Although he missed most of the action in the Wyoming Legislature this year, it may have been the most difficult session yet for state Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell.
In the middle of the session — which ran from early January through last week — Northrup’s mother was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for colon cancer. It shifted the lawmaker’s focus from committee meetings and floor votes to doctor’s appointments and caregiving. While his colleagues debated bills ranging from property taxes to grizzly bears in Cheyenne, Northrup spent most of the session in Powell, helping take care of his mother.
“Family’s first; doesn’t matter about everything else,” Northrup said he explained to legislative leaders. “We drop everything for the family.”
Legislative records indicate Northrup was excused for all or parts of 26 days during the 36-day General Session, including missing all but one of the last 16 days.
“I spent some time down there [in Cheyenne], but not as much as needed to be,” Northrup said. He said voters may not like it — and said they may choose to elect someone else — “but I have to have priorities in life.”
Despite being away from the capital, “I’ve chased legislation from here, I’ve texted people, I’ve emailed people; I’ve called them and talked to them when I know they’re free and kept things going,” Northrup said.
One of the things he kept going was House Bill 204, a bill he sponsored to help create a common college transcript in Wyoming. The intent is to allow students to seamlessly transfer their credits from one of the state’s community colleges to another or to the University of Wyoming; Northrup said he’s heard of transfer students being ordered to retake anywhere from a couple credit-hours to as many as 30.
“When you go out and start talking to these people who have come out of … community colleges, it happens probably 80 percent of the time — they end up losing a course or two or more,” Northrup said. That just means more time before students can complete their degree, he said.
He said the bill was intended to encourage schools to focus on what’s best for students instead of bickering about whose college or psychology classes are better.
“Psych 110 is Psych 110 and it shouldn’t be any different anywhere,” he said. “That’s where I was trying to get to: Let’s get everybody on the same page; everybody going.”
The bill includes $414,000 to purchase, install and train college employees on a new unified — and secure — software system that’s supposed to be up and running by July 2020. It passed the Senate 21-7 and the House 34-24 before being by signed by Gov. Mark Gordon.
While he was pleased that bill made it into law, Northrup said it was “terribly frustrating” to watch the session from afar. For instance, he believes he could have helped explain a couple bills related to higher education that didn’t seem to be well understood in the House.
Northrup’s absence was particularly noticeable on the House Education Committee, which he leads as chairman. However, he said his fill-in, Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, and the other committee members did “a really good job” in his stead. (He also separately praised the “great” work of state Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, in her first session.) Northrup said he’d purposely given the other members of the education committee responsibilities and opportunities to grow in recent years, but “gosh, I didn’t know I was [preparing] them for this year.”
As for his family, Northrup said his mother’s surgery appears to have been a success and that Mary Ann Northrup, 87, is “healing up pretty good.”
“We’re really excited to see that she’s doing as well as she is,” Northrup said.