- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Legislature faces two main jobs before it can adjourn this week.

First, the Legislature has to close the books on the pending $3.3-billion general-fund budget bill. A conference committee put the finishing touches on the budget on Friday, and both the Wyoming House and Senate still need to sign off on it before it goes to Gov. Matt Mead for his review.

Second, and likely more problematic, the Legislature needs to hammer out a bill spelling out the ground rules for a possible special session.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, and Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said Friday they expect to adjourn by Thursday, but would like to be done sooner if possible.

Ross said the Legislature will probably send Mead the $3.3-billion general-funds appropriation bill for his review on Monday.

“We want to make sure we get it to the governor with enough time that he has opportunity to review it, and if he line-items or vetoes something, then we’ll have the opportunity to consider that,” Ross said.

The budget that lawmakers have approved closely tracks the recommended budget that Mead submitted to the Legislature in December. They followed his recommendations on giving local governments $175 million and on rebuffing the federal government’s offer of funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Lawmakers also stuck close to Mead’s recommendation for pay raises for state employees, giving executive-branch employees annual raises of roughly 2.4 percent each year of the two-year biennium that starts July 1.

Deciding how to deal with the prospect of staging a special legislative session may well prove to be more challenging than wrapping up the budget, Lubnau and Ross said.

Lawmakers are still reeling from a split decision the Wyoming Supreme Court returned in January.

The court ruled that a major educational reform bill the Legislature passed last year that removed the state superintendent of public instruction as head of the state Department of Education was unconstitutional.

Since attempting to strip Superintendent Cindy Hill of her powers, the state has gone on to hire a director to oversee the education department who answers to Mead. The lawmakers said it’s unclear how to address contracts and hiring decisions the director has made during his year on the job.

On Friday, the Supreme Court denied a request from Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael to reconsider the ruling. A bill to appropriate $50,000 for a special session already has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House.

A House committee last week amended the special session bill to specify that 27 state lawmakers should sit on a special interim committee would hear public testimony. Many consider the suggestion of creating such a large committee - nearly one-third of the total 90 members of the entire Legislature - would prove to be unworkable.

“There are so many moving parts and so many variables out there,” Ross said of the situation facing the Legislature on how to address education.

Lubnau said the Legislature needs to address which new contracts Hill could void and which would remain valid.

“What kind of employee protection is there available for those employees who participated in the investigation, and may have said some things not necessarily complementary to the superintendent?” he said, referring to an investigation of Hill’s activities in office.

Lubnau said there are more than 35 statutes that need to be readjusted as a result of decisions the Legislature made last year.

“There’s a belief in the Legislature that the Legislature should be proactive and resolve those issues, rather than wait for it to be resolved in the courts over the next 10 years,” Lubnau said.



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