Discussion on the Rated Bills, 2005 General Session

Last revised 24 October 2005

Introduction

In the typical liberty index created by other individuals and organizations, there is usually a discussion of each bill selected for rating - why it was chosen, how it affected liberty, how the bill fared in the legislative process. The large number of bills selected in the Wyoming Liberty Index makes that approach untenable (at least until further notice).

The next best thing is to discuss the general trends seen in the session, and how they affected liberty in a more general sense. This will help make sense of the way each particular bill was rated. To see the actual rating of each bill and a one or two-line comment why, open the spreadsheet and find the bill rating cells, observing the comments in each.

In the course of this general discussion, specific bills will be called out for examination. It may become apparent that, in describing these bills, the author loses his dispassionate manner to a certain extent. It is frustrating to see the vastly larger number of bad bills that is introduced each session, compared to good bills.

General trends seen in the session

Tax cuts and tax hikes

Intangibles were addressed in the session (SF9, SF12, SF44). The picture is confusing but what appears to be driving this is a desire to bring more kinds of property under taxation. These will usually be rated anti-freedom in the Index.

Tax exemptions were, as usual, rampant this session in the House (HB17, HB18, HB24, HB32, HB37, HB50, HB84, HB93, HB160, HB188, HB214, HB213, HB219, HB265, HB272, HB315). Most of these were rent seeking - that is, small special interest groups seeking to carve out special exemptions for themselves; most were resisted by the legislature except the veteran issues (see discussion below) and the tax on railroad rolling stock, HB93. Such bills will be rated negative in this Index due to violation of the tax broadness criterion. A couple, HB160 and HB214, dealt with the much broader category of the exemption of food. HB160 aimed to exempt food and to compensate with an increase in sales tax on everything else; this was easily rated the maximum negative as not only did it violate the broadness criterion, but it was not truly revenue neutral - actually increasing state revenues substantially. This kind of bill is hard to believe in a state in such good fiscal shape as Wyoming. HB214 was much more difficult to rate, as its intention was a simple exemption of the broad category of food, leading to a substantial decrease in state revenue. I finally decided the latter overrode the violation of broadness criterion, thus rating it positive; but a much better way to cut taxes is to reduce the overall rate. HB219 was similar in concept to HB214, but for utilities rather than food. HB50 was rather more broad, having to do with a homeowner tax credit, but was rated negative in that business property owners and renters were to be put on the hook to subsidize it.

Other more direct cuts and hikes were also much in evidence in the House (HB7, HB151, HB160, HB230, HB232, HB242, HB283, HB312, HB320, HB322, HB344). The big one, HB07, would simply have reduced the state sales tax by one percent; it was not considered in the full House. Such bills always get the maximum positive rating in the Index. HB151 offered a way to eliminate the resort district local sales tax; HB160 was mentioned above, a tax hike on everything but food; HB230 was a tax hike (doubling!) on beer; HB232 allowed the local sales tax to be used for "economic development", a euphemism for economic fascism - the bill passed, unfortunately; HB242 would have hiked the tax on non-cigarette tobacco products; HB283 would have allowed towns and even school districts to have their own sales tax; HB312 would have reduced the valuation on real property for the property tax, thus reducing the tax; HB320 would have eliminated the tax on annuities; HB322 would have kicked in the automatic reduction of the sales tax in boom years more easily; HB344 would have allowed counties or cities to have a sales tax on booze. Of all these bills only the anti-liberty HB232 passed, so the result is a step in the wrong direction. The ratings given to these bills by the Wyoming Liberty Index should present no mysteries.

It is unconscionable that a state in perhaps the best fiscal condition in the nation, rolling in cash and with a huge permanent fund, cannot manage a substantial tax cut for its citizens.

Fiscal aid to cities

Again this year the legislature was faced with the situation where the municipalities were (allegedly) cash-poor while the state is rolling in cash from the mineral royalties, so there were more examples of trying to transfer funds to lower levels. These attempts ranged from benign to blatantly anti-freedom (e.g., using the pork-dispensing agency, Wyoming Business Council, to dole out money from its slush fund - HB105 - also HB117, HB330, HB346, HB348, SF71, and SF118).

The way to view these is to consider where the money is coming from, where it's going to, and what has to be done to get it. If the people in Worland or Wheatland have to fund projects useful only to people in Casper or Cody, that is anti-freedom as it is a simple wealth transfer; municipalities should fund their own needs. If the receivers of the wealth have to present proposals whose merits are judged by some commission, rather than simply doing things according to some statute, that is anti-freedom because it is a sure road to corruption, pork-barrel politics and influence-peddling. It also has the same morals-corrupting effect on the petitioning officials that ordinary welfare has on welfare recipients.

The best way to help cities is to reduce the tax burden and business regulation at the state level, thus improving the economy generally and allowing cities to fund their own projects themselves from the local sales tax or lodging tax. City officials also need to critically examine their own desires; even in this so-called funding crisis, there are plenty of boondoggles. We're talking government, after all.

Finally, we ought to re-invigorate the free market question. If something cannot be accomplished within the free market or via volunteer efforts, that is prima facie evidence that that thing is not worth doing - especially given that in doing it, some other worthy purpose is thus prevented from being fulfilled. Volunteer efforts bring together a community, while tax-funded ones tend to sow discord, not surprisingly.

The medical crisis

The medical crisis again raised its head, and again was dealt with in ways that often made things worse. One disastrous example was SF175 (see also HB319 and SF175) which would have subsidized bad doctors who generate a lot of malpractice claims with taxpayer dollars. Another was SF78 (which passed, unfortunately) adding several more regulatory burdens to insurance companies, thus increasing their incentive to leave the state entirely. The legislature remains blithely unaware of its own role in creating the crisis in the first place. Nothing good will happen here until it starts deregulating the medical business and insurance industry. Because of the denial firmly in place, don't look for that to happen any time soon. About the best we can expect is that perhaps some parallel structure of unregulated, alternative insurance and medical care will be allowed to form, but even that seems very unlikely. Once government assumes control, it does not give it up easily.

Seems like all the legislators, except Cale Case, need a crash course in economics. It's even available in PDF and in audio for those long drives down to Cheyenne on the way to make new laws. With this information they might thereby avoid shooting the state in the foot.

With regard to the issue of excess judgements in malpractice suits (or even suits outside the medical arena for that matter), more beneficial policies would be: to allow people to contract freely with providers (even allowing "no lawsuit" clauses); to enforce the terms of those contracts in court rather than finding some way to ignore them; and to make the losing side in suits pay the court costs, which should deter frivolous suits.

Veteran/military issues

Something that became prominent this year was a concentration on veteran's and servicemen's issues. Some interesting points turn up in considering them.

This is a country at war; although, a war not very disruptive to everyday life. In such a climate it is normal to expect "support our boys" legislation; and to be sure, a lot of this amounted to "feel-good" legislation - hardly any of it was voted down. Who could vote against our servicemen?

However, there should be more thought put into this. For example, if our servicemen should get our support, then that support should come from all of us. Unfortunately, some bills made the burden fall only on certain individuals and businesses. A prime example is HB67, which prohibits exclusions in insurance policies for (high risk) military actions by the covered individual. This burden falls only on insurers, and yet again provides more incentive for insurance companies to leave the state, thus making finding insurance potentially difficult for Wyoming residents in the future.

Another problem is that so many of these bills are simply petty, and unlikely to be utilized by servicemen because they are unaware of them. These men and women do not spend their time poring over the statutes looking for bennies for themselves. An example is HB73, which would have provided an exemption for the payment of fees for vehicle registration to active duty personel (a big help if you're in Iraq). It makes no sense to add to the administrative burden by filling the statutes with petty exceptions. If you want to help veterans and servicemen, just give them more money, appropriated out of the general fund.

There is the final issue of incentives that are felt by prospective recruits. While it is certainly true that we in this country enjoy our liberty (what is left of it) as a result of military action against the British, does the military always do admirable things? Clearly not; the extermination of Indians and the unconstitutional Northern attack on the Confederacy are blots on our history. This means we ought to think whether we want to encourage people to join the military (which is an effect that such bills produce). It should depend on the situation at hand. Not everyone agrees the current war in Iraq is in the national interest; indeed a majority now disagree.

In many cases these bills earned a neutral rating, as the overall effect on freedom is small. However with some, such as the freedom-harming HB67, a negative rating was given.

Programs for higher education

It's clear the vast pile of funds at the state level has gotten several interest groups salivating, prominent among them being the higher education bureaucracy. HB282, HB285, HB307, HB323, HB329, HJ7, SF102, SF122, and HJ13 all dealt in some way with creating various new programs, essentially forms of welfare for the better off, for the university crowd. Most of these were sucessfully resisted in the legislature, but the educrats scored a minor coup with its graduate business school (including a $1 million appropriation) in HB329, and a major one in the extension of a vast resource of slush funds, to the tune of $200 million dollars, in SF122. All of these bills were strongly opposed by the Wyoming Liberty Index. Ordinary citizens without access to college educations should not be dragooned into supporting college for rich kids. Welfare is one of the most destructive things a government can do.

Bills of note

HB7 would have reduced the state portion of the sales tax from 4% to 3%. It was raised several years ago as a "temporary" measure, and this is apparently the first attempt to take it back down. It is only reasonable to do so in a state where the government has so much money. We are surprised there is not more pressure to do so, but this is perhaps understandable where the federal government takes so much larger a bite. This was among the best bills of the session; it's hoped we will see it again next time. Representatives Anderson, Bucholz, Gilmore, and Harshman opposed this bill in the committee vote, which is as far as it got.

HB214 would have removed the sales tax from food items, as noted above, thus saving taxpayers about $17 million per year. This made it through two committees with nay votes only from Reps. Anderson, Bucholz, Miller, and Pedersen. It appears the Majority Floor Leader, Representative Cohee, would not allow this bill to come up for debate. Apparently Rep. Robinson will take this bill directly to the people in the form of an initiative, at which point it will no doubt pass. The Wyoming Liberty Index supports this effort; but reluctantly, because it violates the broadness criterion. HB7 was a better way to cut taxes.

HB219 would have been like HB214, except that it was residential untilities rather than food.

HB160 was a supposed revenue-neutral elimination of sales taxes on food and hike on everything else - that nonetheless would have gained the state an extra $35 million a year in taxpayer dollars! Tabled in committee. A long list of sponsors, many of whom should know better.

HB298 was an attempt to bring a form of "Alaska Carry" to Wyoming. That is, within the state, persons would not need permission from government, in the form of a license, to defend their lives with a firearm carried concealed. This would have brought the statutes in line with the federal and state constitutions. Another candidate for the best bill of the session. It was introduced rather late so had little chance to make it through the process; one hopes it is up in front next session. (Three flaws in the bill were that it was limited to residents who had lived in the state 90 days; anyone stopped by police must tell them they are carrying and surrender their firearm temporarily if the cop desires; and the absurd restrictions over where guns may be carried, present in the current statute, were not cleaned up.) Two of the nine committee members, Reps. Hammons and Harvey, voted against this major increase in freedom.

HB1/SF1, the appropriations bill, added 33 more government positions and increased state spending by 15%. So much for spending restraint within the Republican Party!

HB11 proposed to give the state more control over federal unconstitutionally-held land. WLI supports this position. See also HJ9.

HB52, government loan guarantees to business, is pure economic fascism. Unfortunately, the bill passed.

HB68 would have increased minimum wages to restaurant workers, thus driving many such businesses into insolvency. The entire concept of minimum wage is anti-freedom, economic voodoo, and harms the very class of people it purports to help. See also SF151.

HB75 makes the sniffing of gasoline fumes illegal. We're getting pretty silly here, folks. Can you imagine a teenager paying attention to this law even if he's aware of it? People must not remember what it was like to be a kid.

HB77 would have made hunting and shooting within 2 miles of a city limit illegal, a gun control nostrum more suited to California than Wyoming. This dumb idea comes from Reps. Bagby and Martin, and Senator Vasey, all liberty-haters according to their score in the Wyoming Liberty Index.

HB89 would have given a $6 million per year taxpayer subsidy to government employees. They have become a truly privileged class in many states, where ordinary citizens could not dream of getting what government retirees get - but these citizens are still required to fund it. Fortunately this bill did not even make it out of committee. Reps. McOmie, Esquibel, Gilmore, Hinckley, Illoway, Landon, Meuli, Petersen, Reese, Warren, and Slater, and Senator(s) Decaria, Hanes, Ross, Sessions, and Vasey supported this featherbed for the ruling class. We can guess where they will get their support from, next election. What a racket!

HB97 sought to license fishing outfitters, even guides who receive no compensation for their guiding! License everything under the sun; that's the government plan.

HB100, an attempt to control the sale of pseudoephedrine, more war on drugs silliness. See also HB293, which passed, and according to Michael Hendricks was a candidate for the worst attack on liberty this year.

HB105 would have enacted "community enhancement grants", another Wyoming Business Council pork-and-corruption program. See also HB117, HB330, HB346, HB348, SF71, SF118, and others.

HB111 extends the government running of the insurance business. People wonder why their insurance rates are going up? More voodoo economics.

HB133 would have bought more Wyoming cops. We already have more than enough cops. The last thing I want to see is a cop car in my rear view mirror.

HB134 would have created an astounding combination of communist central planning of jobs, along with welfare for the rich. This work of art comes from the fevered brains of Reps. Hinckley and Pedersen, and Senator Boggs - all contenders for the most liberty-hating member according to the Wyoming Liberty Index (Boggs actually won it). The bill was withdrawn by the sponsor; could shame have played a part in that?

HB154 envisioned a "youth recreation" account. Shades of midnight basketball in the cities, sheesh!

HB183 would have given seniors a $30 million trust fund generating $1 million annually. Welfare for the richest age cohort, and unadulterated socialist claptrap. Reps. Landon, Brechtel (who should know better), Osborn, Powers, Walsh, and Warren, and Senators Cooper and Geis had their names on this one. Voted down unanimously in committee!

HB199 would have made the ancient and honored practice of midwifery legal in Wyoming.

HB223 is a brand new government program, this time in suicide prevention. That ought to be a big help! (sarcasm alert)

HB230 would have increased the beer tax 20%. Rep. Warren wins the booby prize for killjoy of the year, and a grade of A+ in social engineering. Reps. Anderson, Bucholz, Gilmore, and Hastert, in the committee vote, also thought this was a swell idea. See also HB344.

HB231 would have extended the age of compulsory attendence for two years, to age 18. Rep Wasserburger does not like freedom very much (he owns last place in the 2005 Liberty Index). A more direct assault on freedom is difficult to imagine. Failed 1-8 in committee.

HB232 allows the local sales tax to be wasted on "economic development" projects, a euphemism for economic fascism. Ugh! This assault on freedom passed.

HB242 would have doubled the tax on non-cigarette tobacco products. This is about the most mean-spirited bill out there, and an example of what old Senator Everett Dirksen used to call, "Don't tax thee, don't tax me, tax that fella behind the tree." Worse, that it would have been imposed on an addicted population! Even the fiscal statement admitted it was an exercise in social engineering. Hardly needed revenues in a state that is rolling in cash. The Reps who voted for this ought to be ashamed!

HB246 would have required restraints on dogs in vehicles. The nanny state even for animals! What's next, booster seats? Reps. Warren and Hinckley's dumb idea.

HB256 would have prohibited cell phone use in vehicles.

HB267 would have prohibited "discrimination" in housing. Possibly the most destructive bill in the session: a direct attack on property rights and the right of association, an encouragement of irresponsibility among renters, and a shrinkage of the available rental stock (thus driving up rental rates) would have been the inevitable result. Pure economic fascism, more appropriate in California than in Wyoming. Reps. Esquibel, Goggles, Morgan, and Petersen, and Senators Burns, Job, Mockler (who should know better) and Vasey were responsible for this abomination.

HB282 would have added another welfare program for college students, of course funded by those without the means to go to college. HB285 did the same but with an even larger appropriation. See also HB307, HB323, HB329, HJ7, SF102, SF122, and HJ13.

HB283 would have allowed cities and even school districts to impose a sales tax. The bright idea of Reps Childers and Simpson, and Senator Coe. This does increase the local control criterion, but in the absence of a state level tax cut it is a very bad idea.

HB301 would have made non-wearing of a seatbelt a primary violation. More nanny-state legislation. Reps Iekel, Berger, Cohee, Hinckley, Landon, Olsen, Osborn, White, and Watt, and Senator Peck, thought this was a good idea. See also SF66.

HB312 would have cut the valuation on property for property tax assessment from 9.5% to 8%, an excellent bill.

HB320 would have eliminated the tax on annuities, also an excellent idea.

HJ7 would have sent an initiative to the people to insert into the constitution an "investment in children trust fund". That is, the state getting into the baby-raising business, apparently because they think moms are not qualified for it. Also a sly bit of language buried in there for more welfare for "children" who are college students. A fairly long list of bottom-of-the-Liberty-Index statist representatives and senators sponsored this exercise in the collectivizing of child-raising.

HJ13 was a simple resolution toward making college education "free" in Wyoming. The constitution does indeed specify: 97-7-016. Tuition free. The university shall be equally open to students of both sexes, irrespective of race or color; and, in order that the instruction furnished may be as nearly free as possible, any amount in addition to the income from its grants of lands and other sources above mentioned, necessary to its support and maintenance in a condition of full efficiency shall be raised by taxation or otherwise, under provisions of the legislature. However, because something is in the constitution, does not automatically mean it supports freedom. Wyoming Liberty Index opposes this provision because nothing government ever does is "free". 97-7-016 should be repealed. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California, one of the best things he ever did was to take the University system there back to a for-pay system. We should not provide welfare to anyone, much less to college students.

SF8 would have made open containers of alcohol in vehicles illegal, another assault on freedom even though few people seem to recognize this, or don't care if they do. This was barely killed in the conference committee, and is certain to return next session. WLI does not condone drinking in vehicles, but also does not agree it should be a punishable "offense" when passengers do it.

SF13 has brought mortgage lenders and brokers under the regulatory net in Wyoming, another exercise in economic fascism.

SF14 makes teenagers and rural folks second-class citizens by imposing a "graduated" drivers' license.

SF32 attempted to force people to register with the selective service system in order to obtain a drivers' license or ID card. A major amendment to this bill changed it from mandatory to optional (no doubt needed to pick up votes), but then it failed to get the majority by a margin of one vote in the Senate anyway. Wyoming Liberty Index strongly opposes any such bill, and also opposes the draft itself which is about as hostile to liberty as it is possible to get. One of the worst bills of the session.

SF47 provides an additional $43 million down the black hole of government education, including extension of full day kindergarten which is one of the more harmful ways to spend this money. Young children belong at home with their mothers or fathers. Unfortunately, this bill passed.

SF53 increases the regulation of cosmetologists - a government cartel of nail-polishers and the like, stifling entry of competition in the market. Pure economic fascism. As I commented in the spreasheet, this statute ought to be ripped from the lawbooks and strangled like a berserk chicken.

SF67 eliminates excess collection of the special-purpose county sales tax, a good thing.

SF160 would have created a gigantic $230 million trust fund for the state to get into the tourism promotion business. Talk about wealth transfer and boondoggles! And economic fascism. Maybe businesses that serve tourists ought to promote themselves instead. Imagine that!