ESPC: Public assistance drug-testing killed; Job safety bill advances; Coal tax break dies in procedural move

On Monday, Mar. 5, Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center wrote about the demise of a bill to require drug testing for those applying for public assistance, the progress of a workplace safety measure, and end of a proposed tax break for coal:

A bill that would have forced random drug testing on adult participants in Wyoming’s POWER program – the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – was rejected by the Wyoming Senate Monday as a wasteful, ill-conceived program aimed at resolving a problem most do not believe exists.

Sponsors of House Bill 82 – Public assistance-drug testing contended that their constituents want public assistance recipients to be tested if they must be tested at their private sector jobs.

But that’s not enough justification to approve a program  that would “spend $40,000 a year to drug-test the least privileged people we have,” said Sen. Bill Landen, SD27, R-Casper. He described the measure as a “coffee shop bill” – a bill developed in response to an idea cooked up by people sitting around talking with little reliance on evidence.

Landen said he had called case workers involved with the POWER (Personal Responsibilities With Employment Responsibilities) program who reported that they see virtually no instances of problems with drug use. Most of the adults in the program are young single mothers, he said. Even the bill’s supporters said they expected the testing to show that very few people in the program use illegal drugs.

“I don’t think it’s worth the investment to find out something we already know,” Landen said of the random drug testing proposal.

Advocates led by Sen. Ray Petersen, SD19, R-Cowley, said the testing means the state is telling POWER participants that “It’s time for you to pull ourself up by your own bootstraps.”

The Equality State Policy Center, League of Women Voters, the Wyoming chapter of the ACLU, Wyoming Children’s Action Alliance and the Wyoming Association of Churches were among the groups opposing the bill, primarily because it needlessly singled out a small group of people for testing without probable cause.

Here’s the vote:

Roll Call HB 82

Ayes:  Senator(s) Anderson, Bebout, Coe, Cooper, Dockstader, Driskill, Geis, Jennings, Meier, Nutting, Perkins, Peterson and Scott.

Nays:  Senator(s) Barnard, Burns, Case, Christensen, Emerich, Esquibel, F., Hastert, Hicks, Hines, Johnson, Landen, Martin, Nicholas P, Ross, Rothfuss, Schiffer and Von Flatern.

Ayes 13    Nays 17    Excused 0    Absent 0    Conflicts 0  

Job safety

A measure seen as a first step at reducing Wyoming’s appalling job fatality rate by the Equality State Policy Center and its allies won an initial vote on General File in the Senate Monday. Sen. Charles Scott, SD30, R-Casper, argued that the section of the bill – HB 89 – Workplace safety – employer assistance – authorizing grants to companies intent on establishing safety programs is unconstitutional because it is a direct appropriation to an individual or company.

Sponsor Sen. Eli Bebout, SD26, R-Riverton, countered  that another section of the Wyoming Constitution {Article 6, Sec. 4 (c)} declares that money in the Industrial Accident Fund can be used for “administration and management of the Worker’s Compensation Act, debt service related to the fund and for workplace safety programs conducted by the state as authorized by law …”

Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Phil Nicholas said the programs outlined in the bill – courtesy inspections of job sites which help companies improve job safety without being fined for violating safety laws with grants to help companies purchase needed safety equipment – will save money for the Worker’s Compensation program.

“There’s a benefit to the fund to prevent the injuries in the first place,” said Nicholas, SD10, R-Laramie.

Scott was undeterred, saying, “I don’t think you can have a grant program.”

The bill passed Committee of the Whole on voice vote.

Coal tax break pulled

With many senators’ questioning a bill changing the formula for establishing the value of coal for severance and ad valorem taxation purposes, the chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee used a procedural move to pull HB38 – Coal valuation – industry factors from consideration on Third Reading Monday. The move avoided a vote that likely would have put the Senate on record as opposing the changes to the state’s coal valuation formula.

Supporters said the bill would simplify the taxation of coal extracted in Wyoming but they could not show the bill would be “revenue neutral” over the long term.

Sen. John Hines, SD23, R-Gillette, used Senate Rule 13-2 to “recommit” HB38 to the Revenue Committee. Since a recommitted bill must go back to General File to again be considered in Committee of the Whole, the move effectively means there is not enough time left to consider it this session. Under the Legislature’s rules, all bills had to be approved in Committee of the Whole by the end of business Monday or they are no longer “active.”

Hines later said the Revenue Committee could again take the idea up as an interim topic or be brought back next year as an individual bill. The Equality State Policy Center opposed HB38 because it would have eroded state and local revenues from coal production.

Guy Padgett

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

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