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Lawmakers aim to bar gender-affirming care, provide $2M for border security through budget changes

The first round of the Legislature’s budget battle went late into the evening in both chambers. It saw the latest attempt to defund UW’s gender studies program fail.

Lawmakers work in the Wyoming House of Representatives. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

by Maya Shimizu Harris and Maggie Mullen, WyoFile

Monday greeted lawmakers with a whopping 80 budget amendments in the House and another 59 amendments in the Senate — 45 more first-pass changes between the two chambers than were proposed in the 2022 budget session. 

Lawmakers had just one day to get through this first round of proposed changes. The third and final reading of amendments will take place Wednesday. 

Legislators brought a slew of major budget amendments that, among other things, aimed to curb gender-affirming medical treatment in Wyoming, provide assistance to address immigration at the southern border and defund the University of Wyoming’s gender and women’s studies program. In some cases, the amendments followed failed bills that sought to accomplish similar goals.

The budget bill is the one piece of legislation lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass this session. Deadlines along the way are meant to keep both chambers on track. 

The Senate and House start with identical forms of the budget bill. Once each chamber passes its version, leadership appoints a Joint Conference Committee to negotiate a mutually agreeable form that each chamber must approve or reject. 

The whole process happens under a strict time limit. The Wyoming Constitution bars lawmakers from meeting more than 60 days each two-year House term. But lawmakers have a few more days to work with this session since they met for just 37 days of the normal 40-day general session last year. 

As of now lawmakers have until March 8 to agree on how to fund Wyoming’s state government. The three leftover days give them until March 13, if they stick to weekdays. (Sundays are excluded by the Wyoming Constitution.) If they can’t meet their constitutional obligation by then, they’ll need to reconvene for a “special session” later to get the budget done. 

The quantity of amendments this year spells long days for lawmakers this week and could signal challenges to getting the budget through the process in time. 

Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman (R-Hullett) at the 2024 Wyoming Legislature. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

“Representatives, somebody told me that at this pace we’ll be right at midnight,” Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) said late in the afternoon Monday, at which time House lawmakers had only made it through a fraction of the proposed amendments. Lawmakers clapped and cheered with resigned humor. 

Down the hall, Senate President Ogden Driskill had done the math when his chamber’s pacing wasn’t any snappier. 

“We’ll be done somewhere between 3 and 5 a.m. tomorrow morning if we don’t pick it up,” Driskill said. 

Both chambers were still working at 10:30 p.m. As the hours dragged on, lawmakers withdrew more amendments, drawing cheers from their colleagues. 

Gender-affirming care and abortion

Lawmakers brought several bills this session related to gender-affirming care and other gender identity topics. 

Few of those bills remain after the first week of the session, WyoFile previously reported. But lawmakers brought a slew of budget amendments that aimed to block gender-affirming care in Wyoming through financial means. 

The Wyoming Capitol in the twilight during the opening days of the Legislature’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Rep. Sarah Penn (R-Lander) led the effort to erase gender-affirming care through the budget, sponsoring several amendments aimed at the Wyoming Department of Health and the University of Wyoming to establish financial barriers to such treatments. 

One of her amendments, which lawmakers adopted, would bar any Wyoming Department of Health funds from being used “for any gender transition or gender reassignment procedures” or for abortions. The Wyoming Department of Health doesn’t pay for abortions in the state. Nor does it directly fund facilities that offer gender-affirming care, according to the agency’s spokesperson. It’s not clear how this amendment would impact the availability of gender-affirming care in Wyoming. 

Lawmakers also adopted another amendment brought by Penn, a Lander nurse practitioner, which would cut $100,000 from the University of Wyoming’s family medical residency if it offers or performs “any gender transition, gender affirmation or gender reassignment treatments.”

House lawmakers voted down an amendment from Reps. Karlee Provenza (D-Laramie) and Mike Yin (D-Jackson) that would have expanded access to long-acting reversible contraceptives. Provenza attempted to pass a similar amendment last year, as did Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) in the Senate

Border state assistance

Lawmakers in both chambers pushed through amendments to send $2 million to Texas to secure the southern border. Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) sponsored the Senate’s version of the amendment, while Reps. Abby Angelos (R-Gillette) and Allen Slagle (R-Newcastle) carried the House’s version. Last year, Hicks sponsored a bill to send $5 million to Texas for the same purpose. That legislation died in the Senate. 

Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) during the 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/Wyofile)

Texas recently passed a $321 billion budget, according to Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), who argued that $2 million was both an arbitrary and ineffective amount of money. Those dollars, Nethercott said, would be more impactful if kept within the borders of Wyoming.

The House also approved an amendment Monday from Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) that allocates $1 million to reimburse Wyoming law enforcement agencies for volunteer expenses “to assist border state law enforcement efforts.” 

Another attempt to defund gender studies

Lawmakers again shot down an attempt to defund the University of Wyoming’s gender and women’s studies program. Rep. Jeanette Ward (R-Casper) spearheaded the amendment in the House as she did last year, along with Reps. Ken Pendergraft (R-Sheridan) and Penn. 

Hicks, the Baggs Republican, brought an amendment in the Senate that would have defunded the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UW. It would have also prohibited UW from funding “any programs or activities that are associated with, advocate for or promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) at the 2024 Wyoming Legislature. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Ultimately, he withdrew the amendment. However, he could introduce it again when the Senate considers the budget a third time.

A wild experiment

Hicks successfully brought an amendment to initiate what he called a “novel approach” to Wyoming’s nonnative wild horse populations — donkeys. 

More specifically, Hicks moved to put $75,000 toward purchasing and placing “mammoth jackstock donkeys” on state lands where wild horse populations have multiplied. The idea, Hicks said, is to encourage wild horses to mate with donkeys, thereby producing mules, or a “sterile hybrid.” 

mirror amendment was successful in the House. 

What’s next

Lawmakers get a break from the budget Tuesday but will start the lengthy amendment process over again Wednesday, when third reading takes place in both chambers. 

Third reading is the last chance for either body to make revisions to the budget before it goes to Joint Conference Committee, where the two chambers will try to hash out their differences. 

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.