Fate of WLRC bill uncertain as it heads to a conference committee

Sen. Cale Case, top left, has been a supporter of the Wyoming Life Resource Center. Here he sat at his desk in the Senate Chamber yesterday. (Joshua Scheer photo)

Sen. Cale Case, top left, has been a supporter of the Wyoming Life Resource Center. Here he sat at his desk in the Senate Chamber yesterday. (Joshua Scheer photo)

By Joshua Scheer, reporter, county10.com

(Cheyenne, Wyo.) – At least two Fremont County legislators think there’s a chance the bill requiring a study of Lander’s Wyoming Life Resource Center will die in conference committee.

House Bill 68 has been a hot topic in both houses. Originally, the bill called for a study to look at transitioning WLRC’s clients into community programs or nursing homes. That version passed the House of Representatives, and many believe there is an intention behind the bill to close the center. The Senate then, through amendments from Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, broadened the focus of the study to include efficiencies in operations and other potential improvements. Following its passage in the Senate earlier this week, the House declined to accept the changes.

The bill will now go to a conference committee, which is made of members from both houses, in an attempt to reach an agreement. The conference committee is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday.

Both Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, and Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, said in separate interviews that the bill might die in the committee as neither foresee either side willing to bend.

However, both are hopeful a study is passed, as they both believe the expanded version from the Senate would be beneficial for the facility.

“The only downside to expanding the bill is it will take longer,” Larsen said, adding that while he’s OK with that, he’s not sure other Representatives would be.

The only Fremont County legislator to be appointed to the conference committee is Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton. Bebout was unavailable for an interview.

Case in an interview said he feels Bebout has “had his eyes opened” on the issue. He said he thinks his fellow senator will do a good job on the committee. Case declared a conflict of interest, as he is the guardian of a WLRC resident, and was therefore unable to serve on the conference committee.

“I’m annoyed at how competitive it is,” Case said, speaking of how community programs are hoping that if funding gets removed from WLRC it will go to them.

“There’s a lot going on here, and there’s a lot at stake,” he continued.

He believes the Senators on the committee should convince the Representatives to accept at least some of the Senate’s amendments

Case said some people have argued the so-called Olmstead decision says that people should not be institutionalized. The decision itself states, “Transfer to a community placement from an institution is required only if the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the individual affected does not oppose the transfer, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the state and the needs of others with mental disabilities.”

A fact-sheet Case has been distributing notes that many of WLRC’s residents have arrived there only after finding insufficient care elsewhere.

A sheet from the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities argues against repopulating the center. The handout quotes a Jan. 2, 2013, report from Protection and Advocacy as saying, “It would institutionalize these individuals not because the services they need can be provided only in an institutional setting – nor because the individuals object to receiving services in their homes and communities – but because the state wishes to save money. The desire to save money, however, is not sufficient to justify unnecessary institutionalization under Olmstead and Fisher.” The handout goes on to state that there might be better options.

Case’s supportive fact sheet closes with this: “The war of innuendo must end: closing WLRC will not be a benefit to Wyoming or to community programs.”