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Special session voted down

The House Chambers at the Wyoming State Capitol Building during the morning session February 15, 2024. Photo by Michael Smith

By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — A call for a special session failed to pass a vote of members of the Wyoming Legislature, according to official poll results sent in Sunday night.

Lawmakers needed a simple majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to successfully call for a special session. The vote passed with a slim majority in the Senate, 16-15. However, it failed in the House by eight votes, with 27 in favor and 35 against.

House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, and Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, first announced the failed vote in the House through an op-ed Sunday evening. 

The House lawmakers said a special session would have likely extended for the full four weeks, costing taxpayers approximately $700,000.

“We take pride in Wyoming’s history of a citizen legislature, deeply rooted in its connection to the people and in stark contrast to a professional political class,” the lawmakers wrote in the joint op-ed. “Safeguarding this institution is paramount and more important than any single bill. 

The prospect of a third special session in four years presented significant practical challenges for our dedicated legislators, many of whom hold regular jobs. An additional four weeks of legislative duties would have been difficult and impractical.”

While they expressed their disappointment in the governor’s veto of a property tax bill that would have provided tax relief across the board for Wyoming homeowners, the representatives said it was unlikely the Legislature would agree to focus on this single bill. In a news release Friday night, members of the Freedom Caucus listed several bills, as well as a vetoed line item in the budget, that they wanted to address during the special session.

It was for this reason, they said, they could not support it.

“We were open to a special session solely focused on revising this bill,” the three House members wrote in the Sunday op-ed. “However, the obstructionists in the Freedom Caucus would not agree to that, calling for a minimum of four to six different bills, including the budget bill. They wanted to play more political games at the expense of the Wyoming taxpayers.”

Senate File 54, “Homeowner tax exemption,” was the single reason Sommers and Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, considered the possibility of a special session. 

However, the legislative leaders worried the Legislature would fail to pass the necessary two-thirds vote to suspend the rules and focus solely on that bill.

“No bill, except SF 54, demonstrated the urgency of necessitating a special session,” the representatives wrote in the op-ed. “In the absence of joint rules governing the special session, this would leave a special session vulnerable to potential chaos, with each member at liberty to introduce whatever bills they chose. We were faced with a situation where after the game was played, some players wanted to replay simply because they didn’t win every inning. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Members of the Freedom Caucus proposed a “Gentleman’s Agreement” on Friday, which set a specific list of bills they wished to negotiate over for the special session, as well as a set of conditions to set the framework of the session. The form was sent out to every lawmaker for their signature, and only 29 legislators signed it — 20 in the House and nine in the Senate.

Over the weekend, the Legislature’s presiding officers sent a memo to the body, raising several concerns with the proposed agreement, calling it “unenforceable” and likely unconstitutional.

“While we appreciate the intentions behind the proposal, we cannot support the outlined process, even though we voted for these bills,” they said in the memo. “Veto letters have nuggets of good information, and sometimes those bills could stand more public comment and work. Maybe you end up in the same place, but the public process and the debate are essential.”


Lawmakers give split reaction 

Some lawmakers expressed relief at the failed special session, with a few saying that the process was a waste of time. 

Others said it was important to read the governor’s veto messages on these bills and understand why they were nixed.

“I believe the majority of the House members, after reading the information provided by the governor regarding the reasons for his vetoes, felt it best to go to work on crafting improved legislation, rather than overriding murky policy,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, in a text message to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

His colleague, Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, echoed a similar sentiment in his reaction, saying it was “the right choice.” Brown told the WTE via text “this was a clear message from the House” that the Legislature had “no business calling all members to Cheyenne again” at the cost of taxpayers.

“We don’t call special sessions to deal with bills that get vetoed,” Brown said. “We call special sessions for special issues that need immediate attention by lawmakers.”

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, said in an emailed statement the whole thing was a “waste of everyone’s time and energy.”

“The extremists in the Legislature should stop with the performative nonsense that just hurts the state of Wyoming and each of our communities,” Yin wrote.

Their fellow lawmakers in the upper chamber, however, were not as pleased with the final result. Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, said this was the “real nature of politics and politicians.”

“Take the slate of legislators that voted yes on a host of legislation that was eventually vetoed by the governor,” Bouchard said in a text to the WTE. “This same group voted ‘no’ to put that same legislation on the governor’s desk. Identifying the legislators that are just playing games, instead of representing the people, just became easier to do.”

Sen. Evie Brennan, R-Cheyenne, said she was proud of her chamber and the votes to call for a special session.

“The people of my district have spoken loud and clear. They need property tax relief,” she said in a text message to the WTE. “We were able to provide that through legislation. With the governor’s veto, my people are left trying to figure out how to keep their homes and food on the table.”

Brennan said she didn’t want her constituents to have to make this decision. The House’s majority vote against a special session left them “complicit in the governor’s vetoes.”

“The House is up for election this year,” Brennan said. “The people will get to decide if those who voted no were working for them or the governor.”

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said in an emailed statement he was disappointed lawmakers won’t have a chance to work on property tax relief through a special session.

“Double-digit tax increases — for three years in a row — threaten seniors and family homeowners. Immediate relief is needed and could have been delivered in the special session,” Kinskey wrote. “It will now be at least another year of crippling tax bills before we can act. A tragic lost opportunity to do what is right for the people.”


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