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Legislators split on how to proceed on Hill matter

Mar 7, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

State Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, believes Senate File 106 would have passed the Wyoming House of Representatives if it had been introduced by the deadline for initial debate on Monday.

The legislation provided for a process to address the Wyoming Supreme Court's recent decision that Senate File 104, which passed last year stripping State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill of many of her duties, was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court last week denied a request from the state to rehear the case.

"(That was the) correct decision," Miller said in an e-mail.

He does not think the state will make another appeal in the case, which now heads to Laramie County District Court for further action.

The Legislature adjourned Thursday. Later in the day, Hill announced that she would attempt to enter the Wyoming Department of Education offices on Monday, March 10, to resume her duties.

Suspend the rules

Miller was not planning to vote for SF106, which called for a legislative study into the Hill issue.

"I would have been a 'no' unless we could have amended to fully restore the functions of the office of Super(intendent) of Public Instruction that were diminished by SF104 last year," Miller said.

He recommended to leadership that the House suspend budget session rules and bring forward a new bill now restoring all of the functions removed from Hill's office, but that didn't happen.

A similar bill failed introduction in the House earlier in the session; the deadline for introduction of new bills was Feb. 14.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who also voted against SF106 in the Senate, liked Miller's idea.

"We can suspend the rules -- it's not unprecedented," he said, but State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton said it was not a possibility.

"That's an idea that's going nowhere," he said before adjournment.

Bebout had voted for SF106, thinking that a special session would be beneficial if the Supreme Court had handed down some direction for the legislature.

"But they didn't," Bebout said of the high court justices. "So I'm glad it died. That's fine.

"(Now) we're not sure what district court will do."

He believes the district court judge will declare all or part of SF104 unconstitutional, or offer no direction to the legislature.

"If that's the case, we may have to come back and see what that means," he said of the latter scenario. "But if the judge comes back and says, 'Go back to where you were,' I don't even think we need to show up (for a special session). We'll go back to where we were and move on."

Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, was planning to vote for the SF106 special session but wasn't upset that it died before a vote.

"All the dust needs to be settled," Larsen said. "What if (the judge) rules one way or the other a little bit and we say, 'Oh geez, we didn't think of that (in the special session).'"

He feels the same way about Miller's idea for a new bill restoring the functions of Hill's office.

"The upside of doing it that way is then you have the Department of Education back functioning sooner," he said. "But what if the district judge rules something a little (different)?"

He thinks lawmakers should gather later in the year to determine the best course forward for the WDE. The less preferable option for Larsen would be to do nothing, letting the department "limp along" as best it can until the next legislative session.

Case said the WDE will have to "feel their way forward" now.

"Clearly (Hill) will be in charge, and clearly the director, if he's still around, will work for her," Case said.

Case didn't approve WDE director Richard Crandall's reappointment by Gov. Matt Mead, which was voted on Tuesday afternoon. Crandall's position was created by SF104, and since the law has been declared unconstitutional, Case said Crandall's job should not remain in place.

"Nothing against the gentleman, but I don't think that I can stand up and support his confirmation," Case said.

According to The Associated Press, the Senate voted down attempts to delay Crandall's confirmation Tuesday.

Bebout said Crandall needs to continue running the WDE until Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell issues a final order on SF104. Until then, the law remains in place.

"We have to have someone there to run (the WDE) right now," Bebout said. "If we don't confirm him, there's nobody over there."

Bebout said Crandall may be left without a job soon, but Case guessed that Hill would want to work with the director.

"If she's as smart as I think she is, she'd want to (resume her duties) in a way that cooperates with everybody," Case said.

Hill is running for governor this year.

Once Hill's position is restored, Miller said Crandall should have a conversation with her to see if a position is available "that fits" for him. Otherwise, Miller said, Crandall should be given a severance package.

Rep. Rita Campbell, R-Shoshoni, returned calls but was uncomfortable discussing the Hill situation publicly. Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, is a member of the Management Council that sponsored SF106; he also responded to questions but only said he would be second-guessing what, if any, action the management council may consider regarding a special session or any other matter until the group actually meets.