Wyoming Legislature begins business in eight-day virtual session
On Jan. 27, President of the Senate Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) opened the second day of the 66th Wyoming Legislature in the Senate, while his colleague Speaker of the House Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) did the same for the House of Representatives. However, this year, the second day was held virtually, via Zoom meeting, livestreamed on YouTube, rather than in the Chambers of each body in the Wyoming Capitol.
“We have an important day as we get started on the work for the State of Wyoming,” commented Barlow in his opening remarks.
Starting the work
While many legislators across the state are joining the session from their homes, a small contingent opted to meet in the chambers of the House and Representatives and the Senate.
Rep. Hans Hunt (R-Newcastle) joined the legislative meeting from his home, noting while the virtual platform has some perks, overall, he is ready to get back to work in Cheyenne.
“Session is certainly different in a virtual fashion,” he explained. “It’s difficult to have sidebar conversations in the hallways and before and after meetings. A lot of the real action of the legislature takes place of the floor in private conversations. It’s difficult to do that virtually.”
Additionally, being “tethered” to a computer all day is difficult, but Hunt notes the session should be more accessible to the public.
“We’re livestreaming on YouTube all day so it’s easier for folks from around the state to listen,” he noted.
Hunt also explained the Wyoming Legislature isn’t far behind its planned agenda for the year, noting under the current schedule, they’ll conclude by April 1, which is relatively close to their anticipated schedule.
“I’m glad we’re up and started,” he said. “We’re finally off and rolling, and it’s good to be back.”
Reflecting on the interim
Though Hunt is no longer a member of the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, he chaired the committee in the 2020 interim, presiding over meetings on topics important to the state with his co-chair, Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas).
“Overall, it was a slow interim,” Hunt noted, “But, we covered a few important topics.”
Top of mind was a bill dealing with meat processing authority, aiming to address challenges from COVID-19 and other such disruptions in the supply chain.
HB0051, Meat Processing Programs, was referred to the Agriculture Committee on Jan. 12. The bill is an act “authorizing emergency governmental programs related to expanding and enhancing meat processing capabilities; reappropriating funds as specified,” as well as a sunset date, rulemaking authority and an effective date for the program.
“We hope to alleviate future supply chain disruptions with this bill,” Hunt explained. “We also have another bill that looks to expand bonding authority for meat processing to encourage new facilities to get started.”
HB0054, the Wyoming Meat Packing Initiative, provides authority to the Wyoming Business Council to support the agriculture and meat processing industry by expanding loans and grants to encompass Wyoming meat producers and processors. Additionally, the bill requires a report from the Wyoming Business Council detailing the program objectives, activities and conditions.
The House received the bill for introduction on Jan. 12, but no action has been taken to date.
Animal cruelty bills
Another widely discussed topic for the Interim Joint Agriculture Committee was animal cruelty.
“We brought a bill to update animal cruelty statutes and try to bring them up-to-date by eliminating some antiquated language,” Hunt explained. “I’m not sure we accomplished quite as much as we hoped to in the bill, but it’s a good step forward.”
Hunt continued that, for the last several years, individual members of the legislature have brought forward bills related to animal cruelty. During the 2020 interim, the Joint Agriculture Committee decided to tackle the difficult topic to ensure the industry was represented and the issue was addressed with agriculture in mind.
“Everyone in agriculture is concerned about the slippery slope that goes along with animal cruelty bills. Once we start creating legislation, we have to make sure traditional agriculture practices – like branding, castrating, docking and others – don’t fall under the ‘animal cruelty’ umbrella,” Hunt explained.
He added, “It is very difficult to define animal cruelty in statute.”
The bill, SF26, is titled Animal Abuse Statutes Reorganization and Update, and it reorganizes and amends offenses involving animal abuse, while making conforming amendments through the bill and modifying provisions for reimbursement of costs incurred by counties in animal abuse cases.
The bill was placed on the Senate’s General File on Jan. 27 and was scheduled for discussion on the floor on Jan. 28.
Other members of the Wyoming Legislature will be contacted for comment on bills in future articles. All bill information is current as of Jan. 27 at 8 a.m. For the most up-to-date status of any individual bill, visit wyoleg.com/Legislation/2021.
Saige Zespy is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to the Wyoming Livestock Roundup at email@example.com.
2021 Wyoming Legislative Schedule
In an unusual year, the Wyoming Legislature started its 2021 General Session in the first of three parts on Jan. 12 with a remote meeting certifying election results, electing and swearing in leadership, adopting temporary rules and hearing remarks from Gov. Mark Gordon.
However, the one-day kicked off event was followed by a seven-day hiatus, where standing committees were sent to work on a handful of bills from Jan. 19-21.
It wasn’t until Jan. 27 that the session reconvened, virtually via Zoom, for an eight-day session, aiming to accomplish its business for the year. Jan. 29 marked cross-over for the eight-day virtual session, whereby the bill must be addressed in the house of origin. If final action is not taken on the bill by this point, the bill cannot be considered in the reconvened session. The eight-day session is scheduled to adjourn on Feb. 5, with the Joint Conference Committees complete on all bills. Presiding officers will then refer a second set of bills to committee for work on the week of Feb. 22.
The Wyoming Legislature is scheduled to reconvene in person on March 1, so long as COVID-19 health metrics allow for in-person meetings.
Jan. 12 – Virtual Session convenes
Jan. 19-21 – Virtual Standing Committee meetings held
Jan. 27-Feb. 5 – Eight-Day Virtual Session
Feb. 22-26 – Standing Committee meetings held
March 1 – April 2 – Session reconvenes (in-person)
Despite its virtual nature, the 66th Wyoming Legislature remains open to the public with a variety of options, presented in summary at wyoleg.gov.
All meetings of the House, Senate, standing committees and joint conference committees will be available for the public to view via livestream on the legislature’s YouTube Channel.
The public may also participate with testimony during standing committee meetings. However, they must register to enter the Zoom meeting by clicking the “Testify” button provided on the Legislature’s calendar page, found at wyoleg.gov/Calendar/20210127/Meeting. Anyone wishing to provide written material to committee members should e-mail documents to LegDocs@wyoleg.gov.
Additionally, as in years’ past, the public is always welcome to voice their opposition or support for proposed legislation using the Online Hotline, found at wyoleg.gov/postComments/hotlinedisclaimer.aspx.
Contact information for individual legislators can also be found on the website at wyoleg.gov/Legislators, and members of the public are encouraged to contact their legislators with concerns.