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Special session looms as leadership reconsiders despite reservations

Momentum toward a special session is growing. But if lawmakers return to Cheyenne, they’ll open the door to a gathering where everything is on the table. Meanwhile, the Freedom Caucus is hailing the reversal as a victory.

The Wyoming Capitol is pictured in Cheyenne. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

by Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

Update: After this story was published, legislative leadership announced Wednesday at approximately 12:40 p.m. that they “are calling for a vote of our members to see if they want to come into a special session, but we will be a no vote.” The vote is now ongoing. —Ed.

A special session may be in the works after all. 

After initially rejecting a call for a special session Monday morning, Wyoming’s legislative leadership announced later that evening there’s reason to think twice. 

“We believe it is likely still worthwhile to consider a special legislative session to enact meaningful property tax relief this year,” Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) wrote, adding that new information from the Department of Revenue had shifted their thinking. 

No decision has been made either way, Sommers told WyoFile on Tuesday morning. 

“I think most all of us agree that we would like to have a crack at Senate File 54,” Sommers said, referring to a property tax bill vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon. “My problem is — I’m very reluctant to open Pandora’s box. I’ve seen that before, I’ve been there. And then we just, for lack of a better word, we just end up with a shit show.”

Indeed, the Legislature’s most recent track record with special sessions is not great. Out of the 51 bills filed for the 2020 and 2021 special sessions to address the COVID-19 pandemic, four became law. 

And a 2024 special session would not simply entail lawmakers returning to Cheyenne to address veto overrides. Because of how they ended the budget session, lawmakers at a special session would need to work within the usual parameters, and legislation would start at square one. That means bills would have to go through introductory votes, committee hearings and three votes in each chamber — unless the rules were suspended.

Wyoming Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) told WyoFile his hard-line caucus of Republicans would vote to do just that to focus on overriding vetoes. However, it won’t just be up to Bear. A rules suspension requires two-thirds vote in both chambers and it remains to be seen how all members would weigh in.  

The Freedom Caucus and Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) began the calls for a special session after Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed several bills and line-items in the budget. They pointed to several points of heartburn including a vetoed property tax bill.  

While Sommers and Driskill weren’t happy with Gordon’s vetoes either, they rejected special-session calls Monday morning, pointing to concerns over cost and futility. 

“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.”

Later that day, leadership says, the Department of Revenue provided updated information. There would be in fact enough time, so the calculus changed.

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) argues for Wyoming to keep the 640 acres known as the Kelly Parcel during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2024 budget session. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Bear sees the shift differently. 

“Pressure works,” Bear told WyoFile. “The people of Wyoming demanded that the Legislature do their job, and the WYFC [Wyoming Freedom Caucus] amplified the demands of the people,” he said. 

Steinmetz isn’t calling it a victory just yet. 

“I do hope they change their mind,” she told WyoFile. 

Property tax timing 

While Gordon signed all but one of the five property tax bills passed by the Legislature, his one veto on that issue upset lawmakers — both Freedom Caucus members and those with the Wyoming Caucus, which includes Sommers and other traditional Republicans. 

The governor said he vetoed the bill since it “would have only provided a temporary and very expensive tax exemption to all Wyoming homeowners at the expense of other taxpayers in our energy industries, retail and manufacturing sectors.”

“Despite the governor trying to characterize this bill as liberal spending, he forgets that cutting taxes is a conservative value,” leadership wrote in a press release

After Gordon’s veto, leadership said they were told by the Department of Revenue that the governor’s decision would prevent lawmakers from implementing “further legislative action on property tax in 2024.” 

“This is because county assessors must include notification of property tax exemptions on the 2024 assessment schedule which must be mailed no later than the fourth Monday in April,” leadership wrote. 

Since then, Sommers and Driskill said they’ve been informed that “notification of this exemption is not required and property owners can be notified of the exemption in their September tax bills.” 

“When the Department of Revenue said, ‘No, in fact, [you can] implement Senate File 54,’ that was something that made, I think, legislators reexamine whether a special session was worthwhile or not,” Sommers told WyoFile. 

Reaction and implications 

If the special session focused solely on SF 54, Sommers said he’d probably be “all in.” But such a focus is not likely to happen. 

“I think once other bills start coming in, then I think there’ll be a gold rush of bills,” Sommers said. “I think everybody will have bills, and there’s really nothing to prevent bills from being drafted.”

That could also mean the budget bill — which barely passed the Senate after a rocky journey through the session — could get reworked, Sommers said. 

“That’s my biggest fear and probably the reason I’m still leaning against supporting going into a special session,” he said. 

(WyoFile)

While Bear said his caucus would vote to focus on veto overrides, he made clear his caucus wants to reconsider several vetoed bills — not just Senate File 54. 

“We are all about serving the people. The people demand tax relief, to exercise their God-given [Second Amendment] rights, and they don’t want abortion mills to have free reign in Wyoming,” Bear said. 

The special session, Bear added, “is a chance to return to your three-branch system of government.”

Separation of powers isn’t just a concern expressed by Bear. 

The governor also credited that idea for several of his line-item vetoes in the budget as well as his rejection of a bill to create a legal fund for lawmakers to fight the federal government over land use plans. Gordon said taking on the federal government through the courts — however necessary — is the job of the executive branch, not the legislative branch.  

What now?

A vote for a special session would require a simple majority of lawmakers. It remains to be seen what kind of support exists to pursue one.

“When you start having special sessions every year, they aren’t very special,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), a member of the Wyoming Caucus who’s served since 2004. “They become an extension of the legislative process. It marches us closer to being a professional or full-time legislature.”

A special session doesn’t just involve lawmakers. Staff would need to return to the Capitol as well. 

“And all the legislators, right? Many of the 93 of us have other careers, and trying to take up to another month off on short notice is just not plausible for everyone,” Zwonitzer said. “People have scheduled two-week vacations, some have scheduled major surgeries next month.”

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) during the 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Then there’s the cost, Zwonitzer said, which could potentially be justifiable if lawmakers produce positive results. 

“But the underlying belief that those of us who’ve been around for more than a term, who has been through a special session or two, [special sessions] have not produced the positive results to the level as expected, either time, and there’s significant reason to believe this special session will get completely out of hand being assumably next month before the primary election sprint,” Zwonitzer said. 

With that timing in mind, voters can expect every lawmaker remark at the mic to be a political soapbox, Zwonitzer said — funded by taxpayer dollars. 

Sommers said lawmakers are currently in the middle of a poll on whether to vote to hold a session. 

He and Driskill are “still trying to examine whether we should ask the body vote. That doesn’t mean we’ll support the vote, just means, ‘Should we ask for the vote to hurry things up?’” Sommers said.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.


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