A legislative committee on Wednesday advanced two bills addressing lawmaker benefits. The Senate Rules Committee voted 4-1 to pass both Senate File 61 – Legislator per diem and Senate File 62 – Legislator health care-2

The bills are part of an ongoing discussion about who has the means to serve in Wyoming’s citizen Legislature and who does not. A majority of current lawmakers are retirees or self-employed. Many longtime legislators say the job has also become progressively more demanding as complex interim topics have stacked up along with additional committee meeting days. 

Meanwhile, legislator salary and per diem rates have not increased since 2005. This is not for a lack of trying; between 2001 and 2022, 20 bills related to legislator compensation, per diem, constituent service allowance or other benefits were either numbered or introduced, according to a Legislative Service Office memo. Only five of those became law. The most recent one — a 2020 bill — provides worker’s compensation coverage for lawmakers. 

Public perception that the government is giving itself a raise has also been a hurdle, according to some lawmakers. Appearances aside, the Wyoming Constitution does place limits on that power, according to the LSO. The 67th Legislature, for example, could raise salaries for the 68th Legislature but not its own. In an effort to address optics, another bill currently in play — House Bill 53 – State officials’ compensation commission — would outsource those decisions to an independent council. 

Both SF 61 and 62 came out of an interim subcommittee dedicated to studying lawmaker compensation. That same committee worked on a bill to outright increase the salaries of lawmakers, but it failed to get the support of the Management Council. 

Per diem

Senate File 61 would raise the daily allowance from its current rate of $109 to $155. Those dollars can be used to cover expenses lawmakers incur on the job like meals away from home and lodging. The legislation would also create an automatic annual adjustment that would be based on the federal per diem rates, a practice employed by most states. 

Sen. Mike Gierau (R-Jackson) said he’s heard from several other legislators that the current per diem rate is only enough to fill up their truck’s gas tank. 

The increase in per diem would also apply to members of state boards, commissions, councils and other authorities who are paid from the general fund — some 400 to 500 residents, according to Sen. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette). Those members do not receive any salary. 

While the Legislature passed a bill in 2019 to boost per diem rates, Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed the legislation because it limited those rates for lawmakers with primary residences within 25 miles of the Capitol Building in Cheyenne. 

“This doesn’t have that bit of liability,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said. “So I think it’s important to let the chamber have at it like they had it.” 

Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) cast the one vote in opposition to the bill. 

Health insurance

Senate File 62 would allow lawmakers to opt into the state employee group health insurance program at the same level as state officials. It would also allow their dependents to participate. If the bill becomes law, the option would become available for the 68th Legislature. 

Reps. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) and Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) have both previously described times in their legislative service when the hours away from their day jobs forced them to go without health insurance. 

The risk of losing health insurance may be keeping potential lawmakers from running for the Legislature in the first place, according to Rothfuss. 

“You think about it for your family, I think about it for mine. There is no way I’m going to put myself in a circumstance where I don’t have health insurance,” Rothfuss said. 

Kinskey said he wouldn’t support the bill due to his experience in local government in Sheridan, when the city council there discussed a similar measure. 

“I floated the idea and it did not go over well,” Kinskey said. “It just bollixed up in peoples’ perception and it did not go well and I backed off of it.”

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) voted for the bill in order to get it out on the floor for a full debate, but expressed reservations. A long-serving Carbon County commissioner sought reelection purely for health insurance, according to Hicks.

“It encourages people to stay on longer than they should,” Hicks said. 

The full Senate will now debate both bills. 

Maggie Mullen

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. Both of these items are within reason, per diem and health insurance. But, just like almost every other comment here, knowing that these legislators (many of whom are freshmen, and have yet to show they have earned anything) would deny those in the state who cannot afford health insurance a chance to access Medicaid support, and then vote to provide health insurance for themselves, is a disgrace!! Do they think we are totally obtuse? I am proud to say that both my senator and my representative support Medicaid expansion.

  2. It’s amazing that they want healthcare paid for but those of us that pay taxes for what really matters are not able ourselves to afford healthcare crazy how that works amongst the cost of living is outrageous we need to look at fuel refineries and meat processing facilities in our communities as the stock we raise in our communities is as good as it gets we have people who would do these jobs if legislation was positive to get them started

  3. This legislature is very hypocritical in the fact that they want health insurance, but don’t want to give it to other people that need it. If they pass that they should also pass Medicaid expansion.

    It would also be interesting to find the amount they would pay for the insurance. Also, for those that are worried about losing insurance because of their day job, there is COBRA.

    Legislators are only part time employees
    Just like some of the people they are denying Medicaid to.

    1. Well-said. And yet Wyoming voters want these hypocrites to be our leaders. When will voters realize that everything they stand for is to fill the pockets of those who already have so much and nothing for the peasants?

  4. There’s something hypocritical about the Wy legislators opting into the taxpayer funded state employee health care plan but not embracing Medicaid for the state’s citizens.

  5. That health insurance issue is interesting. They might attract better candidates if the state provided health insurance to the legislators. However, if they are going to provide health insurance to the legislators that implies the job is more than an “independent contractor” type of position which also implies that they would not need as much staff or support services. Somewhere there should be some decrease in staff if the legislators are doing more work on their own and a more employees than independent contractors.

  6. While I am not against a raise in per diem, The refusal to expand Medicaid for those who need help at the same time as bringing a bill forward to give them and their family members coverage doesn’t look good at all.

  7. the only thing, let me repeat, THE ONLY THING this 2023 Legislature needs to work on is PROPERTY TAX REFORM. No silly trespass laws that only benefit the ultra rich landowners and welfare blm cowbums…no posturing for some committee seat, etc.
    PROPERTY TAX REFORM…are you listening house and senate?

  8. When I served in the legislature, every member subsidized the legislature. Now there’s money available for constituents work, plus the allowance for mileage and travel expenses for interim committee meetings. Quite a change! A better use for general fund windfall money would be to provide free school lunches for Wyoming children. If three other states, including Colorado, can do this, why can’t Wyoming? Instead of increasing depositing depositing money in the Rainy Day Fund or increasing money for legislators, can’t we feed the children, some of whom are denied school lunches because their family income is a few dollars above poverty guidelines?