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Education reform highlights 2011 Wyoming Legislature

Education reform highlights 2011 Wyoming Legislature

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House Speaker

Rep. Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, smiles during the opening ceremonies of the 61st Wyoming Legislature in January in Cheyenne.

CHEYENNE — A couple of developments set the 2011 Wyoming Legislature apart from previous sessions.

One was the amount of time and work spent on education reform.

A second was the number of bills that made it to the House and Senate floors that in the past never got out of committee.

In the latter category were a number of contentious constitutional amendments and proposals, including same-sex-marriage and anti-abortion bills.

In the end, the so-called social issue bills failed to make the final stretch.

Supporters said these bills will be back before the Legislature later.

Legislative observers have said in the past that the Wyoming Legislature’s conservative reputation is based as much on what it doesn’t pass as what it does.

“Sometimes your heart kind of stops,” said Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, “because we go way out there on the edge. And then we make our way back.”

“I hate to give a ‘Yogi-ism’ but it really wasn’t over until it was over,” Anderson said in an interview last week.

The social issues received a lot of attention from the media and the public, Anderson said.

“But they were not dominant and were minimal compared to the long debates on the education bills,” he added.

Education reform clearly was the paramount accomplishment of the session.

“What we’re doing in education is setting forth a plan to improve education in Wyoming by better achievement on the part of teachers and students,” Anderson said.

“It will be a pretty arduous, long and intense process for educational reform,” he added.

The Legislature was different this session largely because of the significant number of new members in the House, legislators say.

“You’ve got some very conservative elements over there, but they don’t seem to be able to do more than just fulminate,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper. “They spent a lot of time on social issues, but they haven’t succeeded in passing stuff.”

The House majority, Scott added, seems pretty responsible.

Scott, as chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, killed a federal health care nullification bill on constitutional grounds.

The House easily passed House Bill 35, which declared the federal health reform law to be void and of no effect in Wyoming.

Scott said that as chairman, he could not allow an unconstitutional bill to proceed.

“On balance, this session has done some positive things,” Scott said.

He mentioned education reform but said it will take five or six sessions to build a consensus and finish the task.

“This was not an impressive session,” Sarah Gorin of the Equality State Policy Center said Friday.

But the center was pleased that “all the anti-equality bills died,” she said.

“We hope that future Legislatures will commit their efforts to realizing the promises of the Equality State rather than dragging it backward,” she added.

Gorin said her group was pleased the Legislature passed Senate File 3 to require disclosure of campaign contributions by corporations the same as if they were political action committees.

“That was a priority for us,” she said.

The group was disappointed in the failure of the public meetings and open meetings bills, she said, and will follow the interim committee study on the two proposals.

Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, said he felt it was important for the Legislature to discuss the social issues.

A member of the Joint Appropriations Committee, Meier said the new supplemental budget saves some money and put the state on the path of “pay as we go.”

Meier’s district is in the Niobrara oil shale play, where road problems are already obvious from the hammering by trucks and other equipment, he said.

The Legislature allocated $6 million for road work in the area to get ahead of the problem.

Scott, meanwhile, said his candidate for best single bill was the “bug bill” sponsored by Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper.

The bill set up the regulatory framework so people who are figuring out how to use microbes to transfer coal into methane can proceed.

“That’s a major initiative if it works, and I think it will. It reduces the carbon dioxide from burning the coal,” Scott said.

Anderson and House Republican leaders said earlier in the week that the Legislature accomplished what it set out to do.

Anderson was particularly pleased that the Republicans worked well with the four minority Senate Democrats. With such a tiny minority, the Democrats could have become frustrated and angry, but did not.

The House and Senate Democrats issued a statement saying that the session could have taken a much different direction.

The Democrats, the release said, helped defeat measures they felt were unconstitutional.




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