CASPER — The daily rate of the recently completed special legislative session cost taxpayers about $8,000 more than originally projected, the Legislative Service Office told the Star-Tribune this week.
Critics of the special session latched onto the cost — estimated to be about $25,000 per day — as a reason not to hold it. That argument did not prevail, and the Legislature was in session for seven days at a rate of about $33,000 per day.
Under the original estimate, the total session would have cost about $175,000. But after it was all said and done, the session cost taxpayers more than $233,000 — excluding security.
Those costs included:
Lawmakers are paid $150 per day in salary no matter the number of hours they work. They also receive $109 per diem for expenses like lodging and meals.
Lawmakers are paid whenever the Legislature is in session, even if they are not physically in the building. That said, legislators have the ability to waive their wages or per diem, which some told the Star-Tribune they did this session.
Lawmakers were also reimbursed for mileage, consistent with the federal rate, during the session when travelling back and forth to Cheyenne. Depending on where they live, that can equate to several hundred dollars a trip.
Security is provided by the Wyoming Highway Patrol and is present in the Capitol whether or not the body is in session. On the first two days of the special session, however, WHP provided additional security with a price tag of almost $7,000 because authorities got word that demonstrators would be traveling to the Capitol.
“We knew there were a lot of emotions attached to the issues related to the session,” said Michael Pearlman, director of communications for Gov. Mark Gordon.
The session was originally supposed to last a couple days, but lawmakers balked at rules to that effect, resulting in the seven-day session. Lawmakers convened the session to fight back against a Biden administration vaccine mandate that requires inoculation against COVID-19 for companies with 100 or more employees.
Even before the higher cost of $233,000 was released, there were comments that the price tag did not match the outcome of the session.
“After 7 days, 1,200 person hours, $175,000+ tax payer money, and a whole bunch of debate, we have passed one bill that does effectively nothing,” Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, said in an Instagram post.
Provenza was referring to House Bill 1002, the only one of the original 20 pieces of legislation to survive both chambers. HB 1002 allocates $4 million to fight the vaccine mandate in court and includes a strongly worded resolution of Wyoming’s rights. Besides allocating money for a legal challenge, the bill does not do anything to directly fight back against the federal vaccine mandate.
Even after HB 1002 was the only bill to survive, Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, stood by the need for the session.
“We have positioned the state with the resources needed for an Attorney General response,” Dockstader previously told the Star-Tribune. “It was a direct response to what Legislators were hearing across the state,” he later added. “The process and decisions of this session will continue in a short time at the new session this winter. Progress doesn’t come all at once. The work, both legislatively and in the courts, will continue.”