Feb 14, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterState Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, doesn't think the Wyoming Legislature can do much in response to a recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency redefining the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
"It's not really our place to do anything about the EPA decision," Case said this week. "That's more the executive branch."
He supports the Wyoming Attorney General's petition filed in January to reverse and stay the decision.
"I think the state will prevail," Case said, adding, "That doesn't mean I'm going to not respect the position of the tribes."
In December, the agency approved an application from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes for Treatment as a State through the Clean Air Act. In the approval document, the EPA defined the reservation boundary, ruling that a 1905 Congressional Act opening reservation lands --including the city of Riverton --to homesteading did not diminish the reservation.
"This is a huge issue," Case said. "The Legislature won't be able to sort it out --we don't make that decision. It's a federal decision. ... It'll have to be settled by a federal judge (unless) the EPA backs off."
State representatives introduced House Bill 78 to the floor Wednesday. The act recognizes the constitutional limitations on the rulemaking authority of federal agencies, in particular the EPA, and outlines the state's policies in regard to EPA actions.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, and Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, among others, and it was referred to the Legislature's joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee after a roll call vote this week. Only three representatives voted against the bill, including Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete.
Case said he doesn't mind setting aside resources to present effectively the state's position, but he reiterated that a judge will make the final decision on the EPA ruling.
Having chaired the state's Select Committee on Tribal Relations since 2007, Case said he sees himself as a "peacemaker" and a "calming voice" when it comes to the reservation boundary issue.
"Tribal relations is about having the state government and tribal governments work better together," he said "(We want) to build good relations and make sure that citizens of the WRIR, who are also citizens of the state of Wyoming, receive the benefits of citizenship in the state."
He pointed to the areas in which tribal and state leaders already work together, from welfare services to law enforcement and water development.
"These things happen every day," Case said. "We still all have to get along."
He has hosted one meeting involving tribal leaders and local government representatives since the EPA decision was announced, and Case said he would be happy to organize more gatherings to discuss the issue. Both tribes recently requested a stay of the decision to allow local governments time to discuss jurisdictional implications of the ruling.
"That's a great spirit to say let's really figure out what this means," Case said. "We need clarity."
The EPA approved the tribal requests for stay this week.
Case was one of 10 senators who voted against Senate File 104, which stripped State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of most of her powers in 2013. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in a 3-2 vote in January.
"I have thought this was a bad idea from the very beginning," Case said. "I just totally agree with the Supreme Court decision. I think the Legislature completely went too far."
He said his peers in Cheyenne haven't yet "come to grips" with the effect of the Supreme Court ruling. The state has filed a petition requesting a rehearing of the case.
"That's not very unusual," Case said. "But it's not going to happen. Why would (it)? There were no material changes, and they didn't miss anything. ... These are Supreme Court justices; they don't just change their mind."
He said a constitutional amendment has been proposed to restructure the superintendent's position, but he doesn't think the measure would be approved by Wyoming voters.
"The Legislature should have done (an amendment) first," Case said. "Coming now at the end of this, it's just like 'Well we didn't win this way, let's try to win this way.'"
He believes SF104 was introduced last year because of conflicting personalities in Cheyenne, but Case said many people sincerely think that the state superintendent should not be elected by the public. Regardless, he hopes the Legislature does not convene a special session this year to continue pursuing the Hill issue.
"The voters would just howl," he said. "Everybody would just like to get on with it and move forward."
Case is happy that the state is moving forward with a study to increase efficiencies at the Wyoming Life Resource Center, a residential facility in Lander that provides medical support and habilitation services to people with intellectual disabilities or brain injuries.
Case has advocated for the WLRC for years, and he said he was starting to feel "very lonely" about a year ago.
"I was fighting for the life of the place," he said. "There was literally a study that was going to shut it down and move people out. I was able to get that study to a more neutral assessment."
The Wyoming Department of Health called the WLRC a necessary "safety net" in its most recent review of the facility. The new study recommended several ideas for more cost-effective operations on the WLRC campus.
"The long-term prognosis is we'll do more for people," Case said. "That's fabulous."
He has heard some concerns from employees about the recommended changes, but he said the focus is on the long-term for now.
"I think the WLRC has a bright future," Case said. "We'll have a lot of new investment up there."
Case also supports money for courthouse security upgrades, particularly in Riverton where a bullet hole was found to have penetrated the outer wall of the Fremont County Courthouse.
He has sponsored a bill adding to the definition of "burglary," a crime that currently is considered a felony regardless of the scope of the incident. Case said some burglaries are relatively minor, however.
"Say you had a $20 bill on your dashboard and were parked at the grocery store, and I came by and reached into the car window, which was open, and take the $20," Case said. "That could be a multi-year felony. ... I call it overcharging."
His legislation calls for up to a year in jail for people who take less than $1,000 in money or property from an unlocked structure or vehicle that is not a place of residence.
Case is working with Larsen to modify the rules surrounding the release of juveniles to responsible adults. Currently, Case said, it is common practice to allow a minor in custody to be released to any adult as long as the older person signs a note promising to tell the teen's parents about the situation within 24 hours.
"Think of all the bad things that could happen," Case said. "We're trying to tighten that up."
Another bill is aimed at companies that post pictures of arrested people online. Case said the booking images are public record, but often the people in the pictures are not convicted of the crimes for which they were arrested.
"I don't think it's fair," he said. "These companies aren't reputable in my mind. They may charge you $200-300 to take your mug shot down. ... My bill says if you are not convicted then they have to remove the mug shot."
Case is up for election this year, and though he hasn't decided whether to run yet, he said he loves serving as a senator. The economist was elected to the House 1993-1998 and has worked in the Senate since 1999.
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