If you voted against it, you shouldn’t benefit from it.
That’s the position state Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, took in amending a bill that would bump the per diem paid to state lawmakers. Yin successfully passed a clause in Senate File 61 that would exempt state legislators who vote against the increase from automatically getting a per diem allowance.
They could still take advantage of the financial stipend to cover public service-related travel expenses, but they’d have to opt in to get the increase outlined in SF 61, should it ultimately pass. Also, that opt-in would be considered public record for all to know.
Senate File 61 would bump the per diem from $109 a day to the most recent per diem rates established by the U.S. General Services Administration for locations in Wyoming. This is not an increase in the salary of Wyoming Legislature members; rather, a reimbursement for travel expenses.
Those who vote against the increase would stay at the $109 per day rate.
The current rate set by the federal GSA is $98 a day for lodging and $59 for meals while in legislative service, meaning if passed, lawmakers could expense up to $157 per day. There also are 52 state boards and commissions tied to the rates.
“This provides a way for them to automatically opt out without hurting our boards and commissions,” Yin said. “All it says is they need to opt back in if they so decide they need that increased rate.”
Reps. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and Ben Hornok, R-Cheyenne, spoke in favor of the amendment.
Hornok, a staunch conservative who rarely agrees with Yin on issues, said he sees the amendment as an opportunity for legislators to save the state money.
Others spoke against the amendment, but it still passed on a voice vote.
House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, spoke against Yin’s idea, seeing it as an impediment to passing the per diem increase overall. There has been no per diem rate increase approved by the Legislature since 2005.
“This is an opportunity that we have that maybe doesn’t come for another four or five or six years,” he said. “If you want a per diem bill, keep it simple.”
Ruffles Some Feathers
Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River, described the amendment as divisive.
Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said he had seen a similar tactic employed on a spending bill before, but that legislation didn’t get as far through the legislative process.
A few legislators who had spoken against the per diem increase in the House said they found it too wide sweeping, providing the same benefits for Cheyenne legislators as those living in other more remote parts of the state.
The bill, with Yin’s amendment, passed the House on Tuesday on a 33-28 vote.
Not So Fast
While it passed the House, Yin’s amendment may have been too much for the Senate.
On Wednesday, that chamber rejected concurrence on SF 61 by a 26-5 vote. With this rejection, the bill will next move to a joint conference committee that will try to find a resolution between the Senate and House versions.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, expressed great reluctance about Yin’s amendment, but said he supports the basic idea of the increase to per diem.
“I think we ought to think pretty hard about this,” he said of the amendment. “This I think is putting an undue influence on people’s votes on this thing. I think the rule ought to be uniform as to how people get paid.”