Op-ed: Compassion and Common Sense

Pickets in LanderAn edited version of FCDP Chair Bruce Palmer’s op-ed piece ran in today’s Casper Star-Tribune with the title: Let commonsense carry the day on Medicaid:

The month of November has been a roller coaster for supporters of Medicaid expansion in Wyoming. It started with the Joint Health, Labor and Social Services Interim Committee meeting in Lander. Opportunities for expansion seemed more possible with the committee discussing a new Wyoming Department of Health report outlining five possible paths to expansion, all of them offering varying degrees of coverage to Wyoming’s working poor and savings to the state of Wyoming.

Supporters turned out in droves picketing outside (in single digit temperatures), packing the house for the discussion and speaking out during public comment. A broad coalition of interested organizations coordinated this outpouring of support, including the Wyoming Association of Churches, the Wind River Health Care Disparity Council, the Lander Ministerial Association, the Fremont County Democratic Party and others. This diverse group, feeling some momentum, came together because we feel that Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Wyoming, bringing together the compassionate nature of our people and the common sense that is held in high esteem by every Wyoming resident.

When helping those less fortunate and saving the state lots of money can be done at the same time it seems like it would be easy to make the right decision but, sadly last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Governor Matt Mead slowed the momentum, announcing that he remains opposed to the optional expansion of Medicaid. In announcing his opposition he pointed to the clumsy rollout of the online health care exchanges. He must know that, while the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges are both part of the Affordable Care Act, they are two entirely different topics. The state of Oregon has signed up 70,000 people as part of the Medicaid expansion using paper and pencils, an approach the Governor must be familiar with since this is the way our students must do our state-wide testing after Wyoming’s failed roll-out of a computerized PAWS test.

In Wyoming, expanding Medicaid to include those making 138% of poverty level would allow nearly 18,000 of our residents to gain access to health care. Nearly 90% of these individuals work one or more jobs trying to make ends meet. They are poor, but just like you and me they get up in the morning and head to work to put food on the table. Unlike those of us fortunate enough to have employer-sponsored health insurance these folks don’t get insurance at their job and they don’t make enough to go and buy it. Food and shelter, naturally, are going to come first.

These people earning very modest incomes at jobs with no benefits deserve compassion, not scorn, but the words of Senator Charles Scott reveal the true feelings of the paternalistic Republicans. In the committee meeting he indicated that when considering Medicaid expansion they needed to be careful because the poor will chose to live below the poverty level to keep their Medicaid. Really? Sorry Charlie, people don’t choose poverty.

Later in an interview with K2 television Senator Scott was on television with this gem, “The traditional Medicaid program does considerable harm to the recipients, by encouraging excessive utilization of health care.” The poor are harmed by too much health care? Oh, my. Thank goodness the Republicans are here to save the poor from doctors!

In the instance of Medicaid expansion the Republican’s wrong-headed, paternalistic and strange ideology is keeping them from using the common sense that they claim as a bedrock value. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, Medicaid expansion will save the state 47.4 million dollars over the next six years. But the savings don’t stop there. When people are sick they seek medical care insured or not. The Wyoming Hospital Association calculates that 200 million dollars a year is spent on indigent care in the state. It is fiscally irresponsible to continue the fight against Medicaid expansion.

In spite of this recent setback from Governor Matt Mead, there is always hope. The Governor has said that he will continue to evaluate the law. Recently, Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich did just that and used administrative rules to expand Medicaid in that state over the objections of the Republican controlled legislature, saying, “There seems to be a war on the poor.” He went further saying that, “So Ohio gets a good deal. We get $14 billion of Ohio money back to Ohio to deal with some of the most serious problems.”

Help the poor and get back the money that each of us pays in taxes to solve a problem here in Wyoming? Is it possible? Will Governor Mead and the Republican-dominated Legislature let compassion and commonsense carry the day in Wyoming, too?

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers

Teachers Are Heroes!

Teachers Are Heroes!

It is American Education Week. This short essay by Fremont County Democratic Party Chair and FCSD1 Trustee, Bruce Palmer appeared on county10.com.

My career in education began 52 years ago when at age five my Mom put me on the bus for the very first time. And off I went to Bushy Hill Elementary School. My world was rocked.

I was surrounded by a new routine, with people that I didn’t know, in a building that was totally foreign to me. And I did fine. Better than fine. I started on a life-long journey that still goes on. The reason that I did fine was the awesome people that suddenly spent more time with me than my parents did—classroom teachers, custodians, bus drivers, and kitchen staff. They were dedicated to my experience and every one of them was a teacher—a purveyor of information, a shoulder to cry on, a role-model.

Everyday there are kids just like I was heading off to school. And every day there are educational victories, big and small, happening in our public schools. It isn’t just happenstance. It is because caring, intelligent and passionate teachers are there making it happen. It takes heroic efforts and our teachers of all types, whether in the classroom or the lunchroom, will always be heroes to me. This American Education Week let’s remember some of the heroes that made a difference in our lives. It is never too late to drop them a note or stop them in the grocery store and let them know what a difference they made. Here are a few of my heroes:

Mr. Leo Alvares—my sixth grade teacher and my grade 11 Language Arts teacher. Tough, demanding and fair Mr. Alvares would bring the class to attention with a brusque, “Without discipline there is no freedom.”

Ms. Marcia Brolli—Mrs. Brolli was my Language Arts teacher in 9th and 10thgrade. We worked and we had fun. Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” never looked as wild as it did when played out by a group of 10th grade boys! “Et tu, Brute?”

Dr. John Lindell—One of my political science professors at Hartwick College, Dr. Lindell taught me to write. The problem was I thought I knew how. He cleared up that misperception early in my college career and that led to academic success further down the road.

Dr. Diana Christopolous—Diana was just a few years older than I was when I started college. She was cool and progressive and we learned a lot in her American History classes. She challenged us to think differently and encouraged us to use a variety of mediums to express our thoughts.

These four people played a huge role in who I am today. Our schools in Lander and across our wonderful country are filled with American heroes. Who are the heroic teachers in your life?

Medicaid Expansion Op-ed Article

This op-ed article by FCDP Chair Bruce Palmer will be appearing in the October 30, 2013 Lander Journal:

On June 28 of 2012, the United States Supreme Court, a court stuffed with very, very conservative jurists sent Wyoming and 25 other states packing. The Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act was, in fact, the law of the land. It was a decision that delighted Democrats in Wyoming and across the nation who saw an opportunity to provide health insurance for all of our citizens while it caused outrage on the right where any victory seized by the President is demonized.

After the blush wore off, though, we discovered that the decision left open a door for Wyoming’s Republican obstructionists to continue their grandstanding while wasting money and denying a needed hand-up to those less fortunate. Sadly, the Court left it to the state’s discretion to fully participate in the Medicaid expansion providing the opportunity for Governor Matt Mead and our legislators to continue dithering and blustering against the Federal government.

It would be easy for Republicans to make the right decision for Wyoming concerning the ACA. The Wyoming Department of Health thoroughly investigated the costs and benefits of the expansion and said that it would save the state 47.4 million dollars over six years. Organizations across the state support the expansion including AARP, the Wyoming Medical Society, the Wyoming Association of Churches and the Wyoming Hospital Association. These are not fly by night organizations and you can bet they have done the math. Yet in this past legislative session, in a bad economy, our Republican legislators opted to waste taxpayer’s money in order to make a statement by choosing to not endorse the Medicaid expansion. And of course it isn’t just our tax dollars that they decided to flush down the toilet.

When people don’t have health insurance they still require health care, but they tend not to take preventative measures. When they become ill or injured, they go to hospital emergency rooms, where ultimately many of their charges must be written off. The Wyoming Hospital Association indicates that these uncompensated expenses add up to 200 million dollars a year. Who do you think pays this bad debt? You, me and every other person who buys health care or health insurance.

More importantly, good policy isn’t just about governmental spending policy. Our Republican legislature has decided to leave 17,600 of our Wyoming neighbors without health insurance. The optional expansion would cover people with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level. For a family of four this amounts to an income of $31,809. These are our state’s working poor—folks that our Republican majority try to shaft at every opportunity, whether it is changing the rules to take their earned vacation or pooling their tips to limit their income.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it seems that our Republican politicians are dead set against doing the right thing for our citizens and our state. If the Federal government is involved it is bad, say our legislators. They don’t respond to my letters, says Governor Mead. The politics of divisiveness and childishness are alive and well in Wyoming.

Recently, Newt Gingrich said that Republicans have “zero ideas” on health care. Wyoming’s Republicans have less than no idea. Our Republican leaders have been wrong every step of the way, wasting money on a failed lawsuit, and time when we could have controlled our own destiny with a Wyoming Health Exchange run by Wyoming for Wyoming’s people.

Sadly, it is the people of Wyoming who are losing out due to this belligerence.

Next week provides a great opportunity to press our legislators to expand Medicaid. On Monday and Tuesday, November 4 and 5, the Legislatures’ Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee will be meeting at the Best Western Inn at Lander and Medicaid expansion is on the agenda. Before the meeting, write or call Lander’s Representative Lloyd Larsen, a member of interim committee and tell him that expanding Medicaid coverage is good for our economy and good for our citizens. Then attend the Tuesday, November 5 meeting and make a public comment. Fremont County Democrats will be there along with others from around the state. For more information and a complete agenda visit: TurnFremontBlue.com.

Make your voice heard!

Info on the November 5 meeting. Come and participate!

Care for the developmentally disabled shows our humanity

The following opinion piece by Bruce Palmer, Chair of the Fremont County Democratic Party, ran in today’s Casper Star-Tribune:

In Wyoming we pride ourselves on our sound judgment, abundant resources and concern for our neighbor. It is time to live these values by investing our state’s wealth and making improvements to the services offered the severely developmentally disabled. Admirably, last session the Legislature asked the Department of Health to eliminate waitlists for services, but unfortunately they are doing this on the backs of those already in the system by scaling back services and embarking on a “study” of the Wyoming Life Resource Center.

As a resident of Lander I am aware of the importance of this facility to Lander, the state of Wyoming, and most particularly to the clients who reside there and their families who have the piece of mind that comes with knowing that their loved one is well-cared for.

The Wyoming Life Resource Center offers excellent service to many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens—the severely developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries. The service provided these Wyoming citizens cannot be replicated in community-based programs—from the work programs that give the clients a sense of belonging and self-worth to the aquatic and therapeutic riding programs that brings joy to a person for whom every day is a challenge.

In the 1990s the vast majority of the residents of the Wyoming Life Resource Center (known then as the Wyoming State Training School) were removed from the facility and placed in community-based programs. These citizens have added greatly to our communities. Just this past winter the town of Lander had a funeral celebrating the life of John Cooper, a former client of the WLRC and a much-loved part of our community. John walked Lander’s Main Street and waved to every car that came through town. He was our goodwill ambassador. Not only was he our welcoming committee, he was also a master of farewells attending nearly every funeral performed in town. It was great being able to count him as a part of the life of our community. We are all richer for it.

John belonged in an adequately funded community-based program. He was able to get around town on his own and with help from his guardian and the available community services was able to navigate life. He was happy and loved and a testament to the benefits of being appropriately placed in the right situation.

Not every developmentally disabled person is the same. Like all of us they have different abilities and different needs. While John was able to lead a good life in the community, the clients of the Wyoming Life Resource Center have needs that are greater than what can be addressed in community-based programming. The people who are like John are already in community programs—some thriving as John did and some struggling. Our state needs both appropriately funded community-based options and the Wyoming Life Resource Center.

Over the past year I have been able to meet many of the 400 plus staff that make the WLRC a true gem in the community of Lander. I met people who were directly involved with client care and rehabilitation, maintenance staff and, to me, a surprise, staff who focus completely on maintaining and customizing wheelchairs and other durable medical products for the clients and others around the state. To a person I found these staff to be passionate about the work that they do for the Wyoming Life Resource Center and dedicated to the client experience.

Both the Wyoming Life Resource Center and our community-based programming show our compassion and caring for all of our citizens.

And our state has the resources to pay for them. Yes, we must be prudent, but we needn’t be stingy.

Bruce Palmer lives in Lander and is the Chair of the Fremont County Democratic Party.

Wyomingites do care about neighbors

Fremont County Democrat Marjane Ambler published this letter to the editor in yesterday’s Casper Star-Tribune.

Thanks, Marjane for telling it like it is!

October 05, 2013 12:00 am
Editor:

As we all know, Wyoming people pride ourselves on taking care of one another. If someone’s car breaks down on a remote road, we can count on someone stopping. I have been the beneficiary of that Wyoming generosity, and I have stopped to help stranded drivers and bicyclists.

If someone suffers from a medical emergency, we all turn out to support them at benefit events.

Benefit dances can never raise enough money to save us from bankruptcy, however — unless either insurance or government steps in to help.

I fear that people across the country see us as selfish because of the votes of our congressional representatives to limit health care for the poor and to limit food stamps. Will Liz Cheney drive our more moderate senator, Mike Enzi, even further to the right?

I hope that we will all remember their actions when it comes time to vote in 2014 and demonstrate that Wyomingmites do care about our neighbors and want them to have enough food to eat and access to health care.

MARJANE AMBLER, Atlantic City

Walking for Workers Saturday, September 28–Riverton

Take the pledge to stop voting for the enemies of labor.

Take the pledge to stop voting for the enemies of labor.

On Saturday, September 28 in Riverton we will be “Walking for Workers,” knocking on the doors of registered Democrats, giving them information about the Fremont County Democratic Party and asking that they sign a petition in support of the repeal of Enrolled Act 37, the Vacation Theft Act. Message points and all the materials needed will be provided. We’ll meet at the Bandshell at Riverton City Park and canvass from 10 am until 2 pm and then regroup for munchies and stories. Sign up here:

 

Walking For Workers Saturday in Lander

 

Walking for Workers. Repeal the Vacation Theft Act.

Walking for Workers. Repeal the Vacation Theft Act.

On Saturday, September 21 in Lander we will be “Walking for Workers,” knocking on the doors of registered Democrats, giving them information about the Fremont County Democratic Party and asking that they sign a petition in support of the repeal of Enrolled Act 37– the Vacation Theft Act. Message points and all the materials needed will be provided. We’ll meet at The Palmers, 291 Cascade Street (corner of 3rd and Cascade) in Lander and canvass from 10 am until 2 pm and then regroup for chili and stories.

On Saturday, September 28 we will follow this up by “Walking for Workers” in Riverton.
Please volunteer to support this important effort to protect workers rights in Wyoming.

Learn more about Enrolled Act 37:
Enrolled Act 37– Wyoming Republicans Gift to Working People
Wyoming Democrats and Labor Day
Equality State Policy Center Spring Newsletter
Wyoming GOP’s Enrolled Act 37 – WDP Timeline

Wyoming Democrats and Labor Day

This Labor Day take the pledge to stop voting for the enemies of labor.

This Labor Day take the pledge to stop voting for the enemies of labor.

Another Labor Day is upon us. It is generally celebrated as the “last day of summer”, the start of the school year, and here in Wyoming, the beginning of the “only time to visit Yellowstone,” as the tourists head back to the coasts or the flatlands. But Labor Day is much more than just a mark of time. Like Memorial Day it is really time of tribute. It is a time to celebrate people who go to work everyday to make Wyoming and our country strong—construction workers, firefighters, educators, food industry workers, police, state employees, workers in oil, gas and mining and many, many more fields of endeavor.

But Labor Day is more than simply a celebration of hard work it is also a time to remember the sacrifices that have been made over the centuries to make work and workers more respected and adequately compensated. Just like a paycheck, the advances that labor has made over the years haven’t been handed to workers, they have been earned. Hard lobbying, hard negotiating and, tragically, lives lost in the pursuit of a more equitable and just America.

It would be nice to say that the advances that workers have achieved over the years are secure, but the facts belie that conclusion. On a national level unemployment remains high and Republicans will not budge on any sort of jobs bill, the minimum wage has not changed in years and adjusted for inflation is worth less than when first established decades ago, and Republican’s are fighting the Affordable Care Act, the best hope for our working poor to get adequate health insurance, tooth and nail.

Closer to home the news for workers is more aggressively negative. While Wyoming continues to lead the way in worker fatalities as our Republican dominated government dithers away with toothless voluntary measures, we remain dead last in gender wage equity with women earning 66 cents on the dollar. Republican’s neglect of on these issues often overshadows their blatant hostility to workers on many other issues.

In this past session Republican’s attempted to pass tip pooling legislation that would have allowed employers to force employees to pool their tips reducing some employees income potential while reducing the burden on employers responsibility to pay an appropriate wage. Even some Republican’s found this legislation an over-reach and along with every Democrat voted against it.

And then there is Enrolled Act 37, I call it the Vacation Theft Act, which despite every Democrat in the legislature opposing it, was passed by Republicans and signed by our Republican governor. EA 37 changes the definition of compensation and says that as long as there is a signed agreement on the day that you start your job, your employer is not responsible for paying you for vacation that you earned, but haven’t used, when you leave that job. This new law takes wages that employees have earned through accrued vacation and puts it in the pocket of their employer. Not cool!

The Democratic Party has long been the party of the working person and Wyoming and Fremont County Democrats are working hard to draw attention to that distinction. I am hoping that you will help us by participating in our “Walking for Workers” Weekends. Please see the information here.

In the meantime enjoy your Labor Day weekend. Make time for family and friends. Celebrate and remember those who do the work that make America great!

Bruce

Bruce Palmer, Chair

Fremont County Democratic Party

Enrolled Act 37– Wyoming Republicans Gift to Working People

The following op-ed piece, written by FCDP Chair, Bruce Palmer, appeared in the July 31 issue of the Riverton Ranger.

It is summer time. The kids are out of school and many family’s thoughts turn to a summer vacation. A trip to Yellowstone, a family reunion or perhaps a jaunt up the Loop Road to camp, fish and hike. Here is a suggestion. Be sure that you use all of your earned vacation while you still have it!

On July 1, Enrolled Act 37, passed by the Republican dominated legislature and Governor Matt Mead, took effect taking another shot at the rights of workers in Wyoming. This time they are after your earned vacation. While most of us were hard at work back in February, the Republican-dominated legislature was in Cheyenne quietly working to take away that most revered of American institutions—earned vacation. Nearly every Republican (including Fremont County legislators Lloyd Larsen, HD 54; David Miller, HD 55; Nathan Winters, HD 28; Eli Bebout, SD 26 and Gerald Geis, SD 20) voted to pass House Bill 79 changing the definition of compensation in the state of Wyoming to no longer include accrued, earned vacation. What this means is that when you retire or are laid off employers no longer need to pay you for the vacation time that you earned.

Not a single Democrat voted for this onerous vacation theft law because we feel that it is fundamentally unfair. If you need to take a few days off from work, but haven’t earned enough vacation time to do so you have to take the time as unpaid, right? This means that your vacation is compensation, you earn it and employers should not be allowed to take it from you. Particularly if you are being laid off. The pay-out on earned vacation can mean the difference between being able to take care of your family while you find a new job and not.

That Republicans are unsympathetic to the needs of working people is no surprise, you really only need to look at the data and the efforts that they make in the legislature. Wyoming consistently ranks dead last in gender wage equality with Wyoming women earning a mere 67 cents for every dollar paid to a man. While the national numbers are horrible with women earning just 77 cents on the dollar, Wyoming’s wage gap is criminal. At the same time Wyoming consistently ranks first in workplace fatalities. This is fundamental. No one expects a family member not to return after a day at work. The incremental, self-policing efforts implemented by the Republicans are not the answer to a problem this grave.

With 87% of our legislators being Republicans and all of our statewide offices and national offices held by Republicans it would be easy for them to improve the lot of our workers if they wanted to do so. The Republicans do not. Rather they do exactly the opposite, further eroding the protections that employees still have. In this past session in addition to their vacation-grabbing legislation the Republicans pushed “tip pooling” legislation that would have allowed employers to force employees to pool their tips reducing some employees income potential while reducing the burden on employers to pay an appropriate wage.

The Fremont County Democratic Party believes that we can do better. Working people in Wyoming aren’t asking for a handout, but they do deserve a fair and safe workplace. And they need to be rewarded with what they have earned, whether it is their earned vacation or their tips. This is the Wyoming way—honest and fair.

Wyoming Democrats will be working in the upcoming session to repeal Enrolled Act 37. You can help with this effort. This summer we will be visiting folks door-to-door and at events around the state as we gather petitions to deliver to our legislators asking that they repeal the Vacation Theft Act. We hope that you will visit with these neighbors and learn more about the people and beliefs of the Democratic Party in Fremont County. Sign the petition. More than that we hope that you will join us as we work to return balanced, two-party politics that work to the benefit all of the people of Wyoming.

Read Enrolled Act 37

Hear Enrolled Act 37 sponsor Rep. Tim Stubson debate the merits of the Bill with Bruce Palmer on KVOW.