Driskill, Sommers Won’t Call For Special Session To Overturn Governor’s Vetoes

Senate President Ogden Driskill and House Speaker Albert Sommers said Monday they won’t comply with requests from some Wyoming legislators to call for a special session to overturn Governor Gordon’s vetoes.

Leo Wolfson

March 25, 20247 min read

Wyoming Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, left, and House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale.
Wyoming Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, left, and House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

When it comes to calling for a special legislative session in Wyoming, legislative leaders say they won’t, in response to some lawmakers asking for one to overturn a number of Gov. Mark Gordon’s vetoes.

In a Monday op-ed, Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, make it clear they have no interest in initiating that process.

“The Legislature cannot simply meet for one day in a special session to vote to override vetoes,” Driskill and Sommers wrote. “With the majority floor leaders in both chambers motioning to adjourn ‘sine die’ and gaining approval from the members present, all bills and actions of the 2024 Budget Session by the Legislature are finished.”

Calls rang out for a special session over the weekend in response to a series of vetoes made by Gordon a number of hot-button issues, including banning gun-free zones, increasing regulations on surgical abortion centers, defunding the University of Wyoming’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office and related programming, and a property tax relief bill that would have cut 25% of assessed value of a home’s worth up to $2 million.

How To Call A Special Session

Both state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, issued strongly-worded press releases Saturday asking legislative leadership to call a special session.

The governor can call for a special session, which is highly unlikely here considering he would be doing so to override his vetoes. A spokesman for Gordon’s office told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the governor said he has no response or comment on the push for a special session.

The Legislature can initiate the call for a special session itself through two different routes.

The presiding officers of the House and Senate can call for a written poll among their members, and if a majority in both chambers want it, a special session will be called.

Individual legislators also can initiate the poll by gathering signatures from 35% of the members of each chamber.

Bear, who also serves as chairman of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, told Cowboy State Daily he has already done that in the House and expects the Senate will also provide enough signatures. Steinmetz told Cowboy State Daily the request for these signatures went out on Monday.

Bear said he’s hopeful, but not confident, the House will get a majority vote to call for a special session. He believes certain members of the House were hiding behind an expectation that Gordon would make his vetoes when they decided to support bills like the one providing property tax relief.

Steinmetz said the governor vetoed bills that otherwise had a “veto-proof” majority in both chambers. This was the case for the property tax and gun-free zones bill, but not the budget.

State Rep. John Bear and Sen. Cheri Steinmetz
State Rep. John Bear and Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

To Call Or Not To Call

The biggest reason Driskill and Sommers say they don’t want to call for a special session is they believe it would be a waste of money to handle issues they believe could have been resolved during the normal legislative session.

“Realistically, a special session would require eight to 10 days and cost approximately $35,000 a day,” they wrote. “Should we spend $350,000 of taxpayer money because we couldn’t get our job done within the calendar that we had agreed upon? This call for a special session appears to be political grandstanding for upcoming campaigns, not responsible governance. Wyoming taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for that.”

Sommers and Driskill moved up discussion of the budget to the beginning of this year’s session to ensure that legislation was completed in time. Still, the legislation didn’t pass in both chambers until the last day of the session because of infighting on both sides.

Although there were three additional days left from the 2023 session that could have been used this past session, House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, called for the session to be completed.

There was almost no desire expressed by lawmakers calling for a special session while the budget session was ongoing, and Cowboy State Daily conducted numerous interviews with lawmakers on all sides of the aisle who said they were not interested in calling one.

Sommers told Cowboy State Daily this was similar to the message he received from his members, never receiving any formal requests to extend the session.

“Given the whole negative tenor of the session, we thought it would be a good idea to wrap it up,” Sommers said.

Steinmetz disagrees, and said Driskill and Sommers failed to properly manage the session schedule to allow time to override the governor’s vetoes. This mostly happened as a result of the budget not being passed until the final day.

“They failed to do their job and failed the Wyoming people,” she said.

The deadline has already long passed for the Legislature to override the governor’s vetoes, so a new version of the bills the members want considered would have to be resubmitted for consideration and go through the entire legislative process, unless the Legislature suspended some of its rules to speed up the process.

Sommers also warned that a special session could quickly devolve into a messy, unfocused situation as there would be nothing stopping legislators from bringing new bills as well. Under the Wyoming Constitution, a special session can only run for 20 days.

Why Call?

Bear said the crux of the reason he wants to call for a special session is to pass Senate File 54 into law, a property tax relief bill that would have reduced taxes by 25% of the first $2 million of a home’s value.

“The public is screaming about it, they’re very angry,” Bear said.

Steinmetz told Cowboy State Daily calling for a special session is about “finishing the work we started for the Wyoming people.”

“Situations like this are why our founders provided the ability for a special session in our constitution,” she said. “I believe Wyoming citizens expect us to do just that.”

Even before Gordon vetoed SF 54, Bear sharply criticized the final budget that was passed in the Legislature for the roughly $700 million it put into savings when compared to the $250 million in total statewide relief provided by SF 54 and other property tax bills, seeing it as a disbalanced ratio.

With Gordon’s veto, Bear saw that balance shift even further to the state as $900 million put into savings and $50 million in tax relief.

Sommers and Driskill said even if a special session were called and SF 54 was passed into law, it would be too late to initiate for this current tax year. All tax assessments must be sent out in Wyoming by April 22.

“We cannot call a special session fast enough for the Department of Revenue and the counties to effectuate additional property tax relief this year,” they wrote. “Due to the fact that property tax relief cannot be addressed in a special session, we cannot justify calling ourselves into one for matters better suited to the 2025 general session.”

Bear said he’s skeptical this is the case and even if it is, believes there’s nothing that would prevent the Department of Revenue from sending 25% refund checks to homeowners after the fact.

Gordon vetoed SF 54 on Thursday night, calling it “socialistic” and “Bidenomic.”

Sommers and Driskill also expressed “extreme disappointment” with Gordon’s veto of SF 54 in a Friday press release and said that a measure cutting taxes is conservative, not liberal.

“We have become increasingly concerned about the governor’s disregard for the will of the people’s representatives and the legislation we have passed,” they wrote. “Our concern was further heightened last night by the veto of Senate File 54, which provided all residents of Wyoming with substantial property tax relief.

“What is needed now is not to come into special session to rehash old ideas, but to charge our legislative interim committees with developing bills with input from all interested parties and address the needs of Wyoming.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter