In the legislative calendar, the last week or so of the session is spent lobbying lawmakers for interim topics. The process goes like this - the 10 joint committees (not including Journal or Rules) meet between four and six times per year between legislative sessions. They take testimony on issues and, if they decide to do so, turn that testimony into bill drafts for the next session. More often than not, bills that come out of committee have a much better chance of passing into law than bills sponsored by individual legislators.
That means getting an audience with an interim committee is a big deal. And that is why on Friday, representatives from AARP were among a packed house in the Jonah Building making their pitch to report on the work of the Retirement Security Task Force to the Joint Labor, Health, and Social Service Interim Committee this summer.
The Joint Labor, Health, and Social Service Committee heard from a number of departments, lawmakers, and lobbyists and will put together a list of what they hope to study this interim by next week. The Legislature’s Management Council will get together in March to approve those topics.
The Labor Committee commented one-by-one on what they saw as a priority this interim and it appears they have grasped the importance of aging issues and addressing long term care costs. Outgoing Department of Health Director Tom Forslund encouraged the committee to continue studying the issue in what he termed, “aggressive fashion.” Other topics that seemed to have caught the attention of the committee were finding workforce to support long term care, air ambulance billing, mental health, and privacy issues around loved ones placing surveillance cameras in nursing homes.
While there was talk about next year’s legislation, there was a long week of late nights in the temporary state capitol to talk about law for this year.
Tax Rebate for the Elderly and Disabled Dies - Sort of...
Late Thursday evening, House Bill 127, which would have used $2.5 million of state money to revive a program that had been a victim of budget cuts in 2016. The bill failed the Committee of the Whole by a vote of 10-16 with four excused (illness has hit the Capitol hard this week).
All that said, the program will be revived. The brief explanation is to say the program will be funded at $625,000 this year. The more nuanced reasoning is listed below.
The program was cut in 2016 when state revenues caused massive cuts at the Wyoming Department of Health. The Tax Rebate for the Elderly and Disabled was a part of that cut. This year, Gillette House member, Tim Hallinan, MD brought the bill asking for $2.5 million to fund the program. It would help those over age 65 making less than $18,000 per year receive a tax rebate of around $600 per year. The same would be possible for couple making less than $22,000 per year.
The House passed the bill, but the program got caught up in the horse trading of the Joint Conference Committee process used to iron out differences in state budgets offered by the House and Senate. Conference Committee agreed to bring the funding for the program back at a level of $625,000, with some of that going to the Department of Revenue to run the program.
However, House Bill 127, containing the $2.5 million for the Tax Relief for Elderly and Disabled continued to move, and Thursday night reached the floor of the Senate. Cheyenne Senator Affie Ellis asked the Senate to pass the bill and the original $2.5 million in the bill on top of the $625,000, saying she found the $625,000 woefully inadequate to run the program.
“As I have gone through my district there is one thing that keeps me up at night is those who are elderly and struggle to find a place in the workplace and those who are disabled,” says Ellis.
There was opposition to the effort. Carbon County Senator Larry Hicks told the body that not only was the $625,000 in funding back in the state budget, but those who were that poor could use tools such as reverse mortgages, and other tax relief programs that exist for low income residents. Sheridan Senator Dave Kinskey felt also tax relief programs also existed already which meant the extra funding for this tax relief bill was not needed, as did Senator Wyatt Agar, who also sits on the Joint Appropriations Committee. Hicks would offer an amendment to remove state dollars from the bill, which passed the voice vote and made passage of the bill a moot point. The program will be funded at the $625,000 level for 2019.
To thank Senator Ellis for her support on the Senate floor, click here.
A Late Voter ID Amendment Brings AARP Opposition
Amendments brought to House Bill 106 during debate in the Senate late Thursday brought with them AARP opposition. The original bill attempted to address when a citizen could change party affiliation to vote in a party primary. However, a late amendment, which dropped Thursday afternoon, would have required those voting to produce a government-issued form of identification at the polls.
AARP national policy is to oppose bills which require voters to show ID at the polls. While the goal of Voter ID laws is to reduce voter fraud - a reasonable goal - a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law notes that nearly one-in-five citizens over the age of 65 lack a current, government-issued ID. There are two main reasons for this - most people prove their eligibility to vote with a driver’s license but many over the age of 65 give up their license and don’t replace it with a state-issued ID. Another concern is the fact people over the age of 65 are less likely to have birth certificates because they were born before recording births was standard procedure. Either way, a voter ID requirement would strip them of their right to vote.
The Brennan Center estimates that over 21 million Americans do not have a driver’s license, and around 8 million lack a government-issued photo ID.
Prescription Drug Bill Passes
In the coming weeks and months you will hear a lot more from AARP on the price of prescription drugs in this country. One bill that will help the effort to bring down prescription drugs was passed by both chambers this week.
House Bill 63 would block pharmacy benefit managers from prohibiting or penalizing a pharmacist for discussing cost differential on particular drugs under or outside of the individual’s prescription drug benefit, or offering a more cost-effective alternative if available.
The bill was brought by House member, Dan Kirkbride who said the bill was passed in congress last year, but the state was passing the bill in case the federal government ever rescinded its law. AARP Wyoming thanks Representative Kirkbride for being willing to run this bill.
What’s Next, and What's Left
The scuttlebutt around the temporary Capital is that lawmakers will wrap up this session by Wednesday of next week. Of the few bills on the AARP bill tracker left to be discussed, Senate File 150 has passed the Committee of the Whole. That leaves two readings of the bill before the bill to bring the Spiral Healthcare Scanners to Wyoming Health Fairs would become law. AARP Wyoming spoke with the folks from Spiral again this week and we will let you know when those are available in Wyoming. While we do not endorse these scanners or have any business interest in the scanners, we think it is important for Wyoming citizens to understand what they are and how they can be used to allow citizens to make an informed decision on their use.
House Bill 157, which covers termination of parental rights, and would create standing for grandparents acting as parents is also one reading away from the Governor’s desk. The bill to create yet another Medicaid Study has also passed Second Reading in the House.
AARP Wyoming will also be a part of a Legislative Broadband update at the Jonah next week and will speak to the Broadband Advisory Council on Monday in hopes of encouraging faster internet speeds to support telehealth in the State.Wyoming Wyomni