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March 5, 2017-Not Giving Up: Story of HB 76

Greetings WAC Community,

The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. – Proverbs 13:4

HB 76 American Indian education program passed the Wyoming State Legislature this past week, but on Monday morning for a time, it was on “hospice care.”  I wondered if there are those who don’t want our children and grandchildren to know about the people who had governments on the Wind River Reservation years before Wyoming was a state.  But hard work, cooperation and miracles pulled it through, even after an undesirable amendment was added Wednesday on Third Reading in the Senate that got fixed by on Friday, the last day of the legislative session.

The story does not begin when the bill was filed.  Montana has in its state constitution Indian Education for All. Many other states with large Native American populations have statutory requirements.  But not until now did Wyoming step up to the plate to recognize the tremendous value of people who have too often been marginalized, a process that began three years ago with the Select Committee on Tribal Relations.  Tribal leaders built a relationship with the Wyoming Department of Education, particularly the current Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, and a liaison for the department with the tribes, Rob Black.  Wyoming Public Television, with a prior grant from the legislature, developed teaching modules with input from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.

By 2017, the idea was ready to move forward.  In November, the Select Committee agreed to sponsor the bill, but that was not allowed by the Management Committee.  So the Select Committee members signed on individually as sponsors along with others, with the primary sponsor being Rep. Jim Allen who represents the House District that includes most of the Wind River Reservation.

There was little doubt about the need.  Many Wyoming residents know next to nothing about the large Wind River Reservation in the heart of Wyoming, the only reservation in Wyoming and home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho with their own sovereign governments and unique histories and cultures.  When Native American youth travel to other schools for sports events, they are often mocked. Fear, negative stereotypes and prejudice prevent positive relationships and cause tremendous hurt.

HB 76 simply required that the education standards in the public schools be updated to include the history, culture and contributions of American Indians, particularly the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.  Educational materials and teaching tools would be posted on the department’s website.

HB 76 had a good start in the House passing the House Education Committee unanimously.  Language in the bill was clarified on the House floor with an amendment so that educational materials did not require approval by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, but that the department would consult with them.  HB 76 passed the House 49 to 11.  The only negative concern raised was adding a burden for teachers, especially when school budgets are being cut.  But it had the support of the Wyoming Education Association and superintendents of schools testified in favor of it.  The benefits far out-weighed the costs.

The Senate Education Committee heard it on February 13.  The President of the Senate let the committee know of his support.  I thought that maybe that week it would be considered on the floor of the Senate, but it wasn’t.  The next week, I began to worry.  I checked with Sen. Cale Case, who is chair of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations and a co-sponsor about my concern.  He told me not to worry and I didn’t.  After all, the bill had lots of support.  But then the last day that the bill could come up and not die for lack of consideration on the floor of the Senate was on Monday, February 27th.

Rep. Allen had learned that the Senate Majority Floor Leader was reluctant to bring it up, which would mean the bill was dead.  At 6:30 am Monday, I went to where the Fremont County legislators meet on Monday mornings for breakfast and other Fremont County people are welcomed.  The President of the Senate informed us that HB 76 would not be considered; saying then that he did not like the bill.  There was discussion between him and Rep. Allen. The President of the Senate advised Rep. Allen that he’d already had other successful bills, as if there was some kind of quota on successful bills. Why had he changed his mind from two weeks earlier?  Was it retaliation that a court decision favoring the state was being appealed by the tribes, which of course the tribes had the responsibility to do?  That was implied in the discussion.

But then things began to change.  Cherokee Brown, a Northern Arapaho and a leader of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center arrived for breakfast.  Sen. Case arrived.  Rep. Allen invited Ms. Brown to say what was on her mind, and she, of course, said HB 76.  Sen. Case let her know that he supported the bill and would help how he could.  Rep. Allen, after others had left, consulted with Ms. Brown.  (See photo below.)

Ms. Brown and I went to the Jonah Building where the legislature is meeting while the Capitol is being renovated.  Sen. Case sought to arrange for Ms. Brown to talk with the Senate Majority Floor Leader, but without immediate success.  The bills to be considered that day were listed on the board.  HB 76 was not there.  But then Sen. Case and Sen. Affie Ellis came out to the lobby to tell us that Sen. Ellis had talked to the Majority Floor Leader, and he had agreed to post the bill, which he did.  (I was so elated that I wanted to hug her, but I managed to refrain.)  Sen. Ellis is Navaho, newly elected to the Senate for a district in Cheyenne and she was one of the bill’s sponsors.

Then the Majority Floor Leader came out to talk with Ms. Brown for about 20 minutes.  She successfully countered all of his concerns, some of which reflected his bias toward Native Americans.  She got his support.  In the meantime, Jason Baldes arrived who is executive director of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center.  We distributed to the Senators 31 hand-written letters, one from a fourth grader, supporting HB 76 that the Equality State Policy Center had collected.   Brown and Baldes wrote notes into the Senators and spoke to as many as they could one-on-one.

When HB 76 was heard Monday afternoon, Sen. Bruce Burns from Sheridan wondered why the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho were singled out when there are, for example, Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations near the Wyoming border.  (There was distrust of Sen. Burns because he played a major role in cutting the funding for the tribal liaisons in the Joint Appropriations Committee from $160,000 to $80,000.)  HB 76 passed Senate Committee of the Whole on a standing vote (not recorded) 21 to 4 and 5 not voting.

On Third Reading on Wednesday, Sen. Burns brought an amendment to remove the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho from the bill and replaced it with “tribes in the region.”  The amendment passed 16 to 14.  HB 76 then passed the Senate 27 to 3.  Both the President of the Senate and the Majority Floor Leader voted for HB 76.

But since there was a Senate amendment, it had to go back to the House for concurrence.  The only two tribes that have governmental entities within Wyoming being removed from the bill altered the bill’s intent.  Rep. Allen proposed compromise language that Sen. Burns could accept.  The House voted “not to concur” at Rep. Allen’s request and the bill went into a conference committee of appointees from the House and Senate to work out their differences so that the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho remained in the bill and added tribes of the region.  Taking time to do this risked that they would run out of time and HB 76 would die.  But the effort succeeded and now HB 76 is soon to become law!

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t give up. 

  2. Being there is essential. If Cherokee Brown had not arrived early Monday morning, I believe the bill would have died on Monday.  Jason Baldes staying for follow-up was critical in addressing the Senate amendment while keeping HB 76 alive.

  3. Ask for help when needed. Without Sen. Case’s and Sen. Ellis’ help the bill would not have been brought up in the Senate and would have died.

  4. Keep others informed. We kept each other posted as to what was happening.

  5. Team work matters. Rep. Allen was the leader of the team as the bill’s sponsor, but many had key roles to play and we were able to work together without worrying about who got credit.

  6. Know the process and the rules. If we had not kept up on deadlines, etc., the bill could have fallen through the cracks.

  7. Do not assume success. It takes follow-up and diligence.

  8. Lay the ground-work by building relationships. Get buy-in up front, as was done with the Department of Education and others.

  9. Take strategic risks. Not concurring by the House to the Senate amendment was only done after knowing that Sen. Burns, the amendment sponsor, would agree to a compromise.

  10. Getting results and change takes time and patience.

View details on this link for how the legislators voted on HB 76: Link: http://legisweb.state.wy.us.  Send a note of thanks to your legislators who voted for the bill.  (When I sent a note of thanks to the 27 Senators who voted for it on Wednesday, one thanked me for having noticed!  That tells me that they don’t get thanked enough.)

Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.

Blessings,

Chesie Lee

P.S. The Wyoming Association of Churches appreciates your many financial gifts for our justice work in Wyoming for the oppressed. Click Here Or you may mail checks to PO Box 1473, Laramie, WY 82073.

Dates to Remember:

  1. Crow Pipe Ceremony, June 16, Heart Mountain, near Cody

  2. Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC, April 21-24

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