Some Wyoming lawmakers are getting parking tickets when attending meetings at the state Capitol in Cheyenne, but they’d rather have the free parking they used to get.
During a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday, state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, gave Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins a little good-natured grief about parking tickets when he entered the committee’s meeting room.
Members of the Legislature used to get a pass that allowed them to park as long as they needed and for free around the Capitol complex and city. But since the city rescinded that privilege in 2019, they’re subject to the same parking rules as everyone else.
State lawmakers are allowed to park in an underground garage below the Capitol during legislative sessions. But during the interim, which makes up most of the year, they can’t.
And parking directly outside the Capitol is limited to two hours except for handicap spaces.
But lawmakers always have the option to park for free on a section of street across the road on the south side of the Capitol in a lot across the street to the east, or on any floor of a parking garage located across the street to the west side of the complex.
Each legislative committee usually has at least a few meetings per year at the Capitol during the interim session, which generally take up two full days. The Appropriations Committee has a more extensive workload in the lead up to a budget session however, meeting for two straight weeks in January.
Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, took a more serious approach to the issue of Capitol parking, saying he would like a lawmaker parking pass for the streets of Cheyenne, a privilege members of the Legislature used to have.
“They’d give us a card to put in our vehicle to park wherever we wanted to in Cheyenne,” Anderson said. “I’d like to see them do that again.”
Until 2019, lawmakers were given special passes by the city that allowed them to park for unlimited amounts of time around the Capitol complex.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily that even farther in the past, this privilege was as wide-ranging as parking anywhere in the entire city of Cheyenne during any time of the year, not just when the Legislature was in session.
But as the city of Cheyenne got more serious about its parking enforcement, the passes were eventually removed entirely.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Nethercott said legislators would be willing to pay for getting the parking passes again, which Zwonitzer said he would also support, or discounted parking tickets for lawmakers.
In response to Nethercott, Anderson remarked that “we are paying,” in reference to the parking tickets legislators are receiving.
“But we’d like to not be law violators,” Nethercott responded with a laugh.
Zwonitzer said he got a parking ticket while attending a committee meeting last April.
“It’s a little frustrating when you’re inside trying to help the state of Wyoming and come back to a ticket on your car,” he said.
He also said it’s often easy to lose track of time when attending committee meetings.
“Oftentimes you’ll go in for what you think will take an hour and ends up being much more,” he said.
Although he was noncommittal about reinstating free parking for the Legislature, Collins told Cowboy State Daily the issue is worth taking another look.
“It’s probably worth taking a look at,” he said. “I don’t want to make their lives miserable.”
But he also stressed that time-limited parking in Cheyenne is essential for the city, and particularly in areas not around the Capitol.
“The reason they're there is so people can use them,” Collins said of the available parking spaces. “There’s a lot of people who need to do their parking there who are coming to the Capitol.”
Although he’s had lawmakers lobby him to erase their parking tickets, Collins said he has refused to do so, as he doesn’t believe it’s an appropriate use of his position as mayor.
“I don’t know that would be appropriate for me to do that,” Collins said. “If I have that power, I choose not to do it. If a mayor starts making those decisions, that’s not the right thing. That’s what we have the courts and appeals for.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.