COWBOY POLITICS: Christensen votes down Medicaid expansion and other news from the State Legislature

By on February 10, 2015

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The Wyoming Senate put a nail in the coffin of Medicaid expansion for Wyoming for another year, as the Legislature wrapped up the fourth week of the eight-week 2015 session last Friday.

Bill SF129, SHARE Medicaid Plan, failed 11-19, and the House Labor Committee stopped its last minute work on an alternate expansion plan when it heard of the decisive defeat. So an estimated 17,600 low-wage adults who were expected to apply remain uninsured, left with the sole options of using hospital emergency rooms or foregoing healthcare.

Meanwhile, the major issue for week five is the initial explanation/debate of the $170 million supplemental appropriations bill by the full House and Senate.

Here is the roll-call vote on SF129:

Ayes: Senator(s) Anderson J.D., Case, Craft, Emerich, Esquibel, Hastert, Johnson, Nicholas Pres, Pappas, Rothfuss, Von Flatern

Nays: Senator(s) Anderson J.L., Barnard, Bebout, Burns, Christensen, Coe, Cooper, Dockstader, Driskill, Geis, Hicks, Kinskey, Landen, Meier, Perkins, Peterson, Ross, Scott, Wasserburger

Sen. Leland Christensen was one of a handful of senators who rose to speak against SF129 on third reading on Friday, reading from prepared notes. You can hear the debate in the archived audio from a link on the home page of the Legislative Service Office Website. Look for the late morning of Feb. 6. There was good debate in favor by Sens. Von Flatern, Pappas, Craft and Nicholas, among others. Joining Christensen in vigorous opposition was Sen. Charlie Scott. They mentioned the inevitable failure of the federal government to keep its promise to pay 90 percent of the cost of expansion, and both predicted the inability of the Legislature to stop the coverage when the funding fell short.

So the House will not talk about Medicaid expansion in 2015, and about 17,600 people who were expected to use their new eligibility for Medicaid will spend at least another year without health insurance. Hospitals will continue to struggle with uncompensated care costs. The Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Solutions and Wyoming Business Alliance lobbied diligently for expansion. The governor and Department of Education had teed up a plan that would have included incentives borrowed from private insurance and would have been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The 2015 legislative session was a wasted opportunity, a victim to politics over people.

The Wyoming Liberty Group worked against Medicaid expansion. The group’s representatives never testified publicly, but many legislators espoused their positions.

Firefighters and other updates

Low-income adults typically are not politically active and don’t constitute a compelling political voice at the Capitol. By contrast, professional firefighters showed up in force to lobby against SF123, which would have eroded their collective bargaining with cities. The result was a final vote of 13-14-3.

House and Senate members filed about 400 proposals for the 2015 session. Several died for lack of committee action by Friday, and several more could die on Monday, which is the deadline for Committee of the Whole, followed closely by deadlines for second and third readings in houses of origin. Meanwhile, committees have begun work on bills sent from the other chambers.

A proposed constitutional amendment to remove the superintendent of public instruction from the Wyoming Constitution was killed in the House early in the session, and the Senate Education Committee never brought it up, so that is dead for now.

Remember to check “Failed House Standing Committee Votes” on the LSO Website for bills voted down in committee. This new feature is a great help to people who are trying to track bills from a distance.

Also, remember to read “engrossed” versions of bills, which incorporate amendments as the bills move from one chamber to the other.

Weeks five and six will be four days long, providing a Feb. 13-16 recess so legislators can visit home (and shake illnesses being passed around the Capitol).

Supplemental Budget Bill SF1 and HB1

A major issue in this short week is House and Senate work that begins Monday on proposed changes to the 2014-15 state biennial budget, called the supplemental budget bill. The Joint Appropriations Committee has been working on this bill for months, and it will resist amendments to add spending. It starts with $8.7 million in General Fund and Budget Reserve Account. It includes appropriations of $112.7 million from revenues contingent on investment performance in 2015 and $166 million continent on 2016 earnings, $4.8 million in federal funds and $7.4 million from the School Capital Construction Account.

A major controversy is the JAC’s rejection of the governor’s recommendation to apply an External Cost Adjustment to school funding. It’s worth about $25 million to the 48 school districts to keep them current with inflation. Second reading is Tuesday with a third reading on February 19. The extra time between readings is to allow time for legislators to study amendments and avoid ill-considered footnotes.

Other issues for the week include:

Bills to reclaim our exercise of religious freedom, despite the inability of supporters to provide instances of threat to that freedom. Critics feared the proposed laws could be used to shield otherwise illegal discrimination. HB83 – Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed the House 36-23 and HB90 – Student Religious Liberties passed 39-20. Both are waiting for a committee assignment in the Senate.

HB114 – A bill to stop local governments, schools and others from declaring “gun-free zones.” Supporters argue that similar laws in other states haven’t resulted in any deaths yet. Opponents want to preserve local control on whether guns are allowed in schools, on college campuses or government meetings. School districts are facing cancellation of insurance policies or much higher rates if they can’t control guns. This passed the House 42-17 and awaits committee assignment in Senate.

Senate Education takes up HB23 to remove the 2014 budget footnote that prohibited inclusion of the Next Generation Science Standards in a review of new science standards for the state. House debate on the measure on January 26 was particularly illogical, misinformed and off-topic. (Listen to the archived audio at http://legisweb.state.wy.us.)

SF115 – Discrimination adds gender identity and sexual orientation to legal protections in the workplace, to serve as a juror and in child care. The Senate passed it on initial debate Friday, after exempting religious organizations and protecting “free speech” rights. It is on second reading Monday.

SF122 – Vision 2020 is ready for third reading in the Senate on Monday, intended to launch an extensive review of Wyoming’s revenue-raising ability and spending patterns to get a picture of long-range sustainability.

HB17 (engrossed) – Sexual Assault Protection Orders comes out of Senate Judiciary, heads to the full Senate.

Listening online

The LSO streams and archives audio of the JAC sessions and floor debate in the House and Senate. Go to the LSO home page and click on “Audio Broadcasts of the 2015 session.” Select the House and Senate audio archives by date and morning/afternoon.

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