commemoration in the Capitol rotunda. Pastor Karen O’Malia tolls a bell for each name.

Felled workers remembered at Capitol ceremony

Advocates call for tougher penalties, more inspectors at OSHA

In 2012, Wyoming saw the number of people killed on the job rise to a disturbing five-year high when 35 workers died. Those 35 workers were remembered when Christ Lutheran Church Pastor Karen O’Malia rang a bell 35 times at the Wyoming commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday, April 28. The tolling of the bell reverberated through the Capitol rotunda. In conjunction with Workers Memorial Day, the Wyoming Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (WyCOSH) released a new report that illustrates the devastating effects workplace deaths have on families. The report features two stories of fathers whose sons were killed on the job. Titled “Preventable Deaths: Safety & Health in Wyoming,” the report also presents a list of 12 steps that state policy-makers and employers themselves should take to reduce and ultimately end the loss of life and serious injury in Wyoming workplaces. Those steps include recommendations for reducing health hazards at job sites and medical monitoring so workers do not develop chronic diseases over their careers due to exposure to silica or dangerous chemicals. Without strenuous efforts, more families will be left in the position of Ed Simmons, a Casper carpenter whose son Anthony died in a fall while working at Teton Homes just west of Casper on April 10, 2013. “You know, you just want to lay down and die,” Simmons says in the report. Simmons was slated to be among the speakers at the Wyoming commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day. But feeling the pain of the one-year anniversary of his son’s death and disappointed by a state report on the circumstances surrounding it, he decided that speaking out would not help other workers. “I wish I could believe I could make a difference, but I don’t,” he wrote in a text message to Kerry Drake, a Casper writer who worked on the WyCOSH report. Mark Aronowitz, an attorney with the Spence Association for Employee Rights, took the podium on Mr. Simmons’ behalf and told his story. And he respectfully disagreed with Ed Simmons’ assessment that his efforts cannot help to change the safety culture in Wyoming. Aronowitz noted that progress has been made in recent years because workers spoke up and demanded the attention of state policy-makers. The story of Ed Simmons and his son Anthony puts a human face on the statistics of fatality rates and injuries on the job. During the ceremony, representatives of six families rose to mark the death of one of their loved ones at a Wyoming job site. They provided very moving moments as the held up photos and noted the date of death, and noted comments like, “We miss him every day,” or “He was 65 and died two weeks before his retirement. Those named and date of death: Roger Ifland……………………………………..Aug. 10, 1981 Ashley Dawn Woodcock………………….Sept. 25, 2007 Nathan Vassallo-Perez…………………….May 5, 2011 David Morgan……………………………………Aug. 16, 2012 Jacob Dowdy…………………………………….Aug. 16, 2013 Chris Stassinos…………………………………Oct. 6, 2013 Wyoming State AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Kim Floyd offered condolences to the family present, then went on to tick off state and national injury, illness and fatality statistics that help  illustrate the problem. “It’s frustrating sometimes for us to address the issue of worker safety in Wyoming as we stand her today and observe Workers Memorial Day. Those of us involved in the effort to make employees safer at their workplaces haven’t seen the results we’re hoping to achieve.” He noted that Wyoming OSHA at its current staffing capacity would need 105 years to inspect every workplace in the state. And he argued that companies have publicly stated that stiffer penalties for safety law violations are needed. Floyd acknowledged the leadership of the Department of Workforce Services and their partnership with advocates in reaching Wyoming’s safety goals. “But I’m also here to tell them that we have more to do.” Wyoming experienced 33 workplace fatalities in 2008, 19 in 2009, 34 in 2010, 29 in 2011 – and 35 in 2012, federal statistics released in April 2014 show. This five-year high comes despite efforts by the Wyoming Legislature to entice employers with a grant program aimed at helping them build their company safety programs and an expanded courtesy inspection program. New data made available since the report went to press shows that Wyoming’s workplace fatality rate climbed to 12.2 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2012, up from 11.6 in 2011. The rate is more than three times higher than the national rate of 3.2. (The report includes a chart comparing Wyoming’s fatality rate to the national rate from 2006-2011 on Page 7.) The report includes state epidemiologist Mack Sewell’s assessment of progress made to change Wyoming’s poor culture of safety in the workplace. A story about recent fines imposed on the Sinclair Refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming, points out the importance of enforcement of safety laws and the need to assess fines when companies endanger workers. The fines levied against Sinclair have been a key to convincing its management of the need to abide by safety laws and provide the safe work environment that is every worker’s right. Finally, the report credits the state’s nation-leading efforts to reform drilling rules. Revisions to the state’s Special Well Servicing rules will provide an opportunity for OSHA to develop measures to protect people working in the oil patch from dangerous exposures to silica dust. Those exposures can lead to silicosis and other lung diseases, cancer and kidney problems. You can see the Bureau of Labor Statistics state fatality and injury data here: The Workers Memorial Day commemoration attracted considerable news coverage. You can read or see coverage of the event at these media websites: Channel 5 – KWGN, Cheyenne Casper Star-Tribune Wyoming Public Media Public News Service KGAB AM 650, Cheyenne Here are links to a video fo the 2014 Workers Memorial Day commemoration produced by Coleen Haines of the Wyoming Education Association. Part 1 Pastor Karen O’Mailia opening prayer; Mark Aronowitz speaks for Ed Simmons; families take podium to name their last loved ones. Sarah Kellogg reads list of names of those known to be killed in the past 18 months and remembers the Unknown Work. O’Malia tolls bell. Part 2 Marcia Shanor notes new WyCOSH report. AFL-CIO’s Kim Floyd acknowledges work already done, points to need for greater efforts. Part 3 Judge Gary Hartman reads letter from Gov. Matt Mead; Department of Workforce Services Joan Evans discusses recent effots to improve workplace safety. Part 4 Rep. Don Burkhart of Rawlins calls for tougher penalities. Rep. Mary Throne, minority leader in the Wyoming House from Cheyenne, calls on state to place a higher value on the workers who have built the state. Part 5 Rep. Lee Filer of Cheyenne announces plans to file legislation to establish an official state holiday for Wyoming’s Workers Memorial Day. Closing prayer from Pastor O’Malia.  
Comments are closed

MSHA calls out Arch Coal in miner’s death

Arch Coal put miners in hazardous positions

Pickups, dozer worked down hill, behind giant power shovel

Decrepit shovel lost ‘propel function;’ rolled back, crushed Dowdy’s truck

Arch Coal knowingly placed miners in hazardous positions when it moved shovels in the Black Thunder mine last year, and the practice was responsible for the death of miner Jacob Dowdy last year, federal mine inspectors charge.
Photo of Jacob Dowdy, miner killed in Aug. 16, 2013 acccident

Jacob Dowdy

The shovel was in poor condition and improperly maintained, the inspectors found. Inspectors for the Mine Safety and Health Administration released their investigation of the death of Dowdy, who was crushed inside his pickup on Aug. 16, 2013 mine when a huge shovel’s steering mechanism and brakes failed as it moved up a ramp. MSHA’s brief overview and detailed description of the accident follow. (The full report can be found here.) All of the following is copied directly from the report:


At 12:35 a.m. on August 16, 2013, Jacob Dowdy, Utility Miner, received fatal crushing injuries when a P&H electric shovel, model 2800 Mark II (see Appendix A Figure A),  was being moved out of the 4 West Pit coal seam area.  The shovel lost its ability to tram (propel function) and rolled freely down the grade striking several objects including high voltage electrical junction boxes, a Caterpillar D-11 bulldozer, and two Ford F350 pick-up trucks.  Mr. Dowdy was the operator of the first pick-up truck struck.  Mike Lewis, the miner in the second pick-up truck, was pinned and had to be extricated from the truck. The accident occurred due to a combination of three factors.  The shovel was being operated at or above the grade capabilities of the propel function, a steering shaft was twisted, and a steering linkage shaft was missing 50% of its connecting bolts.  Consequently, the steering clutches failed to engage properly, causing both steering clutches to disengage and allowed the shovel to freewheel down the grade resulting in the fatality.


The Black Thunder Mine is located 12 miles southeast of Wright, Wyoming on highway 450.  The mine produced approximately 93 million tons of coal in 2012 and employs 1,573 miners.  Miners work a 12 hour rotating shift schedule, two shifts per day,  and seven days a week.  Black Thunder Mine is operated by the Thunder Basin Coal Company LLC, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, Inc. Prior to the accident, the last regular (E01) inspection conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was completed on June 4, 2013.  No inspection event was open at the time of the accident.  The non-fatal days lost (NFDL) injury incidence rate for the mine in 2012 was 0.48, compared to the National NFDL rate of 1.00 for surface mines for the same period of time. Principal officials for the mine at the time of the accident were: Keith R. Williams………………… President and General Manager, Thunder Basin Coal Co. Kevin Hampleman………………. Mine Manager, Black Thunder Mine Tim W. McCreary………………… Safety Manager, Thunder Basin Coal Co. Les Riehemann………………… Step-up Supervisor, Black Thunder Mine


At 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 15, 2013, Jacob Dowdy, A-Crew Utility Miner, was assigned to perform various duties including cleaning and/or assisting in moving any electric shovels that were in need of those services.  The operation of shovel No. 3 was assigned to Anthony Gregory.  Gregory was told to finish loading coal out of the pit and then notify Les Riehemann, Step-up Supervisor, when he was finished.  Riehemann would then assign utility miners to assist in the moving of shovel No. 3.  After the coal loading was completed, Mike Lewis, Les Watt and John Shoun, Utility Miners, were assigned to help with the shovel move. The shovel was trammed six-tenths of a mile before starting up the north ramp.  Lewis called Riehemann for more help with moving shovel No. 3.  Riehemann was attempting to locate a utility miner to assist when Dowdy called over the radio that he was available to assist them.  Riehemann dispatched Dowdy to 4 West coal pit At 11:30 p.m., bulldozer operator Pat Wilder was dispatched to the 4 West Coal pit to assist the shovel in climbing up the ramp.  Wilder trammed the bulldozer down to the bottom of the ramp.  Wilder pushed a berm out to make the roadway wider and then waited for the shovel to get to the bottom of the final ramp.  The direction of travel for the shovel needed to be adjusted, so it was turned to the right and started up the final ramp.  The shovel travelled uphill without incident for another 50 yards and another turn was made to adjust direction.  Wilder assisted the shovel in turning by placing the bulldozer blade on the left side track to help hold the track in place while the steering clutches were disengaged and the left brake was set. After the second steering adjustment, the shovel continued uphill on the ramp.  During this time, the utility workers were positioned as follows; Shoun and Watt were in front of the shovel and Lewis and Dowdy were behind the shovel dropping cable loops from the utility pick-ups used to drag the shovel’s trailing cable.  The utility crew had dropped two loops off the truck.  Lewis’s truck couldn’t pull the cable up the hill so Dowdy attached his truck to Lewis’s truck with a sling.  The two trucks were facing uphill and were on the right side of the ramp, slightly behind the right side of the shovel. The shovel continued uphill.  All functions of the shovel appeared to be functioning normally to all persons involved until 12:35 a.m.  At that moment, the shovel stopped propelling and started freewheeling downhill.  Gregory was operating the shovel while Wilder was operating the bulldozer at the left rear of the shovel.  The bulldozer was at about a quarter throttle and the blade was in contact with the counterweights of the shovel.  Dowdy was in the first utility pick-up truck, and Lewis was in the second pick-up truck.  Both trucks were positioned on the right side of the ramp with Dowdy’s truck about 70 yards downhill from the shovel. Gregory immediately tried to engage the “propel” function with the joystick controls to stop the shovel.  Shoun and Watt, who were in front of the shovel, heard a loud bang or pop and the shovel started rolling downhill. Wilder felt the shovel start to move backwards and tried to throttle up and apply pressure to stop the shovel.  After the shovel started to move downhill, it pushed the bulldozer out and to the left of the shovel tearing off the lube station guard on the left track undercarriage of the shovel.  Gregory, after getting no response from the control sticks, dropped the bucket to the ground and started to apply stop buttons.  Lewis reported hearing shouts coming over the radio to “look out” as he saw the shovel move the bulldozer and then start moving downhill towards his location.  Lewis placed his truck in reverse and turned the wheel to the left and applied the accelerator. The shovel’s right track contacted Dowdy’s truck, crushing the truck.  The shovel then contacted Lewis’s truck impaling the truck on the “stinger,” just behind the left front wheel of the truck (see Appendix A photograph 2).  The stinger is a protective support where the trailing cable is attached to the shovel.  Lewis was pinned inside his truck by the dash where he remained until he was extricated and taken to the local hospital.  Dowdy received fatal injuries after the shovel crushed his truck. After the shovel stopped moving, Wilder called a mayday and dismounted the bulldozer. Watt came to Wilder’s aid as he was in shock.  Shoun started downhill and stopped to check on Dowdy.  It was apparent that Dowdy was deceased and he continued downhill to check on Lewis.  Gregory dismounted the shovel and was the first to reach Lewis.  After contacting Lewis, Gregory broke the passenger side window and noticed Lewis’s legs were pinned underneath the dash of the truck. Riehemann heard the mayday call and came to the area followed by utility miner Scott Hayden.  Hayden used the bulldozer to push a berm behind the right side track to ensure the shovel could not move.  The Mine Emergency Rescue Team arrived and Campbell County Emergency Management was also notified and dispatched to the accident site.  The Campbell County Fire Department completed the extrication of Lewis first, and then Dowdy.  The county ambulance service transported Lewis to Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette, Wyoming for treatment.  Dowdy’s body was received by Tom Eekhoff, Campbell County Coroner.  Gregory, Shoun, Watt, and Wilder did not receive injuries during this accident.


The accident occurred because the mine operator failed to correct known, unsafe shovel tram procedures and maintain the shovel in safe operating condition.  The victim was positioned behind the shovel when the shovel was ascending a steep grade that averaged almost the maximum recommended grade for this model of electric shovel.  The left side steering pin was twisted and the steering interlock pipe was missing 50 per cent of its bolts.  The right and left side shifter levers along with the right side shifter yoke showed excessive wearing and the right side spring cylinder rod was bent.  The damaged/worn parts prevented the machine from functioning safely by allowing the steering/drive mechanism to disengage from both clutches.  Once the clutches were disengaged, the machine freewheeled down the ramp crushing the victim’s truck resulting in the victim’s fatal injuries, and trapping another miner in a second truck.

*** The Wyoming Business Report published a story April 25 that provides a good synopsis of the MSHA report. It includes a photograph of the carnage. The Gillette News-Record published a good story April 25, but it is not accessible online without a subscription. The Casper Star-Tribune underplayed the story when it published a very short notice Saturday, April 26. Dowdy will be among Wyoming workers who have died on the job who will remembered Monday, April 28, as the Equality State Policy Center and its allies commemorate Workers Memorial Day in the Capitol rotunda in Cheyenne.  
Comments are closed