Tight schedules, priorities sometimes keep bills from becoming law

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Wyoming Legislative Gavel

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

With Wyoming’s Legislature working under a tight schedule, the life or death of some bills often comes down to a matter of timing and priorities.

Each session, a handful of bills fail to gain introduction and die before they are heard. Later in the process, bills die while waiting for review on what is called the “General File.” This is a list of bills that have been introduced, reviewed and approved by committees and sent back to the House or Senate for an in-depth review and discussion by the full body.

In 2017, the Legislature’s last general session, of the almost 500 bills proposed, 12 failed to be introduced and about 25 died while awaiting review on the General File.

Secretary of State Ed Buchanan served in the House of Representatives before winning his current office. There he served as both House speaker (2011-2012) and House majority floor leader (2009-2010), the person responsible for the flow of legislation.

Buchanan said the issue is largely one of timing. For the Legislature to complete its work within 40 days, certain deadlines must be met — such as the first in-depth review of bills before their originating chambers. That first review is required before the bill goes on to its second and third reading — and then across the Capitol to the other chamber for further review.

“There are only so many days, so much time in each day,” he said. “Early in the session, the majority floor leader will not have more than 15 or 20 bills stacked up (on the General File) and yours goes in the queue and you’ll get it heard in the Committee of the Whole in a day or two,” he added. “But as time goes on, that list gets to be longer and pretty soon … you might have 60 to 75 bills or more stacked up and you’re getting close to the day that it has to get reported out of, say, the House to third reading.”

This year, the deadline for “Committee of the Whole” in both the House and Senate is Feb. 4, the 19th day of the Legislature’s session.

As the deadline approaches and the number of bills on the General File grows, the majority floor leader must figure how to get as many bills through Committee of the Whole as possible, Buchanan said.

“The majority floor leader has to really prioritize and say ‘This bill is more important and deals with more substantive issues or is an issue that is very timely,’” he said. “There are so many factors that go into that decision.”

The decision to put one bill ahead of another is a personal one for the majority floor leader, but not necessarily based on whether he or she agrees with the topic of the legislation.

“It’s a personal opinion, an evaluation on a single bill that determines its priority and can ultimately determine its success or demise,” he said. “Never because you are personally opposed to a legislator’s ideas.”

Assisting in the process, Buchanan said, is the fact that as they approach the deadline for Committee of the Whole, legislators appear to become more selective in the bills they hear.

“The body becomes less patient and they become even more discerning,” he said. “As the General File gets into those last days, you’ll see some things die even though they made it up for debate on Committee of the Whole. People just start killing some bills.”

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