DOWN to the Wyoming Legislature for failing to adequately fund the Wyoming Public Defender’s office.

The supplemental budget signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon earlier this month includes another $3 million cut to the office, which provides legal defense services to those without the financial ability to hire their own attorney. And because the office was already shorthanded before this latest cut, we can only imagine how much more difficult it will be for Public Defender Diane Lozano and her remaining team to adequately represent roughly 15,000 people a year.

The fact they’re using students from the University of Wyoming College of Law’s Defender Aid Clinic for cases four hours away in Gillette is all the evidence we need that this situation is way out of whack. Of course, it’s just one more way in which our state lawmakers show how little they actually care about the poor in our communities. (You can bet if they were arrested, they’d want the best representation possible. But who cares if poor people in the Equality State have equal access, right?)

The Wyoming Supreme Court backed Ms. Lozano last year by ruling that she has the right to distribute resources in her office as she sees fit. But it shouldn’t come to this, and Ms. Lozano shouldn’t have had to go to court to defend herself when it’s state lawmakers that have kept her from providing an adequate level of service statewide.

With an influx of federal money coming later this year from the American Rescue Plan, we encourage the governor and state lawmakers to follow Ms. Lozano’s “commitment to the ideal that all individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and due process” by making the Public Defender’s office financially whole again.

UP to the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department for relocating COVID-19 vaccinations to the former Wyoming Department of Workforce Services building on South Greeley Highway.

Not only will this allow the department to serve more residents per day, it puts a main vaccine site in south Cheyenne, where people might not have the same access to transportation as others.

Nationwide, there are many stories of low-income residents and minority groups – which have been hit hardest by the devastating effects of the novel coronavirus – struggling to gain access to vaccines. We’re proud of our local health department staff for doing all they can to make sure this isn’t the case here.

And for anyone still uncertain about whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine, we once again direct your attention to tinyurl.com/safetyofcovidvaccine for the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UP to Wyoming lawmakers for compromising on a public health order bill in a way that doesn’t inject themselves into the decision-making process.

As approved, House Bill 127 requires county commissioners to review and decide whether to continue local orders that restrict the movements of non-quarantined individuals after 10 days. These include orders that close businesses or limit gathering sizes. Similarly, after an initial 10-day statewide order, the governor would have to approve extensions of no more than 60 days.

Although the compromise is better than the version requiring legislators to vote on such orders, they still deserve a DOWN for passing it in the first place. That’s because we’ve seen plenty of evidence throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic of state lawmakers politicizing the situation, rather than doing what’s best to keep ALL of their constituents healthy.

We understand the need to support businesses through the economic fallout created by lockdowns (boy, do we!), but we believe the top priority of all elected officials must always be public safety. We hope they do, too.

UP to Gov. Gordon for voicing his frustration with state lawmakers for failing to agree on how to fund K-12 education, and promising to take more of a direct role in addressing the issue.

During a media availability April 8, the governor said he was disappointed the House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise over how to address a roughly $300 million annual funding shortfall, though he added it “wasn’t necessarily a surprise.”

He even criticized state Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, for his comment that House members who refused to budge on their proposal to raise the state sales tax by half-a-percent if savings dropped below a certain level as “classic tax-and-spend liberals that think that they could just tax forever and that you never have to rein government in a bit.”

It’s clear Gov. Gordon has finally had enough of state lawmakers kicking the can on important issues (or at least this one). And as we’ve said before, it’s long overdue for him to step up and get involved in some way. Here’s hoping whatever he does makes a real, lasting difference.

WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK: Contact us via email at opinion@wyomingnews.com.

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