By Cindy Hill
The leadership of the Wyoming legislature is struggling to understand the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision finding SF104 unconstitutional. I have heard words like “complicated, time consuming, difficult, and complex.” I am somewhat puzzled by this alleged confusion, as I read the Court’s conclusion to be clear and easily understood. To quote from the opinion:
“The legislature has attempted to accomplish through legislation what it may do only through the constitutional amendment process of Article 20, Section 1.18. Consequently, we conclude beyond all reasonable doubt that [SF104] is unconstitutional.”
I’m not a lawyer, but as I read the above statement, I draw two basic conclusions: 1) SF104 was unconstitutional, and 2) if you want to modify the fundamental structure of government, you have to ask the people to do it through a constitutional amendment. So what is so confusing? Why all the delays? I have my theories, but more on that later.
The longer this matter drags on, the longer the people’s vote is undermined. SF104 stripped away the duties that the people of Wyoming had entrusted to me when I was elected. Despite the Supreme Court’s directive, as I write this I have still not been allowed to return to the Wyoming Department of Education and resume my constitutional responsibilities of general supervision.
Certainly the legislature and the governor made a very expensive mess when SF104 was signed into law last January. The Supreme Court cleaned up that mess. Now, instead of following the Court’s guidance, there is talk of rehearings and more litigation, special legislative sessions, new committees, etc. Challenging the Supreme Court’s decision in this manner will require huge expenditures of taxpayer monies. Our precious resources will be directed toward paying the lodging and travel expenses of legislators as they gather for special sessions. New lawyers and consultants will likely be hired as confidence is surely waning in the misguided group that originally advised on the constitutionality of SF104. Additional time and money will be further wasted as state education employees are distracted from working for the benefit of Wyoming children and are required, instead, to focus on responding to and preparing for legal proceedings, committee hearings, and legislative requests.
All of this is unnecessary. Despite the talk of complicated delays and difficulties, I believe correcting this mistake is easy. Let me propose three simple steps.
1. End the delay tactics – First and foremost, I urge the legislature to demand that the governor cease the endless appeals designed to keep me from fulfilling the duties entrusted to me by the people and our constitution. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled and gave clear guidance. It is time to move forward.
2. Correct the statutes – This is the easiest part. SF104 appears to have been the product of a simple search-and-replace exercise where the word “superintendent” was replaced with “director.” I am confident that the legislative services office can easily correct the statutes by eliminating “director” and restoring “superintendent.” I would guess this would only take a few minutes. This same approach can be used to correct any law that was passed in reliance on SF104. After all, those laws would apply equally to Cindy Hill as they would to Rich Crandall.
3. Transition back – This must occur immediately. Shortly after SF104 was overturned, I sent the governor a letter proposing a transition plan that would allow everyone to move forward and get back to work with little delay or disruption. Although the governor never responded to my letter, I am confident that we can all work together to get back to work focusing on Wyoming children.
The political gamesmanship that gave rise to SF104 is destructive and must stop. The governor and each legislator took an oath to “support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the State of Wyoming.” (Wyo. Const. Art. 6 Sec. 20) The Supreme Court Justices took the same oath and the Court has defined what upholding the constitution requires in this instance. The delays, legal maneuvering, and legislative manipulation are not only futile, but they fly in the face of the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision. The oath is to support, obey, and defend – not thwart, dispute, and distort. It is time to honor our Constitution. The people deserve nothing less.