Three area legislators met with their constituents Tuesday afternoon. During the two-hour discussion, the lawmakers went over some of their wins, losses and draws, while voters expressed their own …
Three area legislators met with their constituents Tuesday afternoon. During the two-hour discussion, the lawmakers went over some of their wins, losses and draws, while voters expressed their own takes on bills, laws and proposals.
Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, and Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, both freshmen and Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, an experienced lawmaker, all expressed surprise at the sheer number of bills introduced during the split session.
The lawmakers met for a one-day virtual session Jan. 12 to meet constitutional requirements. That was followed by an eight-day virtual session and the remainder of the session was a hybridization of virtual and in-person meetings as the COVID pandemic loosened its grip on the state.
Williams was amazed by the number of bills that are introduced but aren’t passed; about 60% die in the process. French was surprised at the number of bills he supported as written, but later opposed because of the amendments added to the various bills.
“A lot of them [amendments] are designed to gut the bill, to destroy the intent,” he said. “I could be in favor of a bill, then because of the amendments I have to vote against it, especially on the third reading.”
Laursen said the supplemental budget was a good example. The House and the Senate are given the same suggested supplemental budget. Then each chamber adds its amendments and sends the whole to a conference committee. Then it goes back to each chamber to see if an agreement can be reached.
Laursen said the House always budgets high, usually for K-12 schools, while the Senate wants to enact cuts.
“I just wish we’d come to a sensible number and get closer [to a consensus],” he said. French noted no legislator wants to see their own concerns get cut, but cuts are necessary.
The session did cut $430 million from state spending, but sent the K-12 school budget back unaddressed with the same allocations as last year because the two chambers could not reach a compromise.
“Those cuts aren’t destroying the state, and they were necessary because of [the downturn in] oil and gas, the war on coal and there was no tourism,” French said.
Laursen said a more reasonable approach could have helped before the shortfall became so large, and while the oil and gas industry has rallied somewhat, the war on coal is still being fought and the current administration wants those industries to “go away.”
The Legislature will convene in special session July 12 to deal with the federal money coming to the state from federal COVID relief programs.
“Is accepting that money a done deal?” asked Karen Jones, a member of the audience from Cody. “Will we sell our birthright and state sovereignty to accept this money?”
Laursen said until the state learns what strings were attached, it will not spend any of it. When the appropriate uses for the funds are determined, the process can move ahead. If the requirements cannot be met or the state refuses to accept the rules, then the federal dollars can be sent back, he said.
Lyle Rodgers, a Powell voter, asked why the state didn’t take back its public lands from the federal government.
“I think we could win it in court,” Rodgers said. French told him the topic is due to be discussed in the agriculture committee as an interim subject.
Some of the bills passed in the concluded session that the three legislators supported included: the right for out of state residents to conceal carry a weapon in Wyoming without a permit; one that ends banking and financial discrimination against companies in the firearms business; and a voter ID law that requires residents present identification when voting in person.
Other bills that passed were requirements for most elected officials to live in the county for which they are seeking office, with an exception for county coroners and requiring a candidate be a resident of the state, receiving no benefits from any other state, or living in the Washington, D.C., area in order to run for the U.S. Senate representing Wyoming.
Every representative present was against Medicaid expansion, citing the cost of the state match and fears the federal subsidies would be revoked, leaving the state to bear the burden of the cost of care for the estimated 25,000 new program enrollees. Even the number of enrollees was questioned, with Williams referencing the expansion in Montana where double the estimated of new Medicaid members enrolled.
French said the added federal dollars couldn’t continue forever. “All these trillions we’re in debt, that’s going to come back around.”
Each member also pointed out how important local leadership is for not only passing bills, but also making towns and regions head in the direction the residents desire.
At the state level, committee chairs can “slow walk” bills so that they are never even discussed; at the local level schools are guided by board of trustee members and city councils pilot policy for municipalities. Williams, Laursen and French each noted how important it is that community members make the time to run for office and serve as an educated, informed part of society.