COWBOY POLITICS: Legislature eyes finish line, Science wins, guns heat up the floor

By on March 3, 2015

Ban on teaching climate science lifted

The 2014 budget bill footnote that barred the State Board of Education from looking at Next Generation Science Standards is gone. HB23 was written by Rep. John Patton of Sheridan to repeal the footnote, but it was hobbled in the Senate by an amendment by Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout of Riverton that directed the Board to write science standards “unique to Wyoming” (whatever that means). The House rejected that and the bill went to conference committee, which allowed Bebout to keep his amendment but without the “unique” wording. He supported the compromise but still voted “no” on the Senate floor. The bill was signed by the governor Monday.

Bebout also won Senate support for his “unique” amendment to the 2015 supplemental budget bill, but the compromise version of the bill dropped that language.

When the footnote was approved last year, former Rep. Matt Teeters of Torrington was trying to score points with constituents who were angry over his role in the demotion of former Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill. The footnote prevented the Board from spending any money to look at NGSS, as part of the process of writing new science standards for K-12 public schools. Supporters specifically objected to standards applying to climate science and evolution, accusing the state of “indoctrinating” children with questionable science. They also didn’t want to seem ungrateful to our fossil fuel industry. It was just an embarrassing tempest in a teapot, until the Board discovered the prohibition blocked any work on science standards, and the repeal became urgent.

A vocal critic of NGSS has been Citizens Against Common Core, supported by the Wyoming Liberty Group. Their opposition relies on the dubious Fordham Institute, ad hominem attacks and misrepresentation of NGSS and climate science.

And now the State Board of Education can get back to work revising outdated and inadequate science standards for Wyoming schools.

Are guns a ‘Magic Bullet?’

HB114 – Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones, is one of those bills in the end-of-session legislative squeeze. The House liked this bill but probably will get it back from the Senate with an amendment that is anathema to supporters. The bill repeals the “gun-free” status of schools, colleges and government meetings, so people with conceal carry permits could not be barred from those places. An amendment, offered by Senate Education Chairman Hank Coe and approved by the committee, would let school, college and government officials decide when and how to allow guns. One of the sponsors (Rep. Piiparinin) asked to be removed from the bill.

The measure was heard at the last minute in Senate Education, and it is being debated on deadline in the Senate. So when/if it clears the Senate, House supporters will decide whether to accept the amendment or insist on a clean bill, at the risk of sending it to a conference committee.

HB114 supporters testified the mere presence of concealed weapons was responsible for a decrease in crime in various settings. Conversely, they said mass shootings are in gun-free zones. None offered proof of that cause-and-effect conclusion, but they just knew it. They said Utah has a similar law, and no one has died yet. But their main argument was that the Second Amendment gave them the right to carry weapons anywhere they want, except courts and private property.

On the other side, educators and trustees said guns would increase risk in schools, at least partly because of the minimal training required for conceal carry permits – a hunter safety course. Apparently actuaries have determined there is a risk, resulting in difficulty finding insurers to write policies for schools with guns. Give us more resource officers, they said. And a student from Cheyenne East High School said a survey of classmates in government classes concluded most students would feel LESS safe. Ultimately, they argued for local control to allow guns.

Last week’s highlights

The Senate declined to override the only veto issued by Gov. Matt Mead so far this session. SF14 – Asset Forfeiture. Senators argued they could continue work on the issue in future sessions. An override would have taken a two-thirds vote. The vote on Friday was 7-23.

SF115 would have included gender identity on the list of attributes that employers may not use as a basis for hiring or firing. The bill was approved 6-2 by House Labor but then ran into a wall of misstatements and fear during Committee of the Whole initial debate by the full House.

This week and beyond

Several bills are in conference committees, and conferees must scramble to write compromises and get them approved by both houses before 2 p.m. on Friday.

A major task this week is setting interim work by standing committees. House and Senate committees will submit requests to the Management Council, which will approve interim topics and budgets.

A compromise supplemental budget bill will be presented to the House and Senate and then sent to the governor, who may veto line items.

The 2015 session ends Friday. Then everyone moves out of the Capitol, and state agencies vacate half the Herschler State Office Building (just north of the Capitol), so work can begin on the $290 million Capitol Square renovation. The Legislature and its staff and the governor and staff will move back into the Capitol in 2018, and the treasurer, secretary of state and auditor will occupy a new executive office tower.

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