A staff member of the Legislative Service Office wears a mask as she works in the empty Appropriations Committee Chamber. Behind her, a television screen plays the Legislature’s live-streamed virtual debate. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

The Wyoming Legislature has adopted rules to guarantee access for remote-participation in meetings throughout the 2021 interim session, reversing course from a proposal that would have let committee chairs decide whether to allow virtual attendance.

The policy, which the Legislature’s Management Council adopted Friday, stipulates interim legislative bodies can only hold meetings at sites able to facilitate full remote meetings, guaranteeing the public’s ability to take part in meetings online for the rest of the year.

The policy, which only impacts the 2021 interim, also allows lawmakers to participate in meetings remotely without being docked pay.

The policy is a significant departure from a previous proposal that would have let committee chairs decide whether the public could participate in their meetings remotely. 

During Friday’s Management Council meeting, lawmakers raised concerns that guaranteeing remote participation could lead to out-of-state residents “flooding” testimony, pushing out Wyoming residents.

“One of the things that I’ve heard repeatedly from some of the chairs on the House side is the concern that if we don’t have some throttle on who comes in when they come in, then we can get all manner of out-of-state people coming in at once,” House Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), said Friday. 

Others, like Senate Vice President Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), said requiring virtual participation can limit where meetings can be held. According to a list of “approved locations” provided by the Legislative Service Office, the only meeting places in the state able to facilitate full remote participation are all in larger communities like Riverton, Laramie, Casper and Rock Springs.

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However, numerous groups testified Friday in favor of guaranteeing remote participation at all costs, citing the high levels of public engagement seen throughout the 2020 interim and the 2021 Legislative Session. 

Ramsey Scott, a lobbyist for the Alzheimer’s Association of Wyoming who has covered the statehouse in Wyoming and Colorado as a reporter, said Wyoming has surpassed numerous other states for improving government transparency and should continue to lead the charge. Others, like Equality State Policy Center acting director Ana Marchese, argued increased remote participation can help lawmakers draft better legislation.

“We believe that these practices will benefit both legislators and Wyoming citizens, and they will also help to foster public input, feedback and comments,” she said.

Under the policy, committee chairmen still have a substantial amount of leeway to set rules for public comment in their hearings. 

On Monday, the Joint Revenue Committee considered a related proposal to put out-of-state residents at the back of the testimony line.

“There were Wyoming people who didn’t get to testify [during the 2022 session] — some of whom were there in Cheyenne,” Revenue Committee co-chair Steve Harshman (R-Casper) said Monday. “We want to take care of our Wyoming residents first.”

Ultimately, the committee decided not to codify that change, but agreed to operate under an understanding that “Wyoming people come first,” according to co-chair Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander). 

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