Sue Wilson
House District 7
Your representative in the Wyoming legislature
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The Issues

2014 Update on issues

BUDGET
The State budget that was passed in the 2013 session (for the 2015-16 biennium) was only slightly higher than the one passed in 2011.  Frankly, the State budget is virtually unintelligible, but if you want to take a look here are a few links:

--The governor's request (Summary and by Agency) is at https://sites.google.com/a/wyo.gov/ai/budget-division/budget-fiscal-years/2015-2016-budget

--The budget bill put together by the legislature after input from the Joint Appropriations Committee, approved by both chambers and signed by the governor is at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2014/Enroll/HB0001V2.pdf

You should be aware that this budget still doesn't show all the money that is spent on State functions, as most of the funds for WYDOT and Game & Fish come through their Commissions, and do not require approval of the legislature or the governor.  In addition, UW and the community colleges are mostly funded by student tuition; only the money that comes from the legislature is shown on these two websites.

I have two goals regarding the budget:  to keep the State budget flat, and even reduce it, and to make the State budget more understandable to the citizens. 

At the end of the Budget Session the legislators have to vote on the amendments adopted by the joint conference committee.   Once each amendment has been adopted, even if by a 31-29 vote, then it is part of the budget.  When the legislators vote on the budget they are voting on the budget in its entirety; it is not possible to vote aye on certain parts of the budget and nay on other parts.  As a result, sixteen representatives (of which I was one) and ten senators voted against the 2015-16 budget. There were over 20 amendments to the budget that I didn't think were prudent or desirable.  They would be too long to describe here, but if you want to know, you can send me an email.

HEALTHCARE
Wyoming continues to have a severe shortage of primary care and mental health providers in many parts of the state.  After the 2014 session ended I called together a group of people in the healthcare field to brainstorm various ideas on how to increase the number of providers.  We have met twice so far, and I believe we are coming up with some good approaches that we may be able to implement to improve the situation.  More on that later as our ideas develop.

The current Medicaid program is not sustainable, as we spend one out of every five General Fund dollars on Wyoming's share of Medicaid expenditures.  The biggest expenditures are for adults in nursing homes and with developmental disabilities.  The Department of Health is continuing to work on reform efforts as directed in 2013 legislation that I helped present on the floor of the House. 

When we consider the optional ACA expansion of Medicaid to childless non-disabled adults between the ages of 19 and 64 it is important to remember that not all national-level discussion of Medicaid expansion applies to Wyoming. For example, many commentators have stated that Medicaid patients will have worse access to care than private-pay patients as, nationally, only about 40% of doctors take Medicaid.  This is not the case in Wyoming, where we are fortunate to have about 98% of doctors taking Medicaid.  On the other hand, the oft-quoted argument that putting people on Medicaid will reduce the number of emergency room visits is not correct either.  In Wyoming, Medicaid patients visit the emergency room three times as often as patients with regular insurance. 

At present, although I was totally opposed to the ACA (you can read my 2012 article that I wrote before the Supreme Court decision), we are spending some $20 million a year of Wyoming taxpayer money from the General Fund on those childless adults ages 19-64 now.  If we expand Medicaid, then about 90% of that expense can be shifted to our federal tax bill (which the IRS will continue to collect from you whether we expand Medicaid or not).  I was willing to vote for an expansion bill if it included a sunset date (in 2017 so we can see if a new federal administration will begin to responsibly cut back on federal expenditures, among them our entitlements) and a "trigger" (cancelling the program if the federal government changes its promised share of payment, as they have changed so many parts of the original ACA already).  The resulting time frame would be less of an ongoing program, and more of a short-term grant program to get some citizens medical help so they can regain their health and go back to work.  Of course the longer it takes to pass an expansion bill with my caveats, the less point there is in doing it.

I think it is very important to continue looking for ways to help Wyoming citizens access medical care and to help our hospitals--especially the small rural hospitals--keep their doors open.  If Medicaid expansion is not the answer, then we need to find other answers. 

EDUCATION
I spent quite a bit of time last fall and during the session trying to get the attention of the State Board of Education.  The Social Studies standards were up for revision, and I think the current and new (and approved) standards are inadequate.  Unfortunately, the attention of the public was focused on the math and English standards that the Board looked at in 2011 and will begin looking at again in two more years, and then the Board and the public focused on the science standards, which did have some problems.  Amidst all that commotion, one of the only four Social Studies standards was changed from "Students explain the historical development of the U.S. Constitution and how it has shaped the U.S. and Wyoming governmental systems" to add the words "and treaties" after the Constitution.  When other states require students to become familiar with Athenian democracy, the Roman republic, the Magna Carta, John Locke, George Mason, James Madison, and the Federalist Papers, among other things, I was certainly not going to vote to prohibit Wyoming from using standards developed out of state. 

I will continue trying to improve the process for adoption of standards by involving parents, college and university faculty, and employers.  We need to be sure not to just add layers of bureaucracy that add little value, and we do need to keep teachers involved across the state.  I had to develop Social Studies standards when I taught at Noah Webster Christian School; it is a very time-consuming process, so we need to not expect classroom teachers and local school board members with full-time day jobs to tackle standards development on their own time after dinner for months on end. 

We also need to be able to compare our students' progress with that of students in other schools and states. It is easy to assume that our great teachers and our great kids are doing all they can if we haven't compared their success to what is possible elsewhere.  Currently our students take two national tests:  the ACT in 11th grade and the NAEP in 4th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade, although the NAEP does not provide individual scores for students or schools. 

If you're curious, in 2012 there were nine states that had all 11th graders take the ACT; our students were very slightly above the average score for that group in math, reading, and science, and just slightly below the average for that group in English.  On the 2013 NAEP 4% more of our 8th graders tested proficient or advanced in math than the national average (38% vs. 34%) and 3% more of our 4th graders tested proficient or advanced in reading than the national average (37% vs. 34%).  We do spend 50% more per student than the national average ($15,849 vs. $10,560), so the question might be--are we getting the maximum benefit for our effort?  If not, why not?

You may have heard it said that the states are the laboratories of democracy.  I think charter schools might be the laboratories of the education system, so I am planning to bring a charter school bill during the 2015 session.  The model legislation from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is 30 pages long, so I am trimming it down to suit Wyoming, and will be talking with various people interested and knowledgeable about the topic over the summer and fall.

A big problem on the horizon for school construction and maintenance is the expected reduction in coal lease bonuses for the State.  This is money that mining companies pay to the federal and state governments when they lease public land for coal mining.  Coal lease bonus money contributed $447 million to school district capital construction in the 2013-14 biennium.  It is anticipated that after 2017, with coal companies reading the handwriting on the wall, there will be no more coal lease bonus money, so that will have a big impact on our ability to maintain and build schools. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The property taxes we pay in Wyoming primarily go to the public schools and county governments.  Mineral producers pay 64%, commercial property owners pay 18%, residential property owners pay 16%, and agricultural producers pay 1%.  Economic development helps the state in several ways:  there are more and better jobs for individuals, and the property tax base goes up because a manufacturing plant with lots of equipment has a higher valuation than an empty field full of tumbleweed.  If the commercial valuation goes up, while we are losing money from the coal producers, then counties will not have to raise residential property taxes to make up for the loss.

The State Treasurer manages over $16 billion in non-pension funds--you can read the report on the Wyoming State Investment Portfolio website.  The biggest funds are the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, the Permanent Land Funds, and the State Agency Pool (this is basically the General Fund money while it's waiting to be spent on salaries, supplies, etc.).  About half of the total can be invested in stocks; the rest must be invested in bonds. (A bond is basically a loan and is called a "fixed income" because the bond is paid back at a fixed percentage rate, unlike stocks, which can go up and down.)  The bond funds invest in things like U.S. Treasury bills, mortgage loans, and international bonds in places like Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, and South Africa.  The FY 2013 return for our U.S. fixed income funds ranged from -4.78% to 6.45%. 

Investments in Wyoming make up 2.2% of the 2013 market value of all the Treasurer's funds.  I support investing more of the state portfolio in Wyoming businesses as a way to encourage economic development.  I prefer using loans (most state loans are for 1 to 2% interest rates, which would be an average return for our 2013 fixed income funds) rather than grants, and the Treasurer, the State Loan & Investment Board, and the Wyoming Business Council should use professional diligence to determine whether or not the loan would be a good investment for the tax dollars we have in these funds.

OTHER ISSUES
On other "social" issues I have the same opinions that I did in 2012:  pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-Bill of Rights (all 10 amendments).  I also am in favor of the conservation of clean water, fresh air, wildlife, grasslands, and forests, and I am particularly in favor of working in a positive way with all my neighbors, fellow legislators and people across the state to keep Wyoming a wonderful place to life. 

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2012 Issues

This material below was written during my first campaign for the legislature in 2012.  I've decided to leave it up, so you can see if what happens in the legislature has any relation to what we thought the issues were.  The green text was added at the end of the 2013 session as follow-up [and throughout the 2013 interim].

I was interviewed by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle on June 19th (2012).  You can view the video of that interview at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23423878.  The Tribune-Eagle interview mainly covered the state budget, economic diversification, and education.

The paragraphs below are my previously-written comments about what I think the issues are in Wyoming and House District 7.  Not all these issues were covered in the interview.

The Budget

A lot of Wyoming's revenue comes from the energy sector.  With natural gas prices down, the Governor has asked the State to evaluate an 8% budget cut.  These cuts will be painful, but there may be a silver lining if the situation forces us to evaluate what the government really needs to do.  Not only is the best government the government closest to the people, but problems should be addressed at the lowest level of society possible--individuals, families, social and religious organizations, and communities.  There may be opportunities for communities and individuals to play a more important role in public health, education, the arts, and other cultural fields.

Healthcare and education spending make up almost 60% of the State budget. With my years of experience in those fields, I will be able to make wise decisions about any cuts in these areas.

The Medicaid program uses almost $1 out of every $5 spent in the Wyoming general fund.  I helped present the Medicaid reform bill (SF 60) on the House floor (see photo).  We will be working with the Department of Health on Medicaid reform during the interim. 


Healthcare

Wyoming has significant challenges in the healthcare system.  The State's spending on healthcare has doubled in the last ten years.  Almost one-third of our state is either uninsured or on Medicaid.  Half the state is considered a health professional shortage area. 

While I believe the private sector can provide the care that Wyoming wants and needs, the legislature needs to make sure  that our laws strengthen and improve the ability of providers to provide care, and the ability of people to pay for that care.  I want to encourage insurance pools, increase the number of healthcare providers in Wyoming, and make Medicaid programs more cost-effective.  
In the Labor committee I worked on HB 82, Interstate sales of health insurance, which passed both chambers and was signed bythe governor.  This bill will enable Wyoming residents to buy a health insurance policy that is sold in another state, if they find a policy that seems better or less expensive.  I commented on the Medicaid reform bill above.
So far, I have not had a chance to work on increasing the number of healthcare providers. There will be some opportunity to look at that issue when the Department of Health brings its proposed budget to the Labor committee in the fall. 

In June the Supreme Court released its decision upholding most of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). 
You can read my article "Now what?  Obamacare and Wyoming" here.  It is not a short article, because the healthcare system is complex.  The problems cannot be solved with slogans and sound-bites.

In the 2010-2012 there were only three legislators (out of 90) who listed healthcare experience  on their internet information form.  I have a Master's degree in Healthcare Administration, and will be able to make a significant contribution to evaluating and improving our healthcare situation in Wyoming.  Now there are four of us:  an optometrist, two nurses, and me.
Education

Our state's expenditure per pupil is the 4th highest in the nation, yet more than 25% of our students need remedial classes in college.  We are not getting the value we want for the money we are paying.

We don't need to spend more money on fancy facilities. We do need to make sure that our teachers know what they should be teaching. Our current standards are vague. For example, the Wyoming government standards say "Students are able to thoroughly discuss the contributions of important historical figures and events." Do we care who and what?  Other states specify the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  More specific standards would not only provide the students with a better education, but also would enable us to save some of the money we're spending on reviewing, re-teaching, and hiring administrative staff.
It turns out that the State Board of Education is responsible for setting the state-wide curriculum standards.  They are continuing to work on increasing the standards.  Click here for my analysis of the Common Core standards.

During the 2013 legislative session we passed two bills on education accountability (HB 72, regarding the assessment of teachers and principals, and HB 91, which looks at student assessment).  I do not serve on the Education committee in the House, but I have been assigned to the Education Committee of the Council of State Governments-West.  I will be attending their meeting in on August 1st to see if the other western states have any good ideas that we could adopt.


Teaching is unlike most other professions--if you do a bad job it may not be obvious for several years.  We have to give new teachers, especially, the mentoring and evaluation they need to succeed in the classroom.  Feedback should come throughout the year, not just after the student test scores come out.  We will insist on quality teachers, but the teachers and administrators need to know they have our support when they discipline disruptive students.  Finally, not all students fit into the same box. Our children need to have opportunities to take both advanced math and auto shop if that's where their strengths and interests lie.

Wyoming needs more training programs for healthcare and technology professions. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services says our state colleges are only graduating two-thirds of the number of nurses we need in the state.   A more highly-trained workforce will provide better services to the people of Wyoming, and enable businesses to grow and be more productive.  In addition, our children would be able to enroll in the training programs they want here in Wyoming, and then will be more likely to stay here after graduation.
See my note above on healthcare providers.  [9/2013--I have met with the Dean of the UW Nursing School to find out more about the BSN and Advanced Practice Nursing programs, and what the challenges are in expanding them.  I am also on the Family Practice residency taskforce, evaluating our medical residency program.  I will be looking at improving our ability to recruit providers and keep new graduates in-state.]

Ultimately, parents are responsible for their children's education, even if they choose to delegate that responsibility to public or private schools.  I support homeschooling and charter schools as other educational choices.
I may bring a bill on charter schools to the 2014 session.  As it will be a budget session, a 2/3 vote will be necessary to introduce a non-budget bill, so we will see what happens.  [9/2013--after talking with the charter school group and the Community College Commission I think I will hold off on that bill until the 2015 general session--if I'm re-elected.]


Infrastructure and the economy

Wyoming's highways are so underfunded that WYDOT is beginning to turn paved roads back into gravel.  We have to maintain the roads that connect our communities.  In the past decade the cost of building and maintaining highways has tripled, but state funding for highways has barely changed.  Instead, we have quintupled the amount of money we are setting aside in savings.  Rather than sending more money off to be invested in the stock market, why not invest in Wyoming roads and construction and engineering workers?
As you know, we raised the fuel tax $.10/gallon.  The legislature wil be looking at WYDOT's budget during the interim to see what additional funding or budget cuts will be needed.  Personally, I am still working on understanding the entire state's budget.  The Appropriations Committee was fairly persuasive that, given the bad revenue picture for the state due to the poor market for coal and the flooded market for natural gas, we should maintain a good stash of capital so we can (partially) live off the interest in the future. 

These days the internet is the electronic equivalent of a highway.  If we want to maintain our rural communities--enabling people to work, learn, and receive services in their communities--we need to improve our broadband coverage.  The State of Wyoming, as a major buyer, can encourage the private sector to expand broadband coverage throughout the state.  [I attended the Broadband Summit on October 23rd (2012), and learned more about what is happening with broadband coverage across the state.]  During the 2013 session I attending a special training hosted by the Corporations Committee on internet deregulation.  I will be following up on the local broadband study. [The 2013 Broadband Summit will be at the end of October; I hope to attend this year as well.]

State government spending in Wyoming relies heavily on the mining industries.  We should support this sector, as well as the agricultural and tourism sectors.  In addition, though, we need to attract new jobs to Wyoming and encourage our local entrepreneurs.  This can be done by maintaining our business-friendly climate,  improving our broadband services, and expanding our employment training programs.  The State also should continue to encourage overseas exports, and technology transfers between the University and the private sector.
I have been assigned to the Economic Development and Trade committee at the Council of State Governments-West, and the Labor and Economic Development committee at the National Council of State Legislatures.  At the CSG-W meeting in July we will be looking at ways to grow state economies.  The NCSL meeting in Denver in May will address workforce development, immigration, and healthcare reform, among other topics. 



Keeping Wyoming a great place to live

In Wyoming we love our sagebrush, but we rely on sweet, clean water.  We need to be sure that mining, agriculture, and residential development do not negatively affect our water. 
At the end of March I attended the State Engineer's Office meeting on water issues in the Laramie County Control Area.  If you are on a well in the Control Area (roughly the part of the county east of I-25) and would like more information please email me.

This country is based on individual rights.  One of those is the right to private property.  All of us, though, hope that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy hunting, fishing, camping and hiking in Wyoming, just as we have.  It is important to protect our wildlife, grasslands, and forests for future generations, while not impeding private and economic uses. 
I voted for SF 118 (to protect landowners from over-enthusiastic eminent domain condemnation), SF 68 (which prohibits the state from funding conservation easements that restrict hunting, fishing, ranching or farming), and HB 81 (funding some conservation easements and habitat restoration around the state). 



Social Issues

The households in Wyoming's House District 7 come in all sorts.  There are couples with children, couples without children,  single parents, individuals, roommates, multiple generations, various languages and faiths, hunters and vegetarians.  We are all neighbors and part of the community, but the word "marriage" has meant one man and one woman for hundreds of generations.  I believe that it is not discrimination to refuse to change the traditional meaning of marriage. 

I believe that every life is precious.  The people of Wyoming should support a culture of life--for the unborn, for all children, for people with physical, mental and emotional challenges, and for the elderly.  Everyone's life has value.

The United States Constitution was written in order to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty."  I believe that government-sponsored or government-encouraged gambling does not improve the general welfare or insure domestic tranquility.  Lotteries and casinos are more likely to take money from the poor and give it to out-of-state corporations or wasteful bureaucrats.  We do not need a lottery or more gambling in Wyoming.

In the 2013 session I voted no on domestic partnerships (HB 168), which did not pass; yes on a pro-life bill (HB 97), which did not pass; and no on the lottery (HB 77), which did pass. 

Several constituents have asked me about my position on guns.  I am a Life Member of the NRA, and own guns for hunting and personal protection (and as a defense against government tyranny, if necessary).  I also am a concealed carry permit holder.  It is my general observation in life that people who are not law-abiding citizens don't care what the laws are, so it doesn't seem to me that restrictions on where you can carry firearms and how many bullets you can have will have much impact on people who intend to commit crimes.  In fact, criminals prefer helpless victims.  We do not make schools, businesses and government facilities safer by declaring them "gun-free zones" unless we institute metal screening and other security measures.  Simply posting "gun-free zone" leads to a false sense of security.  We do need to make sure Wyoming has adequate mental health services for people who need them, and people who use a firearm in the course of a crime should be fully prosecuted and it should be very difficult for them to regain the right to possess a firearm. 



















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