Lawmakers reflect on unusual session

Mar 8, 2013

Senators debate a bill during the legislative session, 2013

It’s been over a week since the Wyoming legislature wrapped up the 2013 session.  It was a session that many lawmakers called unusual, mainly due to the unexpected legislation that removed powers from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.  The other surprise was that the interaction between legislators and the public got heated at times, especially during debate on gun bills.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck spoke with a number of legislators about the session and has this report.

CALE CASE:  It’s been a very different session I think, that whole Senate File 104, that Cindy Hill Department of Education bill…that was a different way to start. 

BOB BECK:  That is State Senator Cale Case of Lander who’s served in the legislature for over 20 years.  He takes issue with the way the legislature solved its dispute with Superintendent Hill. Lawmaker’s stripped her powers and put someone else in charge at the Department of Education. 

CASE:  I think we went about the Superintendent thing the wrong way.  I think that would have been better following the process of impeachment if that were warranted.  And that whole issue doesn’t solve the turmoil in the department which still remains and I am disappointed about that.

BECK:  Gillette Representative Gregg Blikre voted for the change because he thought the legislature’s education policies needed to be followed through with.

GREGG BLIKRE:  I can’t say I’m happy about it and in fact I would have loved it if we didn’t have to deal with that.  I’m sure most of us would say that.  But in long term, I mean those changes were made in the Auditor’s office some years ago and it seems to have worked to produce a good result.

BECK:  Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas also says it was a difficult decision…but the right one.  But he notes that normally lawmakers ease into a session and this year was different.

PHIL NICHOLAS:  The tension during the starting at the beginning of the session to the middle was about as high as I can remember.

BECK:  Nicholas says interaction with the public over social issues added to that tension.  He blames that on the fact that better organized lobbying groups have been formed to focus on a single issue.

NICHOLAS:  I’ve always said that if you are only focused on one issue, whether it be guns, or bibles in the classroom, it allows you to have a view that is fairly narrow. 

BECK:  But Nicholas says those lobbying groups were good at rounding up their supporters and getting them to contact lawmakers in greater numbers. Lawmakers say that some of that interaction featured both threatening and sometimes racist comments.  Senator Case says it’s an unfortunate part of the process.

CASE:  Sometimes I think people just make a profession of nasty notes and hit send.  Sometimes folks want to engage in thoughtful dialogue and sometimes they just want to tell you off.  And certainly around I think the second amendment and some of the other stuff…it got kind of nasty.  And that was too bad.

BECK:  Representative Blikre says when they debate gun issues or topics like domestic partnerships it can get tense on and off the floor.

BLIKRE:  Emotion takes over in a lot of cases, so it does get chaotic. 

BECK:  Are they necessary though…do we need to have these discussions do you think?

BLIKRE:  Yeah, I think so. 

BECK:   Representative Stan Blake…a Democrat…left the session disappointed about a few issues. 

STAN BLAKE:  I was opposed to the fuel tax, because we are banking money and I was opposed to that and another thing Medicaid expansion.  We are leaving 17-thousand people without insurance and we could have very simply have done that this session, instead of having studies and see what happens next year.

BECK:  Ethete Democrat Patrick Goggles says his biggest disappointment was in not approving the Medicaid expansion…but he also thought the state could have used money it put into savings to pay for a range of needs. 

PATRICK GOGGLES:  I do think we are stockpiling our investments into savings and we probably could have used some of that to fund some of the projects we did this year.

BECK:  Lawmakers say that they don’t have the P-R machine that some of the lobbying organizations have and so they are spending the next few weeks explaining their actions to people back home.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.