Keep an eye on the Legislature this session

Posted 2/8/22

The Olympics aren’t the only thing to watch this winter. While it’s much less made-for-TV, Wyoming lawmakers will convene for a 2022 Budget Session from Monday through March 11.

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Keep an eye on the Legislature this session


The Olympics aren’t the only thing to watch this winter. While it’s much less made-for-TV, Wyoming lawmakers will convene for a 2022 Budget Session from Monday through March 11.

Over the span of 20 working days, the Legislature will embark on a competitive race of sorts — hustling to review, modify and approve a new state budget for the next two years, draw up new legislative districts for the next 10 years and consider scores of other bills brought by committees and individual lawmakers.

Crafting a budget for the coming biennium will be perhaps even more challenging than usual, with Wyoming receiving an influx of cash from the federal government but the energy industry — which provides much of the revenue for the state government — under pressure from regulators and markets.

At a time that the federal government seems dead set on digging ever deeper into debt, we’re thankful the Wyoming Constitution requires a balanced budget. It’s a lot easier to be fiscally responsible when it’s a requirement; frankly, the U.S. Constitution could use a similar provision.

The task of carving up the state into equally sized legislative districts has also proven to be especially difficult this time around. The 2020 Census found that many communities in rural parts of the state — including the Big Horn Basin — shrunk over the past decade, while places like Cheyenne continued to grow. As the session has neared and it has become more obvious that some regions are going to wind up happier than others, the knives have started to come out. However, a compromise plan that would add two more representatives and one senator to the Legislature may keep the peace.

Most importantly for this area, the plan would keep six House and three Senate seats in Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie counties, while also keeping the population of those districts within 5% of the ideal. As we’ve mentioned before, it appears Park County grew significantly after the April 2020 Census, so it only makes sense to keep seats in this region.

Redistricting always brings the temptation of gerrymandering or drawing up lines that benefit (or hurt) individual lawmakers. But as the Legislature finishes up the redistricting plan, we hope they focus on representing the best interests of their constituents and not themselves.

Adding to the hectic schedule, lawmakers had already filed more than 120 bills and resolutions by Friday. They range from creating new scratch-off lottery tickets to benefit outdoor recreation efforts to tweaks to water rights laws to prohibiting the public from seeing booking photos unless and until the defendant is convicted.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell — joined by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and Sen. Tim French, R-Powell — has a bill that would require more instruction on the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions in grades K-12. It would also require students to pass a civics test — similar to the one immigrants must take when they become an American citizen — before earning their high school diploma. Particularly given the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting at the Capitol and the continuing aftermath, it seems many in this country need a better understanding of our Constitution, so we look forward to hearing the debate on House Bill 58.

With the session opening on Valentine’s Day, Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, quipped last month that “maybe we can find some love for each other.”

But that seems unlikely amid the current climate, which included the former Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, getting caught on an open mic swearing about one of his colleagues during last fall’s special session.

House Bill 26, cosponsored by French and Williams, could add to the tension. It would bar government employees from serving in elected offices that provide any funding to their employer; it appears the bill would force multiple lawmakers — including public teachers like Harshman — to choose between their day jobs or their legislative positions. Whether HB 26 is constitutional remains to be seen, as the Wyoming Supreme Court has held that qualifications for elected officials generally can only be changed by amending the state constitution. So stay tuned.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to keep tabs on the Budget Session and the Legislature. The body’s official website, www.wyoleg.gov, offers a host of resources, including the text and status of proposed bills, contact information for all lawmakers and live and archived video of committee meetings and floor debates; there are even ways to provide committee testimony via Zoom.

Don’t be afraid to participate in the process by contacting your legislators. Unlike the Olympics, lawmaking is not a spectator sport, working best when many people are engaged.