“Those who respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made.” Turns out Mark Twain’s oft-quoted admonition is a poor analogy. In order to protect the public, there are ethical guidelines that must be followed when sausage is being made. Not so, when laws are being processed.
Take for example, SF74, titled “Crimes Against Critical Infrastructure.” It wasn’t drafted by Wyoming legislators, but by international energy corporations like Exxon and Peabody Coal, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC invites state lawmakers to pricey resorts. They are wined and dined on ALEC’s tab. That kind of luxury is not dispensed without expectations. ALEC hands these lawmakers so-called “model bills.” They take them home and toss them in the hopper as if they had dreamed up the idea.
This ALEC bill renders demonstrations like that at Standing Rock felonious. Multi-national corporations don’t go to the public arena for debates over whether their proposals advance or harm the public good. They go to pandering state legislators.
While Matt Meade vetoed the bill, how it made its way through the legislative process is a twisted tale.
It started when Laramie County Republican Representative Bill Henderson’s arm was twisted. Then the operating rules of the House were twisted.
The opening act was a tie vote in the House Minerals Committee, seemingly killing the bill.
As legislators left the committee hearing, they were set upon by predatory lobbyists. Henderson proved the easiest prey. Rep. Henderson had voted no. When those lobbyists got through with him, Henderson went from “no” to “yes, sir.”
There were barriers to the scheme. Once taken, a vote is presumed final. But these lobbyists know people who know people. They got to Committee Chair Mike Greear who agreed not to sign the committee report so that Representative Henderson could bob and weave.
There were two other problems. The Legislature’s calendar decreed that Monday, March 5, was the last day for a standing committee to vote on bills. Reconsideration could not take place until March 6. Resurrecting the corpse required a committee hearing, which, by virtue of House rules could not be held in time to pass the bill.
That pesky rule reads, “No standing committee shall meet to consider any bill referred to it unless notice of the date, time and place of the meeting and the bills to be considered has been posted in the State Capitol at the place designated for posting of meeting notices by 3:00 p.m. on the day before the meeting is to be held.”
When the energy lobby wants something, they don’t concern themselves with small things like the rules of a democratic institution. The House Rules Committee convened in secret on the House floor. It was safer there. The public couldn’t eavesdrop on their plotting. The meeting, which took place after the 3:00 PM deadline, resulted in a decision to ignore the rules and give the big boys what they wanted.
The Rules Committee has 13 members. Chaired by Speaker Steve Harshman, the committee is comprised of 11 Republicans and two Democrats. Those two were joined by GOP Representative Sue Wilson in taking a stand for the integrity of the legislative process. The other 10, including Laramie County Representative Bob Nicholas, voted to discard the rules. The lobbyists went home with what they came for.
Why was this bill so critical to the special interests that they would cast all ethics to the Wyoming wind? Could it be the proposal pending before federal agencies to authorize 1500 oil and gas wells in Western Wyoming, some of which will, if approved, impact sacred burial grounds of Native Americans and negatively impact air and water quality?
In the end, a majority of your legislators did what they do best, give priority to energy interests over your rights and aspirations as a citizen. As Rep. Jared Olsen, an energy company apologist said, “They (energy companies) are critical to Wyoming.” Well, that certainly puts the rest of us in our place.