Wyoming’s Senate during the October 2021 special session that was held to devise the state’s response to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate. (Rhianna Gelhart/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Between the budget, federal stimulus allocation and redistricting, Wyoming lawmakers have their work cut out for them in the upcoming session. Now, half a million dollars set aside in the legislative budget suggests that some are preparing for another special session. 

During a Management Council meeting last week, Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson) pointed out there’s $500,000 for the special contingency fund in a version of the proposed legislative budget. That’s twice the amount it was in the previous budget.  

“So my interpretation then is I’m looking forward to more special sessions,” said Schwartz. 

While Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) told WyoFile in an email there are no plans for a special session, he also said, “Wisdom will be including contingency funds for unforeseen challenges, which I hope there are none.”

While the special contingency fund is used for a variety of expenses — primarily interim committees — it was previously used to pay for the most recent special session that cost the state roughly $230,000. As Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) pointed out during the meeting, that cost would have been higher had some lawmakers not waived their per-diems and other expenses. 

Substantial tasks, small window

When the Wyoming Legislature kicks off its 2022 budget session on Feb. 14, lawmakers will have three substantial tasks ahead of them. Those include passing a budget, finalizing plans for allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars and finishing up the redistricting process. They also have a limited timeframe — the Legislature has set out 20 days for the budget session. 

The state’s Constitution mandates that legislators meet for no more than 60 working days over the course of a House term, and they already met in 2021 for a 40-day general session. The exception to that rule is when lawmakers are called into a special session. 

The specter of another special session concerns some lawmakers. 

Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) said in a tweet that an additional special session would make it difficult to hold onto the full-time job he has outside of the Legislature. 

During the meeting, Schwartz said the work of legislators has become progressively more time consuming, and that raises questions about who has the means and ability to serve the state and who does not. 

“We need to make these jobs attractive to people who are not yet serving who might consider it,” he said. “And for a lot of them, financial considerations are going to be part of it.”

The increased workload has also impacted the Legislative Service Office. During the meeting, LSO’s Riana Davidson described findings from a recent committee that was tasked to understand why there has been such high turnover in the agency. Davidson described workload as being at a particular high because of an increased demand to draft legislation. 

Before the pandemic, the special session was a little-known mechanism to be used by the legislative branch in times of extraordinary events. Lawmakers have now held two of these types of sessions in the last two years, both of which were related to COVID-19.

Maggie Mullen reports on state government and politics. Before joining WyoFile in 2022, she spent five years at Wyoming Public Radio.

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  1. It seems that on all levels there is more and more time spent on what I would call “grand standing” legislation on current hot topics and social issues. These usually are unneeded, unwanted (except by a minority of loud people) and don’t go anywhere. However legislatures feel the need to participate in them to get re-elected so they can say “I tried”. Republicans are all about “personal freedoms” unless it’s something they don’t like. So how about let’s not consider any legislation that limits anyone’s personal freedoms and choices just because it makes some people “uncomfortable” but doesn’t really hurt anyone. Let’s not try to change our state constitution to prevent people getting elected this year that you don’t like. Let’s not worry about any changes to voting laws or talk about fake “audits” in a state that is dominated by Republicans to make sure they aren’t already winning by a landslide in most areas and levels of government. Maybe let’s just keep to what is important (education, the states economy, its workers etc) and look at immediate real needs and plan for the future of all Wyoming citizens – not just the ones who yell the loudest. That should help keep the legislature on task and on time a little better.

  2. Thank you for detail about the 60 “working days” allowed for legislators. We know they already commit FAR more time than that, working in committees, meeting with constituents, etc. This article points out that Special Sessions are costly and take a toll on Legislatures and staff. They should be reserved for truly critical issues, not for partisan grandstanding.

    1. Agreed. This last debacle was not even good theatre. I said from the beginning that the OSHA vaccine gambit was stupid and would die in court. Attorneys couldn’t reason that out? The states will each figure out their own response, as the Constitution does not enumerate a Federal power. Congress will not dare to legislate a mandate in an election year either.