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Special session goes to lawmakers for a vote

Lawmakers have until Sunday evening to cast their vote for what would be third special session in four years.

The sun sets behind the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne in 2022. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

The one thing now standing between the Wyoming Legislature and its third special session in four years is a simple majority vote.

The prospect of lawmakers returning to Cheyenne has hung in balance since Saturday, when Gov. Mark Gordon submitted his last vetoes of 2024 legislation. Incensed by several of the governor’s rejections, the hard-line Freedom Caucus called for a special session to override vetoes. 

Now, lawmakers have until 5 p.m. Sunday to cast their votes. Final results are expected Monday morning. 

Legislative leaders Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said in a Wednesday op-ed they won’t be counted among the “ayes.” 

“We 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,” they wrote. 

“We cannot justify calling ourselves into a special session for matters better suited to the 2025 General Session, where we can thoroughly deliberate and develop comprehensive legislation,” Sommers and Driskill wrote. 

The vote comes after days of back and forth. Sommers and Driskill initially rejected calls for a special session, but reconsidered after the Department of Revenue cleared up a misunderstanding around property tax logistics.

If the vote passes, that will mean lawmakers would return to Cheyenne for what could be upwards of weeks.

Mixed messages

Leadership, as well as those pushing for a special session, were particularly displeased with Gordon’s veto of a property tax relief bill.

Gordon signed four other property tax measures, but vetoed Senate File 54 – Homeowner tax exemption 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,” he wrote in his veto letter. 

Sommers previously told WyoFile he’d likely be “all in” on a special session focused solely on SF 54 — a point he and Driskill reiterated in their Wednesday op-ed. 

However, the Freedom Caucus wants to challenge additional vetoes, including those related to new abortion restrictions, a repeal of most gun-free zones and a $75 million legal fund for lawmakers to challenge federal government land plans. 

“This special session is a chance to return to our three-branch system of government,” Bear told WyoFile earlier this week.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) chairs an official Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee hearing at the Wyoming Capitol in February 2024. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), who also called for a special session, doubled down on Thursday in a press release in which she called Gordon’s conservative bona fides into question.

“Wyoming, pay special attention, don’t just listen to what is said, evaluate what is done,” Steinmetz wrote. “If your senator and representative don’t vote for a special session, they are abdicating their authority and your voice.” 

The ending 

Much has been said about how exactly Wyoming’s 2024 budget session ended, but not all of it has been true. And the nature of that ending is important since it would dictate how a special session would be carried out.

The last day of the session started around 8 a.m. — roughly two hours earlier than tradition — to give lawmakers a head start to finish their work on the budget. They wrapped up that evening after many hours of hurry-up-and-wait — which is typical of the last day of session because legislative business is finalized at different times. One chamber will often sit at ease while waiting for the other to catch up. Such is also the case when lawmakers break off into conference committees to negotiate discrepancies in bills. 

This often leaves lawmakers idle for hours. 

This year, lawmakers used the time to clean out their desks, shuffle around, bid goodbyes and wish each other safe travels home. In the Senate, a bet was struck about when exactly they’d adjourn. Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs) won. 

Lawmakers on the Senate floor during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

But when the Wyoming Republican Party sent an email this week in support of a special session and calling on its members to contact their lawmakers, the party mischaracterized the last day. 

“Unfortunately, the abrupt end to the budget session has left our elected representatives without the opportunity to contest these vetoes,” the GOP wrote. “This is a matter of great concern and requires our immediate attention.” 

Lawmakers forewent using three additional days that were constitutionally available to them, but used the full 20 days that had been scheduled for the budget session. The state GOP and members of the Freedom Caucus have told voters the session ended early, blaming leadership in the process. 

That’s a problem for Minority Floor Leader Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson). 

“There was no opposition from the Freedom Caucus to permanent adjournment,” Yin wrote in a press release Wednesday.

Yin also pointed out that the motion to permanently adjourn — or “sine die” — was brought by Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), a member of the Freedom Caucus.

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

Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson) listens during the 2024 legislative session. (Ashton J. Hacke)

Yin is opposed to the special session for several reasons, including “the importance of maintaining the principles of limited government,” he wrote.

If the Legislature were to reconvene after every gubernatorial veto, Yin wrote, he’s concerned it would set a precedent for future legislative bodies to expect additional sessions every year.  

The Wyoming Democratic Party has also come out against the special session, asking its members to call on lawmakers to oppose it. 

Square one

No lawmaker in either chamber opposed the motion to adjourn sine die. Nor was there a provision included in either the House or the Senate motion to use the three extra days for a return. 

As such, lawmakers do not currently have the option to return to the Capitol to just address veto overrides. A suspension of the rules, however, could provide that. 

That would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers — a high bar that will be difficult to achieve. The vote that will take place this weekend, however, would just set a special session.

Without a rules suspension, a special session would look like a regular session. That means working within the usual parameters, with bills — of any kind, not just those vetoed — starting at square one. 

The cost of a special session is estimated to run at least $35,000 per day.

Two longtime lawmakers told WyoFile they expect it would take at least a couple weeks to complete, depending on the number of bills files. 

“Based on our history, we fear that expecting self-restraint within the chambers might be wishful thinking,” Sommers and Driskill wrote in their op-ed. “Remember, history has a tendency to repeat itself.”

The Legislature failed to limit its scope through the rules during the most recent special session in 2021. Out of the 51 bills filed in 2020 and 2021 special sessions, four became law. 

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.