Vexing issues face legislature in final week

by david peck

The 2015 general session of the 63rd Wyoming Legislature should wrap up by the end of the week, Sen. Ray Peterson reported Tuesday, with a few issues still to be resolved as of his weekly report.

“We’ll probably end by noon on Friday,” Peterson said, noting that bills were worked on second and third reading Tuesday, with more third readings, concurrence work and bill signings scheduled for Wednesday.

“We’re pretty much done except for signing and concurrence,” he said.

Peterson’s bill to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated charity care (SF 145) was still working its way through the House of Representatives, he said, after being first reduced from $10 million to $5 million in the Senate, then amended to $3.3 million in the House. An additional amendment was passed this week that would “reach into” the endowment challenge fund, which is due to sunset this year, to fund a $1 million grant program for small hospitals with the greatest needs – those with cash reserves insufficient to cover 200 days of operations – to cover uncompensated charity care.

The bill passed the House on second reading Tuesday and was to come up for third reading on Wednesday, Peterson said.

The House leadership is generally not in favor of the bill, Peterson said, and it barely passed the Committee of the Whole (first reading) on Monday. He said some House members don’t like the formula and spending one-time money, which Peterson has admitted is a Band-aid on the funding problems facing small hospitals.

If the bill passes, it will undergo the concurrence process with the Senate version of the bill, which had a $5 million appropriation for uncompensated charity care.

“We’ll try to get some of that money back,” he said.

He said the legislature is putting millions of dollars into the University of Wyoming, so he asked, why not hospitals? Some have suggested that the issue become an interim study, but he called that approach “kicking the can down the road” for a problem that is only getting worse.

“Some hospitals are in a dangerous situation, and the legislature is not recognizing that or doing anything about it,” Peterson said.

Gun free zones

Another issue facing the Senate during the past week has been the bill to repeal most of the gun free zones act (HB 114), which has now been amended in the Senate to allow guns in schools, the Legislature and governmental meetings if approved by a local governing body like a school board.

Peterson has been wary of repealing the gun free zones act but likes the idea of local control.

“It’s now a bill I could support,” he said.

He said some have argued that having gun free zones puts a target on schools or other institutions because mass shooters will look for such places where there is less of a possibility they would be confronted.

“I somewhat agree with that,” Peterson said, noting that his 250 to 300 emails on the subject are split about 50-50 for and against the amended bill.

He noted that a school like Burlington might be 45 minutes from an officer of the law, so the school board might want to allow and train a staff member to be able to respond in case of an emergency, as long as the responding law enforcement officer knows who would be wielding the weapon so as to not cause additional confusion.

“Is it a school safety bill or a gun rights bill?” Peterson asked. “We’re trying to find a common sense solution.

HB 114 passed on second reading Tuesday.

A resolution calling for Wyoming to participate in calling for a constitutional convention to require the federal government to adopt a balanced budget was defeated by the Senate 22-7 Tuesday after wording in the resolution (HJ 4) became to watered down, Peterson said.

He said some legislators have feared that a constitutional convention wouldn’t be “one state, one vote” as proposed and that large states would prey on smaller states, so the language was weakened.

“I tried to get it back to an application instead of language like ‘intending’ or ‘thinking about it’,” Peterson said. “It was just a statement and not an application. Why send a resolution that says nothing? It became a vague statement, so the sponsors urged us to vote ‘no’ the way the resolution stood.

“It was embarrassing to send a resolution that says nothing. I hated to see it go, but it’s better to say nothing than something as stupid as this. The effort (for a balanced budget convention) is growing, but Wyoming has decided to sit on the sidelines and take a wait-and-see approach.”

Local government

Peterson did have some good news for local government. The supplemental budget passed this week, if agreed to by the Governor, allocates $10 million in additional funding for cities, towns and counties. Peterson said Big Horn County would see $71,390 in additional revenue, Lovell $28,859, Greybull $22,586, Frannie $19,688, Deaver $20,177, Cowley $26,010, Byron $25,251, Basin $15,713, Burlington $21,552 and Manderson $19,394.