The Sage interviewed Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, and Speaker of the House Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, about their priorities for the upcoming session.
Top issues facing the Legislature; Anderson and Buchanan both said education is a major issue. Every five years the Wyoming Legislature revisits the funding and accountability model for Wyoming schools. Lawmakers plan to do so again in this session.
“It will involve a look at getting the achievement that we feel the people of Wyoming expect,” Anderson said. “Our schools are well funded … we are not, frankly, as satisfied as we should be with the achievement and drop-out rates.”
Buchanan said the first set of college-bound students educated under a new curriculum is graduating this year. He hopes the state will see some improvement in that group of students.
The legislative leaders considered other issues important, too.
“You will see a real investment in local governments to provide the local infrastructure necessary for everyday use and probably ... a significant [allocation] for highways as well,” Buchanan said. Buchanan said this would represent a restoration of some funding that was cut during the recession. Buchanan added that the recession was a reminder that “we need to invest wisely and save wisely.”
The legislative leaders said understanding the impact of recent federal healthcare reform would be another important consideration.
Aging and Disability Resource Centers; Anderson and Buchanan both said they would consider support for a network of centers that direct people to services to address chronic illness or that help them stay in their home. A task force of state agencies and advocates has been working on a bill to establish Aging and Disability Resource Centers for this purpose.
Anderson said these centers could be a “valuable tool for navigation” of services. Buchanan added that he would look closely at what kind of federal funding there would be in the future. The state recently received a $550,000 federal grant to establish the centers, and supporters of the proposal are seeking a similar amount from the state.
“The feds are fond of funding something to start with,” Buchanan said. He said he’d want to learn more about how a network of centers would be maintained. “I’d be willing to look at and consider it,” he said, “but I would have those types of questions as to how we fund them in a viable way in the future.”
Consumer advocate important: Anderson and Buchanan both said they “absolutely” supported granting continued independence to the Office of Consumer Advocate, which helps represent residential customers before the Public Service Commission when rate hikes are proposed.
“It gives [residents] a voice in those negotiations they might not otherwise have,” Buchanan said.
Anderson added that the advocate office was established relatively recently to represent consumers on issues of rates and billing, and it makes sense to maintain it. “[It’s important] that we give it whatever authority is prudent and necessary to do its intended purpose,” he said.