Public records bill restored; Effort planned to restore HIV funding

Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center wrote about the public meetings bill being considered by the legislature, as well as an effort to restore funding for an HIV-treatment program:

Open government advocates watched the Senate reverse course on a public records bill Wednesday, deciding to strip restrictive amendments that had threatened months of work by public, private and nonprofit interests pushing for improvements in Wyoming’s public records law.

Two floor amendments made Monday to Senate File 25 –Public records would have significantly reduced access to documents now available to the public under existing law.

The amendments, offered by Sen. Bruce Burns, SD21, R-Sheridan, demolished a carefully crafted compromise bill supported by an array of interests. They include the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities Wyoming Press Association, League of Women Voters, Powder River Basin Resource Council, the University of Wyoming, the Equality State Policy Center, and the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts.

But Sen. Curt Meier, HD3, R-LaGrange, brought new amendment language that stripped the Burns amendments from the bill on third reading.

The ensuing debate revealed some of the fears underlying the resistance to public access to the information used by authorities to determine public policy. Some of it was aimed directly at the Wyoming Press Association.

Sen. Kit Jennings, SD28, R-Casper, said he did not want to “give third parties with the power of paper and ink” the ability to “interfere” with his decision-making process.

“I don’t want the press to tell me what to think,” Jennings said.

But Majority Floor Leader Tony Ross, SD4, R-Cheyenne, had none of it.

“This is about restoring faith in local entities and open government,” he said. “It’s all about openness.” Scrutiny comes with holding public office, he added, and “… is part and parcel of the place we find ourselves in.”

Sen. Leland Christiansen sounded a similar theme, stating simply that the Senate should, “Keep public work open and transparent”

During the three days of debate, several senators expressed concerns about being put in a position of divulging the contents of constituent communications that include details about the constituent’s life reasonably expected to be kept out of public view. Open government advocates like Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters believe that those sorts of details can be redacted from documents should someone request them. Others in the coalition behind the bill believe the state’s attorney general should review the matter to clarify whether those concerns are valid.

The Meier amendments were passed and the bill itself won approval 19-11. (Editor’s note: Regarding this link, the LSO had not updated the SF 25 digest at 11:45 p.m. but the information ultimately will appear at the url.)

Public meetings
The Senate voted later in the day to pass SF 27 – Public meetings on its first reading in Committee of the Whole after only a few questions.

The bill:

  • Prohibits meeting by electronic or other means that do not allow the public to see, hear or read the meeting contemporaneously.
  • Requires public boards to give at least eight hours notice of a special meeting. Interested persons must submit their names in writing to be placed on a notification list. Requires boards to specify the reason for conducting a meeting in executive session.
  • Gives boards up to 30 days to ratify actions taken in an emergency if the emergency continues after 48 hours.

Funding for HIV treatment program
Advocates for the state HIV treatment program have raised concerns that proposed cuts in the state’s 2013-2014 biennium budget may put at risk federal funding for treatment through the Ryan White Act. Those federal funds largely have paid for the treatment of people otherwise unable to afford the necessary drugs.

Those fears were confirmed by Department of Health Director Tom Forslund Wednesday. He sent a memo to Rep. Cathy Connolly, HD 13, D-Laramie, and the governor that said the failure to ask for the $400,000 General Fund appropriation was simply a mistake. The state is required to meet a “maintenance of effort” requirement to get the federal funds.

An amendment to rectify the mistake will be offered Thursday, Connolly said.

Following two days of detailed presentations, both the Senate and the House completed their first reading of tthe budget Wednesday evening. Most sections of the budget won pro forma assent since the legislators tacitly agree to withhold real action until Second and Third readings. But the House abandoned that passive approach when it considered a section of the bill that authorized a $250,000 study to determine the feasibility of adding a men’s baseball team and women’s softball team to University of Wyoming athletics programs.

Marguerite Herman of the League of Women Voters contributed to this blog.

Guy V. Padgett has been with WyoFile since October of 2011. He serves as WyoFile’s operations director

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