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Legislature

Members of the Wyoming Senate take their seats during the first day of this year's legislative session. 

Ask Wyomingites to name their biggest concerns right now and they might start by talking about how difficult it is to afford health care. That’s no surprise. Figures show medical prices are higher here than elsewhere – sometimes significantly. Moreover, insurance costs continue to rise at rates that are unaffordable to average citizens and employers.

Wyomingites might also say that it’s increasingly difficult to save money for retirement. Many have only a fraction of the savings they will need, forcing them to work longer, while increasing the burden on safety net services like Medicare and Medicaid.

Parents might say they’re anxious about school funding. Here in Casper, five schools have closed in the recent past, and as the coal industry continues to struggle, lawmakers still haven’t decided on a sustainable source of funding for our educational system.

The Legislature failed to address all of those problems when lawmakers convened earlier this year. And it appears they are continuing to ignore our state’s most pressing concerns in favor of polarizing issues that are of little consequence to our state.

Consider the actions last week of the Legislature’s corporations committee, which agreed to take a second look at a pair of failed voting-related bills from the recently completed legislative session. The first bill would enact a voter I.D. law in Wyoming. The second is designed to limit the practice of primary election crossover voting – when voters change parties to cast ballots in the opposing party’s election.

Sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, the voter I.D. law is part of, we think, a misguided wave of bills that have popped up across the country, based on the thoroughly debunked idea that our elections system is plagued by voter fraud. This is a false premise – studies show voter fraud is exceedingly rare, and the Secretary of State’s office representative told lawmakers this winter that she was not aware of any recent reported cases in Wyoming.

The crossover voting bill would, pure and simple, reduce participation in Wyoming’s electoral process. It’s based on another specious premise – that Democrats and independents are the reason Gov. Mark Gordon is in office and not one of his more conservative primary challengers. This bill appears to be a top priority for Wyoming’s Republican Party. It was defeated over and over again during the last session, and the fact it keeps coming back suggests this must be personal.

These bills have something in common beyond matters of voting. Neither is being clamored for by the majority of our state’s voters. And neither would address any of the actual problems facing residents of our state.

Instead, they are bills that are reflective of the increased polarization of our Legislature. Our lawmakers have long enjoyed a reputation for concentrating on the pragmatic, seeking out solutions to common problems instead of focusing on issues that divide us. But since the start of this decade, there has been a disturbing rise in attempts by some lawmakers to bring the bitter partisan fights that are endemic in national politics to Wyoming. Why would we want such a thing?

This morning, people across Wyoming will wake and get ready for work. Many will worry that they won’t be able to afford their medical bills. They’ll worry that they can’t save enough for retirement. It’s an insult to them that some lawmakers continue to focus on distractions like nonexistent voter fraud rather than facing our state’s biggest challenges with the persistence, determination and resources these real problems actually deserve.

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