By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The Wyoming State Legislature will abide by a hybrid in-person and remote session schedule when it convenes next month.
To ensure the safest possible experience for those who must participate, Gov. Mark Gordon, President of the Senate Dan Dockstader and Speaker of the House Eric Barlow have committed to a joint plan to ensure increased safety for the session.
“Our priority is keeping people safe and preventing COVID-19 infections while fulfilling the constitutional functions of the Wyoming Legislature,” the three said in a joint statement.
The approach for the March session will still allow remote participation by lawmakers, the public and the executive branch.
To allow for public access and to keep people safe during the March hybrid session, there will be requirements to social distance and to wear masks in public spaces.
“The virtual session format has served us well through the initial work of this Legislature as we completed our constitutional requirements and considered well-vetted interim committee bills,” Dockstader said. “We are now entering a phase where the general appropriations bill and individually sponsored bills will be considered. Limited in-person interaction between legislators and staff members is critical to working these bills and optimizing the legislative response to the difficult issues facing the State of Wyoming.”
Legislators, the legislative service staff, Capitol building custodial staff and certain credentialed journalists will also be eligible to be vaccinated.
In addition, because they will not have access to the vaccine as part of this strategy, the governor has worked with the legislature and directed all executive branch staff, including the governor’s office, to participate in the March session remotely. This is an effort to keep them safe, reduce the risk of spread and exposure and ensure the continuity of government services.
The three leaders agreed that a legislative session this spring is necessary to define the state’s budget and work together on Wyoming’s path to recovery.
“In order for this session to proceed safely and successfully, it is important that all Wyoming legislators are able to fully and completely attend to their legislative responsibilities. Wyoming citizens expect nothing less,” Gordon said. “Committing these resources to this purpose is an important step to preserving equal representation for our citizens. I want to acknowledge the work of the Speaker and the President in accommodating virtual access for all citizens and their respect for the executive branch by allowing remote participation. I am thankful for the thoughtful work of our legislature and look forward to working with them on the significant challenges facing Wyoming. ”
While details could change, the steps agreed to by the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House will include:
- The governor will direct all executive branch employees to participate in the legislative process virtually.
- Both branches agree to continue the preference of virtual meetings between branches. If an in-person meeting must be held, COVID-19 safety protocols will be followed.
- Legislative bodies will limit the number of non-legislator presentations on the floors of the House and Senate.
- The Legislature will take precautions in its physical environment. These precautions will include the following direction:
- Do not attend in-person if you are feeling ill, or believe you have had recent COVID exposure.
- Mask usage by legislative members is required in legislative spaces unless the member is seated at their desk or when proper social distancing can be maintained.
- Masks are required in other parts of the Capitol per state health orders.
- Mask usage is required for the public in legislative spaces.
- Social distancing will be required in all committee rooms, galleries and hallways.
- Hand sanitizer, masks and temperature scanners will be placed throughout the Capitol Complex.
- The public participating in-person during the session will be required to comply with public health orders in place at the time of the session.
- The Legislature and the Governor will make every effort to ensure robust public engagement be allowed by virtual means. All legislative meetings will be broadcast online and include a feature allowing public comment remotely.
- Legislative staff members who are not able to perform their work responsibilities virtually will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Members of the Wyoming Legislature will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure equal representation for all citizens of Wyoming.
- Capitol building custodians, who are unable to perform their work responsibilities without their physical presence in the Capitol Building, will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. No other Executive Branch employee will receive the vaccine through this plan, as their participation will be accommodated through virtual means.
- A limited number of frontline journalists who cover the state Capitol in-person on a regular basis will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
- This strategy requires fewer than 100 vaccines.
“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s willingness to work with us to further our common goal of conducting a safe legislative session,” Barlow said. “Vaccination of legislators and legislative staff against the virus which causes COVID-19, in conjunction with other health and safety measures and continued virtual participation, is vital to maintaining a safe session.”