CHEYENNE — The sponsor of a controversial bill dealing with unpaid wages through accrued vacation says the proposed legislation is misunderstood.
House Bill 79 passed the Wyoming House of Representatives this week and moves on to the Senate for consideration.
"I was surprised" at the negative reaction to the bill from working people, unions and even state employees, said Rep. Tim Stubson.
The Casper Republican added, "I think the bill is pro-employee" because employers can only deny payment for accrued vacation time when an employee quits if it is a written policy.
If an employer wants to require that vacation time be used as time off — "use it or lose it" — that policy must be in writing and understood by the employee in advance, Stubson said.
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, which rules on disputes between employers and employees, has been awarding payment to employees even when the employer has stated in writing before hire that the vacation must be used or lost and does not accrue. Clearing up the disputes over that situation, Stubson said, spurred the proposed legislation.
Other than clearing up those disputes, he said the legislation would not change worker's current agreement with an employer.
Employees who already have an agreement, such as through a union, would still accrue vacation time or pay for that time if the employer has no written rule, and employees are still entitled to pay for the accrued time.
Passage of the legislation, he said, should provide clarity for employees and actually give employers more flexibility to give people time off without worrying that there will be a future unexpected cost.
HB 79 is among several bills advancing through the legislature that could have effects on business but are receiving less notice because of the attention being paid to such things as health-care reform, increasing fuel taxes to pay for roads and redefining the role of the superintendent of public instruction.
This week, the House of Representatives also passed the Food Freedom Act.
The sponsor of that House Bill 108, Rep. Sue Wallis, a Republican from Recluse, said the legislation will open up local commerce and help small business.
HB 108 would de-regulate the sale of homemade foods at such things as farmers markets and in individual transactions between producers and consumers.
Wallis said if all 200,000 or so households in Wyoming spent just $20 a week on locally grown food, more than $200 million would be pumped into the Cowboy State economy. That money will turn over at least three or four times in the economies of cities, towns and counties, she said economic studies show.
Critics worry, however, that the sales of uninspected, unregulated meat and unpasteurized, raw milk could have adverse health effects.
This week, the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee also unanimously voted to recommend that legislation to de-regulate communications networks that use Internet protocol technologies.
House Bill 18 is intended to encourage the spread of advanced communications networks throughout the state.
The proposed legislation makes clear that telecommunications using Internet-protocol-enabled services are not regulated by the Wyoming Public Service Commission.
But consumer groups such as the AARP are worried about the effect on rural consumers.
Exemptions from PSC regulation could allow rural consumers to be abandoned or hit with higher-than-necessary prices and a lack of responsiveness to complaints about such things as reliability, critics say.
Representatives of the large communications companies — Verizon, CenturyLink and AT&T — say, however, the legislation would make the market more competitive and encourage investment in infrastructure, making advanced communications more available to rural customers.
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