Feb 26, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterWyoming's senior U.S. senator vowed to remedy federal funding problems at St. Stephen's School and to investigate whether the threatened budget "sequester" could affect the pending Job Corps Center in Riverton.
Dozens of voters crowded into the Riverton Branch Library Community Room to tell U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., their frustrations with the federal government and suggest solutions.
Enzi promised to help most and explained to others why he disagreed with them.
The forum on Feb. 21 was one of 12 Enzi had planned during a week-long tour across Wyoming while Congress is in recess.
Enzi said he wanted to hear people's concerns first.
"I don't want to channel the conversation," he said. "I want to know what you want Washington to know."
Wyoming PBS general manager Ruby Calvert said she was volunteering her time to host the meeting and asked speakers to limit themselves to two to three minutes.
The first attendee to speak said he agreed with President Barack Obama when he said the United State's immigration system is broken.
The speaker said he works for a company a foreign investor bought, but the new owner cannot secure a visa to come to the United States.
The delay, he said, is threatening 45 jobs in Riverton, and he asked the senator for help.
St. Stephen's Indian School superintendent Mike Hejtmanek expressed a similar frustration with federal inaction.
He said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not sent money to fund the school since September. The school has been able to pay staff from reserves, but Hejtmanek said he is concerned.
"We have e-mails, we have phone calls documented, and things just aren't happening, and money just isn't being distributed to the BIA contract schools," he said.
Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness told the senator he had heard Job Corps might "close its doors on new recruits."
Noting that a federal Job Corps facility is planned for Riverton, Warpness asked, "Is this kind of the sequestration problems? Will this delay the timeline they have us on now?
One woman who spoke told Enzi her issue was with the Violence Against Women Act.
"My concern is the violence against women and children on the reservation," she said. "(There is a problem) when a person not living on the reservation can violate them and not get prosecuted because they're not Native American.
"Could you please take that to Washington and protect our small ones?" she asked Enzi.
Both Enzi and Wyoming's other U.S. Senator, John Barrasso, voted against the bill, which passed the Senate on Feb. 14. The legislation would grant American Indian courts new powers, including the ability to try non-tribal members who are accused of domestic violence.
Several others spoke of specific concerns with the federal government and asked for assistance.
Charley Smith said he thinks creating new revenue might be necessary to maintain a viable social security program.
"It if will help the economy and put people back to work, I think there's room to pay more," he said. "We all should have skin in this game."
John Lichey had a different view saying, "I think we need to get serious about cutting."
Enzi responded to the concerns after hearing from everyone who wanted to speak.
He first said he would talk with immigration officials about the foreign investor.
"Sometimes they need a call from a senator," Enzi said.
He also promised to "get to the bottom" of St. Stephens's problem with the BIA and to continue working on the Job Corps issues.
Enzi said he voted against the Violence Against Women Act because there were parts of it he did not agree with, which he called "poison pills." He said he could not amend the bill because Democratic leaders in the Senate broadly opposed amending legislation.
As a finance committee member, Enzi said he is working on taxes and tax loopholes, but he cautioned that if Congress closed all the exemptions suddenly, it would put half of America's companies out of business.
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