CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The anti-federal government and pro-states' rights tone of last year's election season likely will be carried over to the floors of the Wyoming House and Senate when the Legislature convenes Tuesday.
Legislators will be able to vent their frustrations during debate on bills designed to derail the national Affordable Care Act and proposals on immigration reform, gun rights and education.
The lawmakers will deal with a raft of other issues including wind energy and landowner rights, a gas tax increase and a mandatory seat belt law, as well as the $249 million supplemental budget.
Education, many legislators say, will and should be the top priority of the 40-day general and budget session.
“The biggest social issue on the calendar is education,” Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said in an interview last week.
He said the Legislature also will provide a forum for lawmakers to express their constituents' frustration and displeasure with the restrictions and intrusions and lack of response by the federal government.
“People have a bone to pick with the federal government,” Anderson said.
Two proposed constitutional amendments on national health care reform should get appropriate hearings on the Senate floor, Anderson said.
He expects another debate on wind energy development and individual property rights.
Anderson also predicted discussions on how Wyoming can protect itself against federal regulatory intrusion on air and water quality and wildlife.
Senate Majority Leader Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, also expected “push back” on federal resolutions.
“We will have that debate,” Ross said.
With hundreds of bills to be filed before the cutoff, Ross said it is difficult at this point to identify all of the issues that will define the session.
The minority Democrats in general aren't interested in spending a lot of time attacking the federal government.
“We want to devote our time to bread-and-butter issues,” said House Minority Leader Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne. The House Democrats, she said, are not interested in taking action only for “philosophical reasons.”
She gave as an example a bill, sponsored by Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, that would require all holders of civil offices to take a three-hour course on the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions.
Senate Minority Chairman John Hastert, D-Rock Springs, said he hopes the Legislature will focus on issues “that are important and needed to improve the state of Wyoming.”
Education, Hastert said, should be the major focus.
With a $1 billion surplus, legislators may find it hard to justify a stingy, austere approach.
Yet the spending vs. saving debate has been a constant in recent years, and 2011 will be no different.
“I'm getting a sense that people are pretty cautious about where we're going to,” Ross said.
He expects changes in the Department of Health in order to get a handle on the soaring costs of the Medicaid program for low-income people, mostly children and elderly in nursing homes.
“Medicaid is going to eat our lunch,” Ross said.
Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, who co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, agreed.
She said the Medicaid program budget has been overspent by $21 million.
A major budget issue again this year will be funding local government.
Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal recommended taking $156 million from the Permanent Mineral Trust Fund reserve account and splitting it equally three ways among the local governments, highway projects and a savings account — the Spending Policy Reserve Account.
Freudenthal recommended the allocations be made permanent.
“My feeling is there is a general consensus for local governments, highways and certainly for savings,” Berger said.
Gov. Matt Mead has expressed his support of financial aid for local governments. Mead will outline his budget Thursday morning when he meets with the Joint Appropriations Committee.
One piece of business in the House on Wednesday, will be a hearing on a complaint contesting the eligibility of new legislator Matt Greene.
A former legislator, Laramie Democrat Seth Carson, and other residents of House District 45 are contesting the election of Greene, a Laramie Republican.
Greene defeated Carson in the November general election.
Carson claims Greene was not a resident of House District 45 for a full year, as required by the Wyoming Constitution.
Greene returned last summer from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the Wyoming National Guard. Carson claimed Greene lived outside the district before he went to Afghanistan.
Rep. Pete Illoway, chairman of the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, will head a special committee for the hearing.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, and other House leaders will examine a conflict-of-interest complaint against Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Gillette, filed by wild horse advocate Patricia Fazio of Cody.
Contact Joan Barron at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-632-1244.