Local groups address state politicians on variety of issues
Date posted: January 16, 2014
SHERIDAN — Leaders gathered Wednesday to address local legislators on a variety of topics important to their organizations. The discussions were part of the annual Legislative Forum put together by the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Affairs Committee.
The forum will continue today at Sheridan City Hall.
Here are highlights from Wednesday’s event.
Sheridan County Commissioners
Sheridan County Commissioner Steve Maier addressed several issues with local legislators during the forum at City Hall.
He expressed support for Gov. Matt Mead’s budget recommendation for appropriations to cities and counties, a total of $175 million over the two-year budget biennium, as well as the recommended split of those funds 60 percent for operations and 40 percent for consensus funding that supports capital construction.
Maier also urged legislators to consider an option being discussed that would allow cities and counties to join the state health insurance program.
No bills have been drafted to that effect at this time, but Maier said Sheridan County would definitely be in support if a bill were drafted.
Maier also addressed ongoing efforts to streamline legal publication requirements for local government entities. He said Sheridan County spends approximately $40,000 per year on publications and would benefit from being able to reduce that bill.
County Commissioner Mike Nickel addressed the legislators about a draft bill that would allow county commissioners to choose how best to work with the state in organizing public health nursing and other related public health functions in a manner determined to work best for individual counties. He said the commissioners were in support of the bill that would allow two counties in Wyoming that had previously dropped out of the county public health program to re-enter it and receive state funds.
Sheridan Memorial Hospital
Sheridan Memorial Hospital CEO Mike McCafferty urged Sheridan County delegates to support legislation that would require all hospitals — including private facilities — to accept Medicare and Medicaid and to reject legislation that would expand Medicare and Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act during his presentation at the Legislative Forum Wednesday.
“Having a hospital that doesn’t accept Medicare and Medicaid directly undercuts our ability to provide service,” McCafferty said.
Between the reduced reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid and write-offs for bad debt and charity care — which total approximately $8 million per year for SMH — hospitals rely on funds from insured patients to stay afloat.
McCafferty said SMH is the only hospital in the state, out of 27 total, that doesn’t support Medicaid Expansion. He said expansion would increase utilization of services while decreasing personal responsibility, which would increase costs and drive up price inflation since hospitals would be treating more patients and receiving less reimbursement.
Sheridan Community Land Trust
Sheridan Community Land Trust Executive Director Colin Betzler said he looks forward to working toward further conservation efforts in the immediate area. While SCLT operations are at a standstill as a byproduct of an internal audit of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Betzler said he hopes to pursue additional conservation efforts in the immediate area surrounding Sheridan.
“Every time we can deliver a project that shows public value, it just further excites people about the conservation work that’s happening here,” he said, indicating Sheridan County is a leader in the state for conservation efforts.
Betzler expressed thanks for the continued support from the Legislature and made mention of ambitions to expand his network.
“We have partnered with the Game and Fish in the past, and when we sit down with a landowner looking at different opportunities for conservation for potential public access for hunting, for fishing, things like that, it’s really great if we can have the Game and Fish at the table and they can have some funding available to maybe help augment a project and move it forward,” he said, adding that he understands now may not be the time to fund those endeavors. “In the current budget crunch, a lot of those options are off the table.”
Easter Seals, a Sheridan organization that provides rehabilitation and assistance services to more than 80 people in Sheridan with developmental disabilities or acquired brain injuries, sent a trio of speakers to address the panel of local legislators. Brandy Nielsen, assistant director of care and services, said her operations, along with other businesses in Sheridan that provide similar services, are at risk of being curtailed.
Under a proposed redesign of the state’s Medicaid waiver program, a larger population of disabled people would be served on the same amount of funding the program now has. Nielsen said if that policy takes effect, some of her clients will see a drastic, life-changing reduction in the amount of help they receive, and may end up in another state institution via hospital or jail admissions.
“Unfortunately, in the industry we work in, natural supports are not going to maintain a broad, substantial base for our participants in the long range,” Nielsen said.
Volunteers of America Northern Rockies
Jeff Holsinger, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, celebrated the past year’s achievements, but stressed that the Affordable Care Act is expected to weaken the company’s bottom line.
VOA Executive Vice President Julie Bettcher took the podium to share that stipulations in the Affordable Care Act that mandate employees who work 30 or more hours have employer-provided insurance cost the VOA an additional $80,000. In addition, the mandate that employers must offer health insurance to new hires after only 90 days took another $58,000. Bettcher said premium increases tacked on another $50,000.
Holsinger asked the legislators to reject the Medicaid expansion because he does not believe the federal government will follow through on its promise to fund the program, both in Wyoming and nationally.
“We serve a number of people that would have a positive impact with the Medicaid expansion,” he continued. “But, Volunteers of America is also about providing services that offer a hand up, that provide accountability and to people investing in their own success. The one thing that concerns me is when we think we’ve got entitlements out the there just because of poverty. We don’t want to create environments where the people we’re serving are unmotivated or not able to move out because of financial losses and entitlement losses they experience.”
Holsinger said he has had experience even among the lower paid VOA employees who decline an offered raise because the raise would not compensate for an existing qualification for a benefit from the Department of Family Services.
Bettcher said that while VOA can bill insurance companies for services, most VOA clients are uninsured. Holsinger agreed, adding that the VOA is most successful in collecting direct payment from individuals, while extracting money from insurance companies represents a struggle.
Sheridan County School District 1
Superintendent Marty Kobza of Sheridan County School District 1 highlighted the importance and benefits of the district’s concurrent enrollment agreement with Sheridan College, where districts students are able to take courses at the college.
Kobza said that in contrast with Advanced Placement classes that are offered in other districts, the concurrent enrollment program allows participating students to earn college credit. He noted that taking college courses also boosts the confidence of many students and often encourages them to continue to post-secondary education after graduation.
Sheridan County School District 3
SCSD3 Superintendent Charles Auzqui gave a summary presentation to the forum about the district. He said unfortunately, many people’s only knowledge of the district is the fact that it has the highest per student education cost in the state.
Auzqui said he hoped to educate the legislators more about the uniqueness of the district and the challenges and opportunities it provides. He noted the district’s teachers have many challenges to meet, due to the requirement that they teach several grade levels, rather than just one, but that the schools maintain a high level of achievement and serve as community hubs for Clearmont and Arvada.
Sheridan County Schoool District 2
SCSD2 Assistant Superintendent Tom Sachse presented an overview of the district and also spoke directly to several pieces of legislation coming up in the next session.
In particular, he noted that the district supports House Bill 26, relating to early childhood education and development programs, and opposes Senate File 36, which would restrict specified professional development and training during regular school hours.
He also noted that the district seeks relief from the 16 to 1 class size mandate. He said the district applies for and receives a waiver each year for this requirement, but suggested that perhaps schools who are exceeding expectations with student achievement could receive automatic waivers from the mandate.