Local lawmakers oppose House budget amendment providing funding for regional EMS plans; proposal fails

    Three local lawmakers spoke against a budget bill amendment Monday that would have provided funding to help create regional Emergency Medical Services districts in the state.

    Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon had previously asked that $5 million be included in the budget to help develop EMS capacity in the state, but the Joint Appropriations Committee later denied that request – so this week, Wyoming Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, proposed allocating $500,000 toward the effort instead.

    “We’re at the point in Wyoming now where most of our rural communities just can’t afford EMS services,” Zwonitzer said Monday on the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives. “Five or six of our counties, they just can’t afford to pay the bills. (They) can’t figure out a way to be able to fund their EMS services. …


    “A regionalization effort is likely the best way going forward.”

    No essential service

    Last year, lawmakers considered designating EMS as an “essential service,” making state government responsible for funding the system, Zwonitzer said, but that idea failed in committee, with some legislators arguing that the designation would create an unfunded mandate in Wyoming.

    Because EMS is not an essential service, Zwonitzer explained, there is “nothing in our law that says (emergency medical services) have to come when you call 911.”

    “If you call 911 in this state, do you expect an ambulance to show up?” he asked. “I generally would believe most of our citizenry do believe that. They’re on a highway in a small town and they call 911 for an emergency, they expect that ambulance is going to be there. However, there is nothing in our law that says that’s factual. …


    “This is the issue we’re facing, and it’s deteriorating by the month. (I’m) not sure who’s going to be ultimately to blame when push comes to shove and someone doesn’t make it.”

    Local lawmakers respond

    After hearing Zwonitzer’s proposal, Wyoming Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Lander, addressed the House, recalling that lawmakers passed a bill last year allowing counties to set up their own EMS funding districts – an option that hasn’t been utilized in Wyoming thus far.

    “(That) has not yet occurred,” Penn said. “Therefore, I would urge a ‘no’ vote on this (budget amendment). Let’s wait and see if the people pass this once it comes before them.”


    Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, agreed that local communities should take advantage of the opportunity to fund EMS themselves through special taxing districts.

    “If people want EMS, they need to figure out locally how to provide that,” he said. “These counties can get together … individually or collectively and start figuring this thing out. I don’t know that it’s always our job to do that for them.”

    Wyoming Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, echoed some of Larsen’s comments, but she also spoke against the idea of taxing local residents more to pay for EMS.


    “In years where we have been seeing astronomical property tax increases, creating more special districts would only add to that burden,” she said. “I’m just a little hesitant on that.”

    Instead, she suggested addressing the EMS issue in Fremont County by incorporating an ambulance service into the new hospital being planned for the Riverton area.

    “There’s been multiple, multiple millions of dollars to go into that (effort),” Ottman said. “It may be a thought to use that personnel, that equipment, that garage, that entity to support this for our county.”

    Amendment fails

    It’s hard to know what “the ultimate answer” to the problem might be, Zwonitzer said, but he agreed with Ottman that “nobody wants to raise their property taxes” in Wyoming right now.

    That’s why the state, and the executive branch in particular, is looking for alternative ways to “help those counties help themselves” provide emergency medical services, Zwonitzer said – otherwise, he predicted, in the coming years Wyoming will “just not have EMS services in parts of the state.”

    “Maybe (the counties) can figure it out … but they haven’t done it yet,” he said. “They’re coming (to us) and saying, ‘We don’t know how to do this.’ …

    “We have to keep attempting things until we find something that’s going to work.”

    His proposed budget amendment failed 13-49.


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