Key Issues Await The Wyoming Legislature

Jan 9, 2015

Wyoming House of Representatives
Credit Bob Beck

For the next two months the State’s 90 legislators will gather in Cheyenne to consider a wide range of bills. Some ideas will be dead on arrival while others should generate considerable debate. One bill that will begin in the Senate would provide Medicaid health insurance to those who cannot afford health insurance and who do not qualify for subsidies under the affordable care act. Called Medicaid expansion it figures to generate a lot of debate, especially since the committee that’s tasked with crafting the legislation decided to ignore a bill proposed by the Wyoming Department of Health. The committee came up with its own approach. Lovell Representative Elaine Harvey is the co-chair of that committee. She says they came up with their plan after the Department of Health missed its November first deadline. 

“And so we picked the plan that we thought would most fit Wyoming value, needs…etc. And that was the Indiana plan.”

That plan is based on a health savings account that participants would use to purchase insurance. State Health officials say that the federal government verbally supported the Departments so called Share plan.  Critics of the committee plan say it has received no such endorsement. But Harvey says she flew to Washington to discuss it with federal officials and believes the committee bill will be supported. She rejects claims that it will take a long time for their bill to get federal approval and become law. 

“I do not, particularly because of my conversations with HHS. They said if we pass a bill in February there is no reason we couldn’t implement it in April. That they implement plans every quarter.”

Still Senator Bernadine Craft prefers the Share plan. But Craft admits that fighting too hard for that idea could put Medicaid expansion at risk. She says something has to pass.

Why we would not do something that would provide coverage for 17,600 citizens of Wyoming that currently have no insurance coverage. Why we would not do something that would help with the 200 million dollars in uncompensated care that our hospitals are having to write off.

“Why we would not do something that would provide coverage for 17,600 citizens of Wyoming that currently have no insurance coverage. Why we would not do something that would help with the 200 million dollars in uncompensated care that our hospitals are having to write off.”

The biggest objections to the bill seem to be from those who are worried that federal money that will be used to pay for the expansion will run out. 

Lawmakers will also be considering spending items at a time that oil prices are falling around the globe. Governor Matt Mead recently said that a 5-dollar a barrel drop in price means a loss of $35 million dollars in revenue to the state. Wyoming has taken a substantial hit in those prices since the fall. But Mead still has offered a variety of capital construction proposals that he calls investments in the state. He says savings and a diversified economy has given the state enough money to pay for these projects. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Steve Harshman says he likes Mead’s approach. 

“You know we have money that we will continue to spend to invest in the state and these one time infrastructure projects in our local communities, in our schools, community colleges and University of Wyoming.”

Senator Michael Von Flatern of Gillette is especially pleased that the governor is recommending $21 million dollars to improve the dangerous Highway 59  that runs through coal country.

“And by that improvement he’s going to have the flow of traffic increase, he’s going to make it safer for everybody to use that highway, and he’s going to improve the economic value of that highway itself.”

The legislature will also be asked to consider a couple of constitutional amendments, including one that would have voters decide once and for all if the state should continue to have an elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Senator Hank Coe chairs the Education Committee. He favors appointing rather than electing someone to run the Department of Education.

“Anybody 25 years or older can run for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and they are getting ready to run a $1.5 billion dollar business.”

On another education issue, Coe is also not a fan of increasing teacher salaries until they can get a better handle on the budget next year. The governor gives his annual State of the State message Wednesday morning a ten. You can hear the speech live on Wyoming Public Radio.