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Budget Amendment Sponsor Violates Constitution.  Leadership Does Nothing

David Iverson, February 2, 2023

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**Story Updates**
Thursday, February 3, Zwonitzer brought another amendment claiming that he and Rep Landon Brown had been contacted by Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.  The hospital apparently told the pair that while they appreciated the budget appropriation, setting up the PACE program was not feasible at this time.  So the pair offered a new amendment deleting the original $1.5 million from the budget.  In it's place Zwonitzer offer a new amendment calling for a study as to why the PACE program was not in use by more communities in Wyoming.​   After their ethical conflict had been revealed by Cowboy State Politics, Representative Zwonitzer reduced the amendment by $1,480,000, requesting only $200,000 for the study.

They did not however recuse themselves from voting on the measure a second time; yet another violation of Article 3, section 46 of the Wyoming Constitution.  Predictably, Speaker of the House, Albert Sommers did not point out the clear ethical violation.  This is precisely the behavior Wyoming Citizens have come to expect from their legislature.

It is also worth pointing out that had such a violation been committed by a conservative, the Wyoming media would have front page stories for a week pointing out the hypocrisy.
**End Update** 

Legislators are obliged to avoid ethical conflicts of interest.  They arise when a senator or representative votes or advocates for a policy that would directly benefit themselves.  For example, if a legislator worked for an insurance company he should declare a conflict on any legislation that affects the insurance industry.  In a perfect world, every legislator would abstain from voting on any issue that might give the appearance of impropriety.  In the real world, few do.  Considering that all of them have to fill out financial disclosures, you would think their professional and personal encumbrances would be of more transparent; but they aren’t. 

Buried deep within the budget, you’ll find amendment HB0001H2012.  It’s a $1,500,000 appropriation for a program called PACE, or Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly.  It was eliminated in 2020 during a round of draconian budget cuts.  The program provided wide ranging care to Laramie County Residents to help them avoid long term care facilities.  At the time of its elimination, only one county in Wyoming was participating, though technically it was available for each of Wyoming’s 23 counties. 

Brought by Rep Dan Zwonitzer of Cheyenne, the amendment would re-establish the program.  Like every other spending measure, it passed Committee of the Whole Wednesday by a vote of 36-27.  The problem is that per a Wyoming Open Records Act request through the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, Rep Dan Zwonitzer works for Cheyenne Regional Medical Center in the Human Resources Department—the one facility in the state that took advantage of the cancelled program.  That in an of itself doesn’t really present a conflict.  It is entirely appropriate for anyone to bring a bill or amendment for something they deem worthy so long as they disclose their personal involvement in the issue.  If Rep Zwonitzer’s involvement had ended there, had he declared a personal conflict, I wouldn’t be writing this article. 

But it didn’t end there.  Rep Zwonitzer voted aye on amendment HB0001H2012—a clear conflict of interest.  He wasn’t alone either. Rep Landon Brown, who is the Development Director for the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Foundation, also voted aye on the bill.

According to Article 3, section 46 of the Wyoming Constitution, “A member who has a personal or private interest in any measure or bill proposed or pending before the legislature shall disclose the fact to the house of which he is a member, and shall not vote thereon”  Notice that the Constitution doesn’t bar a representative from proposing legislation, just voting on it.  Clearly, neither Rep Dan Zwonitzer nor Rep Landon Brown disclosed their personal interest in the budget amendment. 

There is also the lengthy Article 3, section 27 listing the many cases of ‘special laws’ that are prohibited.  One of those enumerated cases is “…liabilities or obligation of any corporation or person to this state…”  It’s arguable that HB0001H2012 is a $1.5 million obligation to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center—a corporation.  Though, this one is nowhere as clear-cut as the blatant violation of Article 3, section 46.  

In the legislature’s spending spree, the House of Representatives and House Leadership has completely disregarded the mandates of the Wyoming Constitution in at least one case—arguably 2. This whole matter was brought to the attention of House leadership and nothing was done.  Sources told Cowboy State Politics that Speaker of the House Albert Sommers was alerted to this matter immediately after it happened.  It was not clear, whether or not either of the representatives were asked about their conflict.  In fact, there was no mention whatsoever of the Constitutional violation or of the ethical dilemma that Brown and Zwonitzer put their colleagues in. 

This is an ongoing story.  Updates will be posted as they become available.