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Committees, amendments

Feb 14, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

The Cindy Hill case hits a couple of (mild) stumbling blocks at the Capitol

The Wyoming Legislature staggered a couple of steps in the right direction Thursday in the never-ending Cindy Hill case. First, a bit of gumption was displayed in the Wyoming Senate when that body refused to introduce a bill calling for the formation of yet another committee to continue the "investigation" of the state schools superintendent. The bill also would have authorized a special session of the Legislature this spring to continue the Hill inquiry.

Introduction of the bill requires 20 votes in the Senate, and on Thursday morning it only got 18.

Miraculously, however, three senators changed their minds over the lunch hour, and another vote was taken Thursday afternoon. This time it passed by a margin of 21 to 9.

In an unintentionally humorous line, one senator said after the second vote that some "education" had taken place during lunch.

One can imagine what form that education probably took. It probably was less akin to a university honors seminar than to a grade school student being sent to the principal's office for a good talking to.

Although it collapsed ultimately, the brief resistance to a new round of thrashing about in the brambles over Cindy Hill was encouraging to those in Wyoming who think this expensive, counterproductive exercise has been a fiasco.

Lawmakers also showed a sensible inclination this week in attempting to introduce a constitutional amendment in Wyoming that would remove the state superintendent of public instruction as an elected office in Wyoming. Setting aside for the moment the merits of having an elected superintendent, if the state wants to do away with the superintendent as the director of education in Wyoming, then amending the Constitution is the right way to go about it.

Followers of the Hill case have noted this almost from the start. This newspaper editorialized some years ago that it might serve Wyoming better to have an appointed superintendent. But that came with an important caveat: If the state superintendent is going to be an appointed official, then the state school board ought to be an elected body -- in the model used by local school districts statewide.

One way or another, there needs to be an elected voice at the state level specifically for public education. Amending the superintendent's job out of existence, leaving the governor to appoint both the education department director and the members of the state school board, leaves too much authority in the hands of the governor and not enough authority in the hands of the voters.

An amendment might work, but only with the school board piece in place as well. Without it, the amendment is no good -- and lawmakers agreed in principle on Thursday in a separate vote when the bill authorizing the amendment failed to win introduction. (Might be time for some more "education," eh?)

In the wake of last month's Wyoming Supreme Court ruling striking down the law that removed Hill from power, if not from office, great uncertainty remains. Whether another round of "supercommittee" investigations -- intended in part, no doubt, to undermine Hill's campaign for governor this summer -- is the right way to resolve that uncertainty is questionable in the extreme. It sure hasn't worked so far.