Wyoming schools chief bill up for final House vote on Friday

2013-01-24T23:30:00Z 2013-02-06T09:29:07Z Wyoming schools chief bill up for final House vote on FridayBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 24, 2013 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House will take a final vote on Friday on a hotly contested bill that would dramatically curb the duties of the elected state superintendent of public instruction.

Opponents claim the bill is constitutionally questionable but admit it is on a fast track and has enough votes to pass the House.

Senate File 104 earlier passed the Senate. If it clears the House on Friday, it would go back to the Senate for any approvals on amendments made by the House, then go to Gov. Matt Mead to be signed. The bill has the support of the House and Senate leaders of both political parties.

The only amendment that had stuck as of Thursday was a provision allowing the superintendent to be an ex-officio member of the State Board of Education and the state School Facilities Commission.

On Thursday, House members beat back an attempt to tack on a $20,000 appropriation to the bill to allow the incumbent superintendent, Cindy Hill, to challenge the constitutionality of the bill without having to use her personal funds.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, was the amendment's sponsor. He said the bill takes too many powers away from Hill in violation of the constitutional provision that the superintendent have general supervisory authority over the state's public schools.

Gingery said he knows supporters have enough votes to pass the bill.

But he warned, "This is a train wreck. This is not going to play out well."

The bill transfers many of the duties of the superintendent, including oversight of student testing and assessment, to a new director of the Department of Education to be appointed by the governor.

The superintendent would retain membership on state boards and commissions.

Gingery also noted that in his nine years in the House, he has never seen the members as "divisive" as they are over the superintendent's bill.

He mentioned members yelling and crying.

Referring to allegations made against Hill on Wednesday on the House floor, Gingery said he thought there was an agreement against making such statements during the debate. House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said employees of the Department of Education confided in him about an "atmosphere of secrecy and intimidation" in the agency. He also said employees told him that Hill openly said at a staff meeting that she had no intention of carrying out the education reforms mandated by the Legislature.

House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said he objected to the "veiled threats" of a lawsuit.

As for the rules of debate, Brown said the House floor is not run like a courtroom.

"We wander all over the place; we accept hearsay that would not be acceptable in a courtroom,” he said.

Brown also said he has witnessed yelling and crying in the Legislature.

"And we haven't even gotten to the social bills yet," Brown said.

The bill should stand on its own, he said, and the Legislature should not concede it may be unconstitutional by allotting money to test it in court.

The House also rejected an amendment from Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, to bar any employee of the Department of Education from being appointed to the new director's position.

Jaggi said he wanted to get a director who could have a fresh look at the department, not an employee who has been caught up in the "rhetoric and the mire."

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