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Vote called for a special session

Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) addresses the Wyoming Senate on Feb. 12, 2024. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — A “straw poll” vote conducted this week on whether the Wyoming Legislature should hold a special session met the necessary 35% threshold to trigger a formal vote, but legislative leaders say they will vote “no.”

Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, announced the formal vote on a special session through an op-ed Wednesday.

“We would likely be in favor of a special session, if we could laser-focus solely on Senate File 54,” Sommers and Driskill wrote, referring to a property tax relief measure vetoed late last week by Gov. Mark Gordon. “However, we believe differing expectations make it unlikely to garner the two-thirds majority vote required to change legislative rules that would speed up the process.”

Lawmakers now have until 5 p.m. Sunday to cast their votes, which will be counted that night. A successful vote for a special session requires a simple majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Driskill told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that results should be available the following morning.

“We should know Monday morning whether we’re going to a special session or not,” Driskill said.

Updates on a special session will be discussed that day by the Management Council, which is composed of leadership in the Legislature. Management Council is scheduled to meet at the

state Capitol starting at 8:30 a.m. Monday to discuss topics for the interim leading up to the 2025 general session.

In order to focus on a single bill during a special session, the Legislature’s rules would have to be suspended with a two-thirds vote. In the last special session in 2021, the Legislature tried and failed to vote to suspend the rules. During that session, 41 bills were filed, and only one passed.

“Without special rules governing the special session, it’s likely to be a Pandora’s Box scenario devolving into a mini-session akin to what we witnessed in the 2021 special session,” the legislative leaders wrote in the op-ed. “Based on our history, we fear that expecting self-restraint within the chambers might be wishful thinking. Remember, history has a tendency to repeat itself.”

Calls for a special session first came over the weekend from Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, who chairs the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. 

Bear said leadership ended the budget session when there were still three days left in the bank, and he believed lawmakers should have a chance to reverse several of Gordon’s vetoes, including a bill to repeal all gunfree zones in the state.

Driskill and Sommers initially denied these requests, saying it was not an effective use of taxpayer money. Each day of a special session costs the state approximately $35,000, they said, noting that a special session would be a hardship for citizen lawmakers who have job duties and other responsibilities.

An updated conversation with the Department of Revenue on Monday, however, changed their minds.

The day after Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed SF 54, “Homeowner’s tax exemption,” Driskill and Sommers said they were told “the veto would effectively halt any additional legislative efforts toward property tax relief in 2024.” 

However, the department came back and told them on Monday that property owners could be notified of the tax exemption in their September tax bills, although this might create some confusion.

Lawmakers, including Driskill and Sommers, expressed their disappointment with Gordon’s veto of the property tax bill which would have given relief to all Wyoming homeowners for the next two years. SF 54 provided a 25% exemption for all Wyoming homeowners up to the first $2 million of assessed value for a residential property.

“This information made us take a second look at whether we would recommend a special session,” they wrote in the op-ed. “In the end, we think a special session is a bad idea.”

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, announced Wednesday he, too, would vote against a special session. The Minority Floor Leader said it was important to uphold the principles of a limited government. Calling for a special session after every gubernatorial vote, he said, set “a precedent for future legislative bodies to expect additional sessions every year.”

“Hardworking Wyomingites deserve an honest, transparent government, with representatives who are willing to both listen to their constituents and educate themselves on the process,” Yin said in the release. “Performative growth in government creates poorly written, harmful policies that impede on the individual freedoms of our residents.”

In response to Bear’s remark about the extra three days, Yin noted that House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, a member of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, made the motion to adjourn the end of the budget session. Sommers had also told the WTE none of the lawmakers asked to use the extra three days left over from 2023 to extend the 20-day budget session, which ended March 8.

Not one lawmaker, including members of the Freedom Caucus, opposed Neiman’s motion to end the session, Yin noted in his release.

“It is dishonest to blame ‘leadership’ without accepting the caucus’s responsibility for when we adjourned,” Yin said.


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