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Downstairs at the Petroleum Club on Saturday, Republicans savoring their general election victories chose their leaders and committee members for the 2011-2012 Legislature.

Upstairs, Democrats voiced their frustrations over watching their numbers drop to 10 of 60 seats in the House and to four of 30 seats in the Senate.

Democrats are down, but their concerns are not.

Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center, told the Natrona County Democratic Women's Forum his organization will be watching several economic and social issues expected to arise when the Legislature convenes Jan. 11.

The Equality State Policy Center — composed of labor, conservation, legal, religious and social service groups — lobbies for openness in state government and sponsors programs for educating citizens to participate in policymaking.

Referring to the center's recent publication, “2010 State of Working Wyoming,” Neal said state government needs to do a better job of monitoring the effectiveness of tax breaks.

The Equality State Policy Center also wants to see more enforcement of the “tip offset” for workers in food and lodging service industries who make the state's tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.

The state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.

With the “tip offset,” employers are supposed to make up the difference between the tipped minimum wage and the state minimum wage.

Interviews with wait staff at restaurants indicate many employers ignore the tip offset, he said.

On the other hand, Wyoming Department of Employment officials have told him they receive no complaints, Neal said.

Neal believes the lack of complaints is not the result of employer compliance but rather fear of retaliation on the part of employees, he said.

The Equality State Policy Center also will press for reform of the lobbyist disclosure law, Neal said. “Wyoming has the most lobbyists per legislator than any other state, and it has the most lax laws.”

When reform has been proposed in the past, legislators and lobbyists object with “'you're saying we're corrupt,'” he said.

In response, Neal said citizens need a disclosure law so they know what lobbyists spend.

The center also will monitor Fremont County's response to U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson's order requiring that county to create a single-member district system for the election of county commissioners. The historic “at large” system violated the federal Voting Rights Act because it diluted the voting strength of members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, Johnson wrote in April.

“We see this as dismantling structural racism,” Neal said.

But the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee has approved a bill for introduction in the Legislature that would allow counties to create a hybrid system of single-member and at-large districts. The bill's critics have said the proposed legislation is an attempt to circumvent Johnson's ruling.

In another race-related matter, Neal has heard a legislator may sponsor a “copycat bill” of Arizona's law that requires police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.

Wyoming doesn't need this, he said. “We don't face the same problems as border states.”

Such a bill also could lead to racial profiling, Neal added.

The Equality State Policy Center also will watch for bills that would let Wyoming not recognize marriage contracts, specifically gay marriages, made in other states.

Tom Morton can be reached at 307-266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com.

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