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State concedes unconstitutionality of Hill bill, hopes to preserve parts

Mar 26, 2014 - From The Associated Press

Lawyers for the state concede in a court filing that the bulk of a law passed last year that stripped most duties from the superintendent of public instruction is unconstitutional.

In a brief filed Monday, the state attorney general's office asked a district court judge to uphold just five minor parts of the law. The attorneys for the state did not dispute that transferring powers from Superintendent Cindy Hill to an appointed Department of Education director should be declared unconstitutional, after the state Supreme Court ruled on the case.

Hill sued the state after the law went into effect last year. The Supreme Court ruled in January that lawmakers overstepped their authority in passing the legislation, and the high court later refused to reconsider the case.

The justices returned the case to Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell so he could certify the Supreme Court's decision. Campbell also has to decide whether the law could be split into parts that are constitutional and unconstitutional.

Campbell has set a three-week timeline last week for lawyers for the state and Hill to submit briefs arguing what parts, if any, should not affected by the Supreme Court's decision.

Attorney General Peter Michael wrote in Monday's filing that five provisions do not involve the director of the Department of Education and should be considered constitutional. Michael said the state's request "is actually the more restrained course," according to the court filing.

"This court would avoid lengthy, intricate constitutional holding on each of the statutory powers provided to the director and whether the Legislature could lawfully transfer each power from the superintendent, either now or in the future," the brief read.

Hill and her lawyers have until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the state's brief. The state will have a final chance to make its case a week later.

Campbell has said it could take at least 30 more days for a ruling to take effect. That means it could be mid-May or later before Hill would resume her old duties.

Hill's supporters accuse the state of employing delay tactics for nearly three months after the Supreme Court first struck down the law.

The parts of the law the state argues should be upheld are:

- A requirement that the superintendent report on the status of all public schools by Oct. 15 of each year.

- A requirement that the superintendent identify professional-development needs for Wyoming schools and a plan to address those needs.

- Delete a requirement that the State Board of Education provide paid Department of Education staff to help county officials who work on school district boundaries.

- A change in how members are appointed to the Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board.

- Repealing the Department of Education's authorization to employ an attorney independent of the attorney general's office.

Related content:
 
Senate File 104