By Ryan Lewallen, County 17
The power to recall elected officials of all levels could be placed in the hands of the Wyoming people, if a bill and a resolution granting such power advances through the Wyoming State Legislature.
House Bill 74, along with a non-numbered resolution, both of which are sponsored by House Representative John Bear (R-Gillette), are currently in the works within the state legislatures’ 2021 general session.
“It’s really important to be able to hold our elected officials accountable and recalling them is one way that the people can do that,” Bear said.
The legislation applies to city and town officials only and establishes a way for elected officials in Wyoming cities and towns to be removed from office via public petition.
Any such petition would need to include grounds for removal and an appropriate number of signatures based on a percentage of the local population.
Cities and towns with 4,000 or more residents would need a petition signed by 25% of the population, 30% for municipalities with 500 to 3,999 residents, and 35% for cities and towns with 499 or fewer residents.
With the right number of signatures for the municipality’s population, the petition would need to be filed with the city or town clerk and would kick off a special removal election that would need to take place within 30 days.
The bill would enable the official sought after for removal to participate as a candidate for the special removal election, though any other candidate would need to be nominated via application and potentially through a special primary election, according to the bill’s text.
Combined with the resolution, the result is a legal mechanism allowing Wyoming residents to recall and replace elected officials from the governor’s office all the way down the ladder to city and town councilmen.
The resolution would apply to state senators as well but would not extend to officials elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to Bear.
Similarly, Bear’s resolution would also entail a change in a constitutional amendment, but only at the state level. There are several hurdles the resolution must leap in the coming days within the state legislature, including a two-thirds vote of approval in both the House and the Senate.
Bear acknowledged that some legislators may not be comfortable with the idea of putting forth a legal mechanism that could cost them their jobs should they do something their district doesn’t approve of.
“There are reasons people don’t want to be recalled, I understand that,” Bear said. “But it’s about accountability for me.”
If the resolution passes both the Senate and the House, it would go on the ballot for the Wyoming people to decide in 2022.
Should it be approved, the resolution would go back to the state legislature to have all the final rules and regulations for removal established.
All told, it could be up to four years from the point the resolution passes to the point it becomes law through a constitutional amendment, and that is the best-case scenario, according to Bear.
HB0074 is a slightly different situation. A legal mechanism for recalling city and town elected officials already exists in state statute, but it only applies to cities and towns with a commission-style government in place which currently doesn’t exist.
Bear’s bill could be enacted much quicker than the resolution.
“Here’s the bottom line. If this passes, you could hold a recall at the mayor or lower level in your cities and towns by this summer,” Bear said.