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May 21, 2013 8:19 am

Attorney general: Lawmakers free to talk about Senate File 104

Written by CJ Baker

Local legislators’ recent refusal to discuss any aspect of the controversial legislation that stripped the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of many duties appears to have been based on a misunderstanding.

 

Contrary to what was represented at a May 7 meeting organized by the Park County Republican Party, lawmakers were, and are, free to talk about Senate File 104.

 

Just minutes into the meeting, Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, told the audience he and the five other legislators present wouldn’t be talking about the bill because of a pending legal challenge to the law.

Coe later told the Tribune he’d been concerned and asked an attorney in the Wyoming Attorney General’s office about what could be said about the bill.

“He (the attorney) said definitely don’t talk about it publicly until this is settled,” Coe had said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, who had many of her duties shifted to an appointed director of education, is challenging the bill’s constitutionality before the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Coe said he “was all loaded for bear to talk about 104, but I took the advice of our legal counsel.”

However, Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips told the Tribune last week there appeared to have been “some good faith confusion” about the advice.

While unsure of the specifics, Phillips said it was his understanding Coe had “wisely” asked for and been given general advice from a staff member about commenting on issues in litigation.

While the attorney general’s office typically doesn’t want parties commenting, “the problem is that it’s not usually legislative enactments in litigation. In that instance, it’s different,” Phillips said. “Legislators need to be able to communicate with their constituents. The litigation is secondary to that.”

Phillips said he’s expressed his view that “all legislators should feel free to say whatever they want about SF104, whether favorable or unfavorable. It’s their choice whether to comment or how to comment.”

Coe contacted the Tribune on May 9 — too late to make the original story — to change his comments about the advice he’d been given. He said state officials were upset. Coe clarified that the legal advice had not been to stop talking about the bill altogether, but rather to not talk about the constitutionality of the law.

“We can talk about what’s in the bill,” Coe said. “But the reason we didn’t talk about it the other night is because the sole focus of that group (at the May 7 meeting) was the constitutionality of Senate File 104. And that in fact is the exact issue that’s in front of the Supreme Court. That’s why we didn’t comment on it.”

Legislators at the meeting in Cody had flatly refused to talk about anything related to the bill.

For example, audience member Bob Ruckman had asked where the text of the bill had originated.

“We’re not able to talk about Senate File 104, I understand that,” Ruckman had prefaced, adding, “It’s not about the lawsuit, it’s just where did the bill originate? I think that’s a fair question.”

Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, responded that “because of the ongoing lawsuits and threats made by attorneys on both sides, we are not allowed to discuss Senate File 104.”

“It’s not discussing the bill, I just want to know who initiated the bill,” Ruckman pressed. “That’s all.”

“We are not discussing Senate File 104,” Harvey said.

Coe, the lead sponsor of the bill, then took the mic and repeated that, “We are not discussing Senate File 104.”

1 Comment

  • Comment Link May 22, 2013 9:20 pm posted by Kody Koyote

    Great story. Thanks for uncovering the truth. It would be nice, and really necessary, for the legislators to answer the questions of why they supported SF 104. And why Coe sponsored it.

    As far as Harvey's comment about threats from attorneys on both sides. What is she talking about?

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