Wyoming Legislature update March 15, 2016
by Albert Sommers, House District #20 Representative
March 15, 2016
Hello Sublette County, this is Albert Sommers reporting to you from Sublette County, and it is good to be home. As I mentioned in previous updates, I was successful in getting two bills through the entire process, including the Governorís signature. These were HJ4 and HB77. The first bill asked Congress to delist the wolf and the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act, and the second gives counties the authority to provide property assessment and tax forms electronically, if the taxpayer chooses. The other bill that I tried to pass this last session dealt with Title 25 issues, involuntary hospitalization of individuals who are a danger to themselves or others. Current law requires counties to pay for the first 72 hours of detention of a patient prior to their first court proceeding. In Sublette County we do not have a facility to hold these individuals prior to their court hearing, and this results in Sublette County transporting detainees out-of-county, at a substantial cost. My bill, HB78, would have given Sublette County a clear option for solving the detention issue, but it failed introduction. In 2015, the Legislature established a task force to look into Title 25 issues, and this task force presented a bill to the Joint Health Committee to bring forward in this last session.
SF58, which passed the Legislature but has not been signed by the Governor,brought forward several new approaches to Title 25 issues:
If a court determines that a proposed patient is mentally ill, but does not require inpatient hospitalization, then the court shall consider issuing an outpatient commitment order. The court may decide which provider the patient will be assigned to. The idea is to get repeat detainees the help they need to successfully reconstruct their lives.
The Wyoming Department of Health, in consultation with county commissioners, may establish a single point of responsibility or gatekeeper. Gatekeeper duties shall include: providing guidance on issues of detention and involuntary treatment; and monitoring and coordinating timely, efficient and effective patient treatment prior to, during and after any emergency detention or involuntary commitment. No gatekeeper shall provide inpatient psychiatric treatment to patients, unless the gatekeeper has been approved by the Department of Health. Sublette Countyís ad hoc Title 25 committee has already chosen a gatekeeper for the county, but the county will have to comport with these new definitions, as the law is enacted.
Pursuant to contract or agreement, the Department of Health may assume any part of the expenses associated with a gatekeeper, whose expenses would otherwise be the responsibility of a county under this act, including expenses for the transportation of patients to appropriate care settings. This portion of the new law was an amendment that I worked on with another legislator. It was designed to allow the state to help with transportation costs of these detainees. How the department will interpret this new law remains to be seen.
The Title 25 task force will continue to operate this interim, and I hope Sublette County officials will participate in the meetings to ensure our concerns are addressed. I will do my best to carry a Sublette County message, but local health care, mental health, and law enforcement officials need to bring their expertise to these discussions.
Before I left the session, I asked legislative staff to research creating a Wyoming Presidential Primary. Several of my constituents had requested a presidential primary, because they felt our current caucus/convention system was unsatisfactory. In the last week, I found out that the Legislatureís Management Council, which is legislative leadership, requested that the Joint Corporations Committee study the issue of Wyoming creating a presidential primary. This ensures that my request will receive attention by the committee assigned to elections.
Further, based upon another of my requests, the Joint Corporations Committee will investigate the idea of county residents participating in municipal elections. I created a bill last session, which I did not file, that would allow towns, through a charter ordinance, the right to allow property owners, under some circumstances, the right to vote in municipal elections in the municipality where they own property. This issue has been floating around Sublette County for several years, mostly on the north end of the county, and has been brought forward as a "taxation without representation" issue. When a county resident owns a business or property in a municipality, but does not live in the municipality, the proprietor has no vote on taxes or fees administered to the business. I patterned the bill ona law in neighboring Colorado. I chose not to file the bill because I believe the idea should be vetted through a committee interim process. My bill would be a home rule decision by a municipality, and would not be implemented without a positive vote of a town council. I will notify county and town residents when this issue will be heard in committee, and I hope those interested in this idea, pro or con, will participate.