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Legislature's next move in Hill case could be new 'supercommittee'

Feb 11, 2014 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

A legislative panel is drafting a bill that could lead to a special session to deal with fallout from the state Supreme Court's decision in the superintendent of public instruction case.

The state Supreme Court ruled 3-2 last week that a law enacted last year that took away many of the superintendent's duties was unconstitutional. The court said the Legislature went too far and struck down the law.

The Legislature's Management Council on Friday endorsed drafting a bill to create a supercommittee that would come up with legislation for a special session later this year if necessary.

The supercommittee would consist of legislative leaders and budget and education committee chairmen.

Concerns about Superintendent Cindy Hill's administration of the state Department of Education led to the GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Mead enacting a law last year that removed the superintendent as head of the agency.

Once the law was in place, the superintendent was replaced by a director appointed by the governor, but Hill remained one of five statewide elected officials.

Hill, a Republican who has decided to run for governor this year, was removed as head of the department in the middle of her four-year term and was provided a new, separate office.

She filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

While the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, the court process isn't yet done in the case.

The state is requesting a rehearing on the case from the Supreme Court. If a rehearing is granted, which is rare, the decision could be placed on hold.

In addition, once the Supreme Court is done with the case, it goes back to the lower District Court where the lawsuit was originally filed for further proceedings.

Besides the legal uncertainty, lawmakers say they have little time to deal with the matter during a 20-day budget session that starts next Monday.

They lack definition from the Supreme Court on what legislative changes to the superintendent's duties would be constitutional. Reversing the changes made last year would take time to sort through.

"You can't just simply un-ring the bell at this point," said Senate Majority Leader Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie and a member of the Management Council.

Nicholas proposed the supercommittee, and the council approved the idea unanimously.

The council will consider the draft bill on Monday.

If approved, the proposal would be considered by the full Legislature.