Guest Column: The Need For Transparency During the Special Session of the Wyoming Legislature

"We urge our Legislators to reject the proposed rules in favor of the traditional process that gives everyone in Wyoming the opportunity to see and hear the debates in both House and Senate committees and during each chambers floor sessions. The state will be better served."

Jimmy Orr

October 25, 20215 min read

State capitol 10 21 scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By: Gail Symons, JoAnn Skeim-True, Jenn Lowe, Chris Merrill, Daniel Neal, Ron Sniffin, Sara Burlingame

We commend those who have spoken out to express concerns about rules proposed to govern the upcoming Special Session of the 66th Wyoming Legislature. 

We, the signers of this letter, represent a wide range of non-partisan organizations that believe in the power of our democratic system, and we fear that the process being pursued by lawmakers sets a bad precedent that is counter to good governance. The voters of Wyoming should be concerned, too. 

Rules proposed to govern the Special Session of the Wyoming Legislature give short shrift to the public and its ability to participate in making the laws we all must live by.

This is not about whether or not you support mandates. Regardless of your position on vaccinations or masks, fast-tracking legislation undermines the deliberative process that is the hallmark of good lawmaking.

Many groups in the state have expressed concern regarding the content of the proposed bills that will be considered when the session opens Tuesday. 

The Wyoming Business Alliance points out the damage that this special session could have on our state’s economy and business development—and urges caution:

“As the Wyoming Legislature prepares for its special session next week, we encourage our leaders to continue on the path toward economic diversification, certainty and stability. The legislature should continue its efforts to grow the economy, not increase regulation and mandates on businesses. Mandates, whether federal or state (including mandates by one to counteract mandates by the other), take away the ability to make important decisions from those most capable, most understanding and most impacted: business leaders and their employees.”

The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce suggested a measured approach. “The complexity of these issues demands that adequate time be allotted for businesses to review these bills, seek legal counsel, and know exactly what their impact will be. A 3-day session next week with limited public input is not an appropriate approach to complex issues that could be a death blow for some Wyoming businesses.”

WAMHSAC, the alliance of mental health care providers in the state, shares concerns about the negative impact of penalties proposed in some of the legislation that will be considered.

“The radical approach suggested by some legislators of levying significant fines or possibly incarcerating Wyoming’s healthcare employers is … contrary to Wyoming’s values. Wyoming’s healthcare providers are making battlefield decisions to address and protect the most vulnerable Wyoming’s citizens and we need to respect the ability of our private entities to make those decisions.”

We join these organizations in opposing the special session for the negative impact it could have on the lives of all Wyomingites. In addition, we are concerned about the problematic lack of transparency with the special session. The public’s ability to participate in the process will be sharply curtailed. Both of these are critical to our democratic process and our system as a representative Republic.

As ESPC’s former Executive Director Chris Merrill wrote in a recent whitepaper on government transparency, “The traditional legislative process embraces the time-honored wisdom that the passage of legislation should be difficult and deliberative—and it should be easier for a bill to die than for it to survive. This encourages good faith, a more robust debate, and the creation of higher quality legislation.”

The leadership of the 66th Wyoming Legislature is proposing to advance 40 bills through what is known as the “mirror bill” process. That means that there are 20 bills in the House that have an identical counterpart in the Senate. There are serious problems with this process. Even in the best of circumstances and with the best of intentions the mirror bill process undermines government transparency and severely limits opportunities for public education and participation.

When the two chambers work on mirror bills at the same time, the public cannot follow the progress of both bills. Individuals are forced to choose which bill to follow even though debates—and amendments—in each chamber are very different and can result in divergent outcomes.

This deprives Wyomingites of the full opportunity to weigh in and alert legislators to potential problems with a bill. The ability of the public and of specific interests to comment and raise questions and to offer potential solutions to them is critical to the creation of new laws that we all must live by. It also makes the process less transparent. Truncating the lawmaking process undermines our citizen legislature and the tenets of democracy.

The traditional process takes more time but is the appropriate approach. It upholds the spirit of the Constitution and honors the vision, purpose, and intent of our citizen legislature.

We urge our Legislators to reject the proposed rules in favor of the traditional process that gives everyone in Wyoming the opportunity to see and hear the debates in both House and Senate committees and during each chamber’s floor sessions. The state will be better served.

Gail Symons, Founder, Civics 307
JoAnn Skeim-True, Co-Founder, Cowgirl Run Fund
Jenn Lowe, Executive Director, Equality State Policy Center
Chris Merrill, former Director, Equality State Policy Center
Daniel Neal, former Director, Equality State Policy Center
Ron Sniffin, Executive Director, Wyoming Education Association
Sara Burlingame, Executive Director, Wyoming Equality

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Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.