House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) during the 2022 Wyoming Legislature’s budget session. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Veteran observers of the Wyoming Legislature — including a few lawmakers — told me they consider the 2022 budget session one of the most miserable in recent memory.

I don’t share that view. 

There were definitely dreadful moments that made me wonder why I’m still doing this, 44 years after covering my first session. But one of the 20 days was absolutely wonderful, the kind where all the stars align and things turn out exactly the way you hoped. For me, that magical day was Tuesday, March 8.

After watching four wretched bills sail through the Senate, I fully expected the House to embrace them. Instead, the measures ran into a brick wall on the final day for bills to be heard on the floor. None survived. 

It’s strange that a day marked by death was so life-affirming, but it made me want to shout, “Finally, something’s gone right!”

One, Senate File 51 – Fairness in women’s sports act, was silently snuffed out days before by House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), who stuck it in his drawer instead of assigning it to a committee. But the bill’s official tombstone will read March 8.

Senate File 51 would ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ high school and women’s college sports. Critics warned it was blatantly unconstitutional and violated Title IX, a federal civil rights law.

The Senate, which is leaning way far to the right these days, adopted its typical “let ‘em sue us” attitude and passed it, 24-5. Many red states are passing bills that hurt the LGBTQ community, and I’m glad the “Equality State” didn’t join them. 

Next up: a pair of bills Barlow sent to the House Education Committee.

Senate File 103 – Education-limitations on teaching critical race history sought to ban something that isn’t even being taught in Wyoming’s schools: “critical race theory.” But the extreme-right has latched onto CRT as the top issue to rile up its base, so that fact didn’t matter.

The Senate, once again, was perfectly fine jumping on the national GOP’s bandwagon, approving the bill 25-4. The House panel never considered it.

Senate File 62 – Civics Transparency Act did get a hearing, likely in deference to its sponsor, Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower). 

Driskill said he wasn’t trying to ban CRT, but his bill — which required teachers to post all their classroom resources online — would have effectively put a target on the backs of Wyoming teachers. It would have enabled zealots to look for supposedly “liberal” material and use smear tactics to ruin educators’ careers.

There were plenty of jaw-dropping moments this year, but topping my list was Driskill telling the committee how teachers should discuss the Holocaust.

“There’s a full variance on what happened and how it happened,” he said. “Should both sides of that be taught? To me the answer is absolutely. You need to have everything from ‘it was the most atrocious thing that ever happened’ to ‘here’s people who say it didn’t happen.’”

House Education killed SF 62 on a too-close-for-comfort vote of 5-4. But it died, and that’s really all that matters.

The final one to be put out of the electorate’s misery was Senate File 97 – Change in party affiliation. This absurd, undemocratic bill was sponsored by Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), who has brought it back every session since 2019. His fellow legislators keep telling him it’s a bad idea, but Biteman doesn’t get the message.

Biteman first sponsored the bill at the behest of the Wyoming Republican Party, which made banning “crossover voting” its top legislative priority.

GOP officials were livid that two far-right candidates, Foster Friess and Harriet Hageman, split the vote in their 2018 gubernatorial primary, allowing the more moderate Mark Gordon to win the nomination. They blamed Democrats, even though not nearly enough switched parties to alter the outcome.

Senate File 97 prevented voters from changing parties after the candidate filing period started in May. That’s right — before anyone even knows who’s actually running in the August primary. The Senate approved it, 18-12.

Ah, but the House was a different story, penned once again by Barlow, who sent the bill to the House Appropriations Committee. The House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, where it could have landed, was likely to send it to the House floor.

But HAC, after listening to overwhelming testimony against SF 97, voted 5-2 to not recommend it.

As much as I appreciate Barlow’s decisions, I was disappointed he kept the House from voting on House Bill 20 – Medical treatment opportunity act. After a decade of rejecting Medicaid expansion, the House finally passed it last year, inching closer to legislative victory, before it ultimately died.

But in a budget session, at least 40 of the 60 House members must vote for a bill to be introduced, and not enough were willing to commit this time around. Barlow, who backs Medicaid expansion, made the political calculation to not hold a vote on a bill destined to fail, and expose GOP legislators to possible primary challenges from the far-right.

There are plenty of legislative decisions I believe went awry House Bill 92 – Abortion prohibition-supreme court decision will ban virtually all abortions in Wyoming if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. That’s right, some legislators felt compelled to enact new state laws reacting to a decision that hasn’t even been written.

Gun-rights activists finally passed a Second Amendment Protection Act, after rejecting the more radical Second Amendment Preservation Act. It was fun to see them trash talking and voting against each other’s bills, at least until one became law.

Lawmakers were so busy debating abortion, guns and transgender discrimination, many forgot redistricting is mandated by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years. They put off serious talks until the final day, then passed an out-of-compliance mess no one was happy about. The state will be very lucky if it’s not sued.

Not allowing some bills to get out of the starting gate were among the best decisions made. Included in this group was a host of proposals aimed at banning COVID-19 mask-, vaccine- and vaccine-passport “mandates.”

Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) had the dubious distinction of authoring five dead bills, four of them not considered at all. The other, which failed its introduction vote, was a worse version of the critical race theory ban.

One of Gray’s proposals — House Bill 99 — was at the top of my list of bills I just couldn’t stomach passing. I would have leapt on the governor’s desk and grabbed his pen to keep him from signing it.

You probably know HB 99 better by its title: President Donald J. Trump Highway. It would have renamed Highway 258 in Natrona County.

Thanks to the House leader’s wisdom, no one is going to be driving on that sucker any time soon.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Thanks so much for the update on the last legislative session. For those of us, who were not there in person, thank you for giving us your personal perspective!

  2. Change in party affiliation is not absurd and deservers more merit that it received. rather than supposedly preserving voting rights it acts as an opposite force. It is easily weaponized by the liberals because the legislation allows it and they take advantage of the loophole. I do believe that you should be allowedto change affiliation, I have , I went from registered Republican to independent. Its very easy to do, and anyone with a scintilla of a brain cell knows that there is a lot of posturing and advertising regarding the candidates well in advance of voting day. In other words you have ample opportunity to vote as you wish, just not being able to change your side the day of a primary, especially when your choice is not ahead seems absurd.

  3. I find it really interesting that in creating “horizontal federalism” (separation of powers for “checks and balances”) Madison specifically wanted a bicameral legislature (two houses) in which one house would be the “people’s house” and the other a deliberative body to control the urges of “the democratic masses”. In a striking metaphor, Madison wrote that the House of Representatives would be like a very hot cup of tea, hard to hold and dangerous to sip, thus a saucer was needed to which one would pour the hot tea on to an coop permitting one to sip the tea. Here in Wyoming it appears (and that has been the case for about five years now) that the inverse is our reality; the Wyoming House of Representatives is the deliberative body (Trustees) “cooling” the over-heated passions (Delegates) of a Senate driven by demagogues.

  4. Good column, Kerry. Thank you. I further think that in a budget session ONLY budget bills ought to be brought to the floor.

  5. I wrote my representatives before the start of the legislature that I didn’t think any social “hot button, not really an issue” bills should be considered during a budget session (or not all ever). These bills are purely meant to bring political clout and only does harm to people in Wyoming, in addition to being an embarrassment and putting us on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to me or others who felt the same way. They instead chose to listen to the loudest people in the room. Even though I’m a democrat, I was OK with the Libertarian leanings Wyoming used to have – live and let live. Now the Wyoming GOP that at the same time is “anti-big government” and “anti-cancel culture” wants to control how people live their lives if it doesn’t conform to their standards and will eat its own if you step out of line. Like Drake, I’m very glad these bills died, but the fact they were even presented is not only embarrassing, but also very scary for the future of Wyoming.

  6. Please do retire! You proved you don’t think women should be protected in sports, and it’s fine if men compete against them. You proved you don’t think there should transparency in what our children are being taught in school. You proved you don’t know what is being taught by claiming CRT isn’t being taught… it is and teachers in certain Wyoming cities are openly on record they will continue to teach it no matter what laws are passed against it and finally you proved you think it’s okay to game the election process by changing your party officiation on Election Day and then change it back to the party you truly align with the day after. Yes, please retire.

    You’re obviously pro abortion and against gun rights. And I’m sure you would personally deliver a bill to Gordon to name a highway after Biden aka Spaghetti Brains, but as you said would personally rip a bill to name a highway after DJT from Gordon’s hand.

    Yes, pease retire.

    1. Wanting to silence an opinion that you don’t agree with is all the rage with the gullible fringe of the right wing these days.

      If different opinions threaten the delicate sensibilities of your own opinions, perhaps it’s time to rethink some of your beliefs?

  7. But yet again the people of Wyoming were short changed by the inability of the legislature to even attempt to try and diversify our state’s economy. Coal will continue to die as a income resource and the state still will not allow the DEQ to get off it’s fat ass and start enforcing our environmental laws concerning water and air pollution that in the long run will become more acute and critical as the climate gets warmer and water resources becom even more critical. They swept some serious problems under the rug as usual such as projects that are in critical need of repair. Again they tried to fix problems that don’t exsist and it is very clear some in the body have gone far around the bend in what is proper and reasonable in their actions both in the chambers and outside the chambers. It time For Wyoming begin to act for the people and look closely who represents them. Also some basic standards have to set for the State Treasure so Wyoming can again know what is in the bank in a timely manner so these critical decisions can made in a transparent atmosphere.

  8. A Wyoming legislator’s statement that teachers would be required to include an element questioning whether the Holocaust actually happened is beyond belief. Despite his occasional protests to the contrary, such a statement suggests he is, indeed, a whack job.

  9. Good news indeed. Though I must say that I find it concerning to say the least that a Wyoming legislator is under the impression that there are two comparing sides to the debate regarding the holocaust. Driscoll thereby legitimizes holocaust deniers. Regrettably, I can’t say I’m overly surprised in this day and age.