Emma Marsing, [email protected]
ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING — With the 67th General Session coming to a close for Wyoming Legislators, Sweetwater County Legislators returned home to update the public on how the General Session went as well as answer any questions the public may have.
In collaboration with the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, House District 18 Representative Scott Heiner, House District 48 Representative Clark Stith, House District 17 Representative J.T. Larson, House District 60 Representative Tony Niemiec, House District 39 Representative Cody Wylie, House District 47 Representative Bob Davis, Senate District 12 Senator John Kolb, Senate District 13 Senator Stacy Jones, and Senate District 14 Senator Fred Baldwin were all in attendance at the Legislative Panel event as they spoke about their sponsored and co-sponsored bills, as well as answered the publics questions regarding some topics many community members were hesitant about.
The first topic brought up by the public was regarding the increase in the per diem the Legislators receive to attend conferences such as the General Session. At this time Legislators are granted $109 and as HD 48 Representative Clark Stith stated, “the per diem is at $109 and has been stuck at that for a very long time. The change was to make it a federal per diem and it affects not just the legislators but it affects everyone that serves on a board”. Many Representatives and Senators made it very clear that they are not able to get a hotel room for $109 and that they do this to serve their constituents, not for the money. It was also made clear that all legislators make the same amount no matter the length of travel to their events.
HD 60 Representative Tony Niemiec explained a little further how bills get passed and heard when on the floor. He explained that at the end of the session, there were nine bills still left to discuss that had some wanting to continue to get through them. One of the bills left to discuss was a child restraint bill, mandating that children under the age of three be in a rear-facing seat, to prevent death in crashes on highways and interstates. Representative Niemic stated, “we wanted to change the law in the State of Wyoming that is currently one year to two years. One member of the freedom caucus was against that and held that up. He wanted it buried.” Representative Niemic was supposed to present the bill for 22 days and the bill was immediately shot down because “one member thought the government shouldn’t be telling us how to raise our kids”. In line with that, there was also a bill set for better alerts and signage for crosswalks. In the past five years, 40 people, some being children have been killed on school crosswalks. That bill was also buried.
HD 17 Representative J.T. Larson also spoke regarding the overall process. Representative Larson stated, “when we’re writing a statute or we’re writing these laws, words have meaning. There are a few of these bills that have come through that are written by out-of-state lawyers and then they try to plug them into our statute. That doesn’t work here”. SD 14 Senator Fred Baldwin also jumped in to go off of what SD 12 John Kolb stated about representing a large division. He mentioned that when he casts his vote for bills, he’s thinking about his small towns and his larger towns. He represents healthcare workers, oilfield workers, miners, etc. which makes him think about each bill as it affects a large variety of his constituents.
SD 13 Senator Stacy Jones was quick to state that there is a large difference between the Senate (31) and the House (62) just based on the number of people in each. Therefore, you cannot compare the two because they have two different things going on. With that, the topic she focused on while speaking was property taxes. Senator Jones stated that the first bill she did vote against because “it wasn’t helping the people that needed help. It put a blanket bill across the whole state. You cannot help the communities that needed it the most. It was going to help a whole lot of counties who didn’t need the help”. The second bill (SJ3) pulled residential property taxes out of the bulk getting help to those who need it.
On the budget side of the General Session, the State of Wyoming saved $1.4 billion dollars in the Supplemental Budget bill. On the spending side of that bill, $380 million was spent, and with every $1 spent $3.50 was saved. Education was the overall theme according to Representative Stith as money was spent and saved.
Sweetwater County Legislators focused on other topics presented as well such as education and healthcare. All Legislators noted that they receive many emails from other parts of the state that they do not represent and rarely hear from their constituents. All are encouraged to email their representatives and senators with their questions and any concerns they may have. You are able to view your Legislators by using the following link here.
To dive deeper into the bills that were passed or heard in the General Session, you are able to view all of them with the following link here.