Another special session? Legislature sets aside funds just in case

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. 

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.