Better Wyoming conducted a series of interviews on important state issues throughout 2016. Below is an interview with Amy Simpson.
What do you think about the attempt by some Republican legislators who want the federal government to turn over all of its public lands to the state to manage or own?
The bottom line is state ownership of federal land is going to reduce access to public lands. If we acquire those lands and times are tough, the first thing that’s going to happen is they’re going to sell them to the highest bidder, and we’re going to lose access to those lands for hunting, fishing and personal use, and we may end up looking like Interstate 25 as you’re driving down to Denver where you see those giant walls trying to keep you from seeing and hearing drilling. Giving up the rights to our lands is not a smart idea, it’s not a conservative value and it’s definitely not a Wyoming value. We stand for individual rights and freedom, we need to ensure that our individual citizens, not just wealthy corporations and developers, have access to our public lands.
Some Republican legislators either don’t believe the gender wage gap is real or that if it is, state government shouldn’t do anything about it. What do you think needs to be done?
Women in Wyoming are ranked 51st for wage equality among all 50 states and the District of Columbia — they’re paid 64 cents compared to a man’s dollar. That’s embarrassing. We call ourselves the Equality State. Even though millennial women in Wyoming make more (I think it’s about 72 cents on the dollar) we still have the largest wage gap in the country.
There’s a state Fair Pay Law, and Jim Byrd had efforts to increase the minimum wage, and that would have created a positive impact on the gender wage pay gap issue. There’s been some articles about what’s been tried to be done here in the state but it’s been stopped by more conservative state legislators. We need to address it at the low end of the scale by increasing the minimum wage so everyone is getting a better, fair shot. That will help change it a little bit. We need to create equal opportunity for workers, male or female so folks can be contributing citizens to our state. There are jobs where wages are dictated — like mine in education — and your salary is based on your years of service and the years you came into the district with, most of it’s fair.
Part of the issue is women need to stand up and say, “This is unacceptable.” Unless you’re in your own business and you’re setting your own rates — like lawyers and things like that so that the issue is made real for those people who are in the Legislature and elsewhere so they begin to understand what the inequities are. There is also the issue of the Tipped wage exclusion: $7.25 is the minimum wage and this actually depresses wages because when minimum wage goes up servers stay at that $2.13 and women are the majority of those workers.
Are there other laws that need to be on the books to protect victims of domestic violence?
I am extremely happy at the movement that has taken place recently. I know that Sen. [John] Hastert has worked very hard on domestic violence issues and we’ve started to gain some ground. However, there’s a lot more to do. I really believe we need strong laws that protect the victims and stronger laws so offenders are actually being penalized justly, and equitably, across the system from county to county, court to court. I’d love to jump on board with the efforts Sen. Hastert has been making. I think it’s good work and I think it’s time well spent on an important issue across the country, and in Wyoming.
Many Republicans oppose spending state funds on early childhood education. What needs to be done so programs are fully funded?
I think legislators need to be educated in the long-lasting effects early childhood education has on the students — what can be prevented when they hit kindergarten by having good early childhood education, how that helps prepare for kindergarten. I believe mandatory kindergarten plays a part in the students’ lives instead of being optional. We need to have and fund mandatory all-day kindergarten. With good quality pre-K education, we can turn the tide to helping students. There won’t be as big a gap when they arrive in elementary school. We’re not going to go backwards in terms of what should have already been taken care of when they got there. The data is there and we need to help people understand it, acknowledge it and be responsible for it. The more we spend on early childhood education the less we have to spend in the future.
The Legislature hasn’t passed my bills restricting reproductive rights in recent years, but there are GOP lawmakers who have tried to introduce bills mandating ultrasounds and penalties for not reporting abortions. Are you pro-choice?
It’s not anyone’s business what someone is doing with their personal body.
I don’t want legislators dictating to women. If we open this can of worms, where will it end? Wyoming has always been for personal rights and government inserting themselves into the conversation is not the Wyoming way.