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Wyoming voters face three amendments next week
Oct 30, 2012 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press
CHEYENNE -- Wyoming voters face three constitutional questions in next week's general election.
The first proposal would amend the Wyoming Constitution to specify that competent adults have the right to make their own health care decisions.
Proponents originally pushed the amendment to voice the state's opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act.
Amendment sponsor Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, said Monday she still sees a place for the amendment despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer upholding major portions of the federal law.
Nutting said concerns about health care were overwhelmingly the biggest concern that her constituents mentioned to her when the Legislature considered the measure last year. "What the amendment does is preserve individual rights, as well as state rights," she said.
In addition to specifying that people may make their own health care decisions, the amendment states that people may pay directly for health care without being subject to penalties or fines. It also specifies that the state government "shall act to preserve these rights from undue governmental interference."
The amendment specifies that the Legislature itself may still place restrictions on health care. Nutting said that provision is necessary to make sure no one tries to use it to support acts that otherwise would be illegal, such as assisted suicide.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He said Monday that all the proposed amendment can do is constrain Wyoming as a state. "It has no effect on federal law," he said.
Brown voted last year in favor of placing the proposed amendment before the voters. "At the time it was put together, I thought it was probably OK because all we can do is influence what we can do in our own state," he said. "And if health care is going to be federalized, how much influence can it have? And if health care is not federalized, then I think it probably accurately describes what most people in our state think about health care."
State Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, voted against the amendment last year.
"The primary purpose of it was to prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Wyoming, and now that the Supreme Court has ruled, I don't think that it will fulfill that function," Throne, an attorney, said Monday. She said she's concerned that adopting the measure could have unintended consequences.
The Equality State Policy Center, an advocacy group, issued a statement Monday urging voters to reject the health care amendment, saying its language is vague and may produce unintended consequences.
"I'll be that even the original supporters of this amendment can't tell you exactly what it will do, given the vague language and all the changes made to it during the Legislature's deliberations in 2011," said ESPC Director Dan Neal.
The next amendment, originally sponsored by State. Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, would amend the state constitution to specify that the state will preserve citizens' opportunities to hunt, fish and trap.
Hicks has said that passing the amendment would memorialize the importance of Wyoming's hunting heritage. He noted that the state has named cities and counties after famous hunters and trappers such as William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and William Sublette.
The final amendment would expand the powers of district court commissioners. The state Constitution currently allows commissioners to act in place of a district judge if the judge is out of the county or is prohibited from hearing a case. The amendment would remove those restrictions.
The amendment was sponsored by the Legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee. Brown, chairman on the House side, said passing the amendment would allow judges to make greater use of commissioners which he said would be cost effective.