Senators vote 'no' on amending superintendent job in constitution

Feb 26, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Fremont County's state senators both voted against a bill that proposed amending the constitutional duties of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Senate Joint Resolution 2 failed to pass through the Wyoming Senate during the ongoing budget session. It would have proposed eliminating the elected status of the state superintendent on and after Jan. 5, 2019, and provided for supervision of public schools by the governor through an appointed cabinet officer.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said the constitutional amendment proposed through SJ2 would have been "inflammatory" for voters who have been following the recent activity surrounding state Superintendent Cindy Hill.

"I don't think they'd support it," Case said. "They'd be angry. ... They like this elected vote in schools."

Hill was stripped of many of her powers last year when the Legislature passed Senate File 104. The law was deemed unconstitutional by a 3-2 vote of the Wyoming Supreme Court last month, and the state has requested a rehearing of the case.

Case said SJ2 may have been considered more favorably before SF104 was passed. Now, though, the situation has become a "big mess."

"The court has said, just restore (Hill's powers)," Case said. "We need to restore the office of superintendent and get that done, then try to figure out (something else), maybe down the road."

Special session

State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, agreed with Case that SJ2 would have complicated an already complex situation.

"That joint resolution only further exacerbated the issue," he said. "We don't need that out there too."

He said the state should wait to hear back from the Supreme Court before making any decisions related to Hill's position.

"Bill 106 allows us to have that flexibility," he said.

Senate File 106 provides for a process to address the Supreme Court decision on SF104, calling for a legislative study into the issue. It passed the Senate in an 18-12 vote Tuesday and now will move through the House.

Bebout said it may be necessary to schedule a special session through SF106 in order to address the "quagmire" of SF104.

"If we don't get any direction before we leave, or if (the Supreme Court) comes out with something contrary to the existing law, we have to fix it," he said. "We're left with our legislative duties that are constitutionally mandated to reply to what the court tells us."

Case voted against SF106 and said the Hill situation "has all been badly handled." He doesn't think an expensive and time-consuming special session is necessary --rather, he said some leadership would be required to resolve the issues of unconstitutionality in SF104.

"Here's what I really wish, that folks would just start talking," he said, adding, "The easiest way to fix it would be to transfer the duties given to the director to the superintendent."

Reversal failed

House Bill 110, meanwhile, failed introduction in the Wyoming House of Representatives in a 37-23 vote two weeks ago. The bill would have reinstated Hill as head of the department of education and eliminated the appointed director who has been running the agency since SF104 became law.

"It would have reversed SF104 from last session," said Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, who voted for HB110.

State Reps. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete; Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander; and Rita Campbell, R-Shoshoni, all voted against the bill. They were not available for comment.

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