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GOP says repeal 'Hill Bill'

Apr 9, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

The resolution was passed by the party's central committee on Saturday.

CHEYENNE -- The Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee has approved a resolution endorsing a drive to repeal a recently enacted state law that changed the powers and duties of the state superintendent of public instruction.

The resolution -- approved on a 40-32 vote Saturday in Buffalo -- goes against the actions and desires of the Republican controlled state Legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Mead. It also shows the deep divisions that have resulted from the law, which removed Republican Superintendent Cindy Hill as head of the state Education Department in the middle of her four-year term.

The law, signed by Mead in January, created an appointed position as the new head of the Education Department. The superintendent remains one of five statewide elected officials, but has significantly less authority.

Advocates of the law say it was necessary because Hill was delaying and hindering education reform efforts and doing a poor job of running the department, which saw a turnover rate among employees of about 45 percent during her two years.

The motive for the law was to take politics out of state public school education and improve management of a state agency with a $1.4 billion two-year budget, State House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said in a statement on Monday.

Hill has said the law was a coup d'etat and has argued that it violated various provisions of the Wyoming Constitution. She has filed a lawsuit against the state and Mead that is now before the state Supreme Court.

Hill said she didn't know that the Central Committee would consider the resolution over the weekend. But she said she's not surprised it passed.

"I think it's merely a reflection of what's going on statewide, and the people continue to stand up and voice their opposition," Hill said. "It doesn't surprise me because I'm hearing it."

GOP Chairman Tammy Hooper declined Monday to comment about the vote other than to say "this is a really contentious issue."

The Central Committee is made up of county and state party leaders. Platte County GOP committeewoman Rochelle Miner said her support was based on the principle that such a big change in the powers and duties of an elected official should be decided by the voters, not the Legislature.

"This issue, if this change is to be made, should be put to the people, that the people should make the decision as is outlined in our rights in the constitution," she said.

The petition drive to repeal the law is being led by the Wyoming Constitution Party. Organizers must gather 37,606 signatures by May 28 in order to get a referendum on the November 2014 ballot.

Republican Sen. Hank Coe, one of architects of the law, said he found it disturbing that the Central Committee would take a position on the matter, noting that the Constitution Party and tea party supporters were behind the repeal effort.

"I don't think it's their place to do that," said Coe, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Coe, R-Cody, said many people opposed the law don't understand why it was needed.

Mead is out of the country on a visit to the Middle East. His deputy chief of staff, Tony Young, said in a short statement that the "issue illustrates the diversity" within the state party. He also noted that the law passed by strong margins by lawmakers "elected to represent citizens from all over the state."

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Legislature, Wyoming