Jan 22, 2015

Park County Republicans blast governor on gay marriage

Gov. Matt Mead should ignore a federal judge and direct the state’s county clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Park County Republican Party says.

Local Republican leaders told Mead in a letter sent last week that “you violated your oath of office to defend Wyoming and our statutes” by not choosing not to appeal the October ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state.

The Park County GOP said U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper had no authority to void the state’s laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman and said they were “shocked and disappointed” that Mead didn’t appeal. You can read the letter below.

Mead said in a prepared statement provided to the Tribune that he’s been firm in his personal stance that “family is foundational and marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“But we need to recognize where we are with the courts, and I do recognize that,” Mead said.

The Park County Republican Party’s letter recommended not recognizing the federal court’s decision.

“We believe you are our best line of defense against such intrusion and we strongly recommend that you counter the unconstitutional overreach of federal District Judge Scott Skavdahl,” reads the party leaders’ letter. “This can easily be done by utilizing the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment and by instructing the county clerks to issue marriage licenses with the Wyoming state statutes.”

Park County Republican Party Chairman Larry French said in an interview that it would take some guts to reject the federal government’s order, but “all the governor would have to say is, ‘You’re not welcome here.’”

French added later that, “this state government is scared to death of the federal government and drunk on federal money.”

Gov. Matt Mead
Mead said in his response to the county party’s letter that “these individuals or any other groups are free to pursue any recourse they believe is available. I prefer constructive dialogue about important issues.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” he said.

The Park County party’s elected precinct committee people, collectively known as the central committee, voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 16 to send a letter to Mead, French said. The central committee allowed its executive committee — made up of French, party vice chairman Hank Whitelock, state committeeman Bob Berry, state committeewoman Echo Renner, treasurer Vince Vanata and secretary Laurie Sorum — to write the letter, French said.

The local Republicans’ action followed a similar letter sent in early December by the Goshen County GOP. The Goshen County Republicans wrote that Mead “was remiss in not strenuously supporting” the party’s platform, which opposes gay marriage. The party’s letter asked Mead and the Legislature’s leaders to “do all they can from this point forward to support and promote our official party platform planks relating to family and marriage,” though it didn’t specifically ask them to ignore the court order.

French said he hadn’t read Skavdahl’s ruling voiding Wyoming’s ban on gay marriage, but the party chairman said that federal decision and others that rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan and expanded the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation are all examples of unconstitutional infringements on the state’s rights.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” Gov. Mead said.

Skavdahl’s ruling was based on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Utah and Oklahoma’s bans on gay marriages violated their citizens’ 14th Amendment rights.

“Under the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex,” the appellate court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 10th Circuit’s ruling, leaving it in place as precedent for federal courts in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Skavdahl had expressed reluctance about striking down Wyoming’s marriage laws (saying it would have been better for the issue to be addressed by legislative action), but wrote “that ship has sailed.”

“It is not the desire or preference of this court to, with the stroke of a pen, erase a state’s legislative enactments,” Skavdahl wrote Oct. 17. “Nonetheless, the binding precedent (of the 10th Circuit rulings) mandate this result, and this court will adhere to its constitutional duties and abide by the rule of law.”

Mead’s Attorney General, Peter Michael, had concluded that appealing Skavdahl’s ruling back to the same 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that started the process by striking down Utah’s and Oklahoma’s marriage laws would “result in delay but not a different result.”

The legal landscape could change in coming months, however. The Supreme Court may provide a definitive answer by the end of June as to whether the 14th Amendment does require states to let same-sex couples marry. The high court agreed last week to take up the question in response to challenges to marriage laws in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.

~By CJ Baker

The Park County Republican Party's letter to Gov. Matt Mead

Jan 20, 2015

State's snowmelt is looking promising

Thus far, the water supply outlook for this spring and summer is looking good across much of Wyoming.

Near normal (90 to 105 percent) snowmelt streamflow volumes are expected across almost all major basins across Wyoming, said Jim Fahey, Wyoming National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hydrologist in Riverton on Jan. 8.

Above average streamflow volumes are expected across portions of the Shoshone River drainage and the Powder River watershed.

The Sweetwater River basin as well as lower portions of the Wind River watershed are forecast to have below-normal streamflow volumes during the upcoming snowmelt season, Fahey said.

Wyoming reservoir storages are slightly above average for January, running 100 to 105 percent, Fahey said.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir was nearly 72 percent full with 463,692 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 318.8 cubic feet per second (CFS) and outflow was 354.6 CFS, as of Jan. 15, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Big Horn Lake was 89 percent full with 908,144 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 2,318.8 CFS and outflow was 2,684.8 CFS on Jan. 15, bureau statistics show.

Boysen Reservoir was more than 91 percent full with 675,870 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 734.3 CFS and outflow was 920.3 CFS Jan. 15, according to the bureau.

Current water year (October-December) precipitation across Wyoming is nearly 100 percent of average, and December’s precipitation was nearly 140 percent of average, Fahey said.

Shoshone basin’s SWE was 119 percent and Big Horn’s was 109 percent on Jan. 12, according to the NRCS. The statewide snow water equivalent (SWE) average was 103 percent on Jan. 12, according to a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010 calculated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Mountain snowpack across Wyoming was 100 to 105 percent of normal by early January.

Snowpack water numbers and/or SWEs were the highest across basins west of the Continental Divide, varying between 115 to 140 percent of median. SWEs across basins east of the Continental Divide varied from 85 to 110 percent of median, Fahey said.

Cody airport passenger numbers fly up in 2014

Cody's airport had the highest number of passengers ever recorded last year.

“It was a record year for the Yellowstone Regional Airport,” said the airport’s manager, Bob Hooper.

Yellowstone Regional Airport officials say 2014 was a busy year -- and that 2015 has started that way as well. Photo courtesy YRA
The airport boarded 32,301 passengers in 2014, exceeding 2013 by 4.2 percent.

A total of 63,634 passengers traveled through the airport last year.

Airport officials attribute the increase in passenger numbers to ticket prices that are kept competitive with out-of-state airports and a focus on offering convenient flight schedules for vacation travelers during the heavy summer tourism season. The addition of a new non-stop flight to Chicago on Sundays during the peak tourist season also was a major factor in the increased passenger numbers.

Yellowstone Regional Airport also pitches its complimentary free parking and the conveniences offered in the new terminal building, like an efficient check-in process, state-of-the-art security screening and Norma’s Mexican Restaurant.

The airport offers daily jet service on United Express to Denver and Delta Connection to Salt Lake City. In addition, five major car rental companies are available at the airport.

Ice rescue training aims to save victims and rescuers

Search-and-rescue team members from Park, Washakie and Fremont Counties took part in ice rescue training over the weekend. Here, during Sunday's hands-on training, a participant is ‘rescued’ in Buffalo Bill Reservoir by holding on to a hard plastic float ring pulled in by another participant. In the background, other class members use ice picks to punch another hole. Photo by Ilene Olson
The Park County Sheriff’s Office hosted a two-day ice rescue course for search-and-rescue personnel Saturday and Sunday.

The training focused on the skills necessary to conduct open ice self-rescues effectively as well as the rescue of victims who have become trapped by falling through the ice.

Classroom training Saturday included sessions on rescue skills and techniques such as pre-planning, evaluation of the rescue environment, equipment, rope rescue, personal safety and self-rescue, as well as ice processes and properties.

Day two took place at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, where students watched and conducted open-ice rescues using techniques taught in the class. The course, “Ice Rescue Technician,” was conducted by representatives of Rescue 3 International of Wilton, Calif., and was attended by search and rescue personnel from Park, Washakie and Fremont counties.

On the left, rescuers examine a buoyant sling after using it on a fellow classmate. The sling is placed under the victim’s arms, the ends are drawn together with a rope, then rescuers pull the victim to safety. In the center, a rescuer throws a hard plastic ring to a victim before pulling him out. And at right, a class member uses a pontoon raft to navigate over water and ice. Photo by Ilene Olson
Instructors were Dick Rice, owner of Alaska Rescues in Anchorage, Alaska, and K.C. Bess, who works and resides in Jackson. Both are certified contract instructors for Rescue 3 International.

“Every agency that anticipates an ice rescue should prepare,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a prepared statement.

Steward, who attended the classroom training, added, “It is often the quality of the training that determines the victim’s chances for survival, while at the same time ensuring the rescuers’ safety. This training is a good start, but one-time training isn’t enough. Ongoing practice is vital.

“These two elements, combined with actual calls, give our search and rescue personnel the ability to conduct a safe and effective rescue when the time comes,” he said.

 Rescue 3 International, a recognized leader in ice, water and flood rescue in 33 countries, was founded in 1979 after a California search and rescue team nearly lost one of its own during a water rescue. It provides flood, water, ice, and rope rescue training with an emphasis keeping rescuers from becoming victims.

The Park County Search and Rescue Unit is comprised of 25-30 local men and women volunteers from all walks of life who are ready at a moment’s notice to respond and provide state-of-the-art rescue techniques to those in need.

To learn more about the unit, go to the Park County Sheriff’s webpage.

Governor: It’s time to expand Medicaid

CHEYENNE — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead still doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act and still questions whether it’s financially sustainable. But he says it’s time for Wyoming to use the federal money made available in the act (often called Obamacare or the ACA) to help lower-income residents with their medical bills.

Mead’s administration has proposed a plan that would expand Medicaid benefits to thousands of uninsured Wyomingites under the health care law.

“We don’t have to like the (Affordable Care Act); we can agree that it needs to continue to be fixed, if not done away with, but we are in a place now where we’re rejecting $100 million a year that is going to other states, in a place now where we have legitimate needs — 17,000-plus Wyoming citizens, many of whom are hard-working,” Mead said Friday, as he addressed representatives of the state’s newspapers.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is photographed as he addresses members of the Wyoming Press Association on Jan. 16 in Cheyenne. Photo by Tom Lawrence

Currently, people qualify for Medicaid only if their income is low and they meet certain conditions (like being pregnant or disabled).

The Wyoming Department of Health’s proposed SHARE plan, following Affordable Care Act guidelines, would make Medicaid healthcare help available to anyone making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (around $16,100 for an individual; $32,900 for a family of four). Under the Department of Health’s proposal, those covered under the plan would have to pay certain deductibles when they receive care, and people making between 101 and 138 percent of the poverty level would have to also pay monthly premiums.

The program would end if the federal government backed out of its promises to foot at least 90 percent of the costs.

“What I don’t want is for us to go through this and the Legislature will say, ‘We don’t like the SHARE plan so we have no plan,’” Mead said.

The Legislature’s health committee disfavors the SHARE plan; it has recommended an alternative plan that instead would give the covered individuals health savings accounts. The committee’s leaders believe a health saving account would help ensure people have a financial stake in their health care decisions and don’t overuse the system.

Mead said he believes the SHARE plan would be cost-neutral and less expensive to the state than the alternatives he’s seen, but that he’s open to suggestions.

“What I don’t want is for us to go through this and the Legislature will say, ‘We don’t like the SHARE plan so we have no plan,’” Mead said.

The governor said the state has been passing on the federal money for four years while working men and woman can’t afford healthcare and state hospitals absorb some $200 million a year in uncompensated care. He said now is the time to move forward.

Not the time to hoard state dollars

The governor said plummeting oil prices should concern everyone across the country, given the jobs the industry directly and indirectly supports. Every $5 drop in oil prices costs Wyoming $35 million, Mead said.

But he said it’s not the time for Wyoming to be hoarders.

“We do not want to have a self-fulfilling prophecy here where we put out a closed sign and say, ‘We don’t have any money and so we’re stopping everything,’” Mead said. “We shouldn’t do that and, in my mind, we can’t do that.”

He said the state should keep saving, but that it’s also time for the state to have a conversation about its reserves and when it’s time to tap into them. Mead would also like a more transparent fiscal process. For example, he said a recent revenue forecast suggests the state has no money to spend, but that doesn’t recognize the record amount of savings socked away in recent years.

Governor till opposes legalizing marijuana in Wyoming.

“I’m not trying to be pig-headed on this,” Mead said. “We will watch and we will see (what happens in Colorado), but I don’t think it is the right direction for Wyoming.”

He’s unconvinced that Colorado’s additional tax dollars and “marijuana tourism” will surpass the impacts to traditional tourism, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and other areas.

Nebraska and Oklahoma have each sued Colorado over its legalization of the drug, saying that’s negatively impacted them, but Mead indicated he won’t join that fight.

“My position, if we could get there, wouldn’t necessarily be to sue the state of Colorado; it would be to sue the federal government and the Department of Justice,” Mead said.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way for the federal government, the Department of Justice, to ignore an entire set of laws, because in effect then you are changing law — and that should be an act of congress, not an act of an individual man deciding what he would like to do,” Mead said.

Possession and distribution of marijuana remains a federal crime, but the Obama administration has decided not to enforce the laws in states where it’s been legalized.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way for the federal government, the Department of Justice, to ignore an entire set of laws, because in effect then you are changing law — and that should be an act of congress, not an act of an individual man deciding what he would like to do,” said Mead, a former federal prosecutor.

No free ride for community college

President Obama’s call to provide free community college educations to all citizens isn’t being echoed by Mead. While praising the value of Wyoming’s community colleges and saying it’s important for them to remain inexpensive, the governor believes students should have some “skin in the game.”

“Education is so important that it is worth some amount of sacrifice,” Mead said.

Mead won't run for re-election in 2018

Two terms as governor is enough, and Mead said he plans to return to ranching after completing the second four-year term that he began this month.

“Even if, in the future, we have the best governor ever, I think it’s important to have that turnover,” Mead said.

He said he supports a current or former governor for president in 2016, listing several potential Republican candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

 ~By CJ Baker

Detention deputies get survival training

Park County detention officers recently took to the floor of the county’s district courtroom — and other places — to learn safety and survival skills.

Detention Deputy Denise Kolacny practices defensive techniques during a bladed weapon attack. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff’s detention deputies received three days of training from TAC*ONE Consultants of Denver

on how to mitigate threats and survive confrontations. The training included hand-to-hand defensive techniques, use of firearms in combat situations and techniques for retaining control of inmates.

To enhance the realism, some scenarios were held at the Park County Courthouse since transporting inmates to and from the building — and guarding them once inside the courtrooms — are normal parts of deputies’ jobs.

One scenario involved deputies tussling with a courtroom assailant in front of the district court bench.

Each scenario was designed to mirror situations that deputies could face at any moment.

Sgt. Jona Harris is attacked by a spectator (portrayed by TAC*ONE instructor) in the district courtroom while Deputy Karla Turner rushes to intervene. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff’s Office
“It has been demonstrated that when faced with a high-stress, unfamiliar situation, deputies will instinctively revert to their training,” Detention Lt. Tod Larson stated in a news release. “It is many times the quality of that training that determines the deputy’s chances for survival.”

During another portion of the training, deputies had to demonstrate proficiency with their firearm while under stress, reading and reacting to different situations. The instruction also included techniques for safely handling combative prisoners and bystanders.

Larson said training the entire detention staff at one time promotes team-building and helps ensure each deputy has the same training and philosophical approach to emergency situations.

Patrol deputies from the agency received similar training from TAC*ONE Consulting last August. The firm’s instructors include former law enforcement and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) operators certified in multiple areas.

County willing to pay to stay in wolf fight

Park County commissioners are OK with spending as much as $2,000 to help argue that a federal judge was wrong to put Wyoming’s gray wolves back under more restrictive federal management.

“We’ve gone this far,” said Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden.

The county’s money will help pay Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman to write and submit a brief to an appeals court. Hageman will argue that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., was wrong to reject the state of Wyoming’s plan for managing its wolves.

Hageman serves as the attorney for the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, a group of sportsmen, agricultural interests and local governments like counties; the coalition supported the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the past couple years as they tried to convince Judge Jackson to reject environmental groups’ challenges to Wyoming’s plan.

Jackson ruled against the state, Fish and Wildlife and defenders of the plan like the Wolf Coalition in September.

All the parties to the lawsuit — both those defending the state plan and the environmental groups opposing it — have filed separate notices saying they may appeal parts of Jackson’s decision.

The Wolf Coalition will only play a supporting role in the appeal, as it is not an actual party to the lawsuit.
A wolf howls in Yellowstone National Park in this 2004 photo, snapped by Jim Peaco of the National Park Service. The animals' legal status was in dispute at the time of the photo and remains so today; Park County commissioners hope to join an appeal of a judge's decision that put Wyoming's wolves back under federal protections.

The county paid $3,000 to join the coalition in February of 2013.

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

However, at the commission’s Dec. 16 meeting, there was some dissent about putting more money into the effort.

Commissioner Lee Livingston, a Wapiti-based outfitter, said he’s a major proponent of the state’s wolf plan, but he questioned whether the expense of joining the appeal was worth it.

“A lot of folks in the industry are of the opinion that it’s good money being sent after bad,” Livingston said.

The commissioner said he and other outfitters don’t believe anything will be gained on appeal.

“No one wants to see them (wolves) gone more than I, but we’re just getting our teeth kicked in on this deal,” Livingston said.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis told commissioners it’s an important case and that Hageman is a good attorney and advocate. But he said it’s hard to say whether Hageman’s brief will sway the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It could be an opportunity to present different arguments to the judges, but “on the other hand, those circuit court judges, they’d like to affirm their (district court) judge,” Davis said. “They’d rather affirm them than not.”

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

Livingston was the lone dissenter in the vote to authorize up to $2,000 more for the coalition.

“Hopefully, the appeals court will be rational,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

While the commissioners were down on Judge Jackson’s opinion, her ruling actually upheld the most controversial aspects of Wyoming’s wolf plan — specifically rejecting environmentalists’ objections to the state’s policy of allowing wolves to be killed on sight in most of the state and hunted in the northwest corner.

Jackson overturned the plan because she found Wyoming’s commitments to maintain more than 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs weren’t legally enforceable.

Tilden said the coalition has spent roughly $20,900 of an initial $22,000 of funding.

Participating in the appeal may cost as much as $8,000 more, Hageman told the Tribune, but she said it’s difficult to know what costs and fees may be incurred. She said her first step will be to file a motion asking the federal court to allow the wolf coalition to participate as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the appeal.

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