Speaker of the House: Focusing on Wyoming Solutions, Not Out-of-State Influences
By Albert Sommers
Throughout the last decade serving as a representative in the Wyoming State Legislature, I have consistently used the following metric to assess legislation: does it solve a Wyoming problem with a Wyoming solution?
Some bills coming to the legislature do not come from Wyoming, but instead from another state, or they are templates from a national organization. Bills not crafted in Wyoming often take a one-size-fits-all approach, which demands the Wyoming Legislature’s due diligence to ensure a bill solves a problem and does not create a new one.
As Speaker of the House, I have the added responsibility of keeping the House of Representatives focused on getting work done for the people of Wyoming. Part of this leadership responsibility is choosing which standing committee a bill goes to and whether it gets sent to a committee at all.
I take this responsibility seriously – bad policy can create major consequences for Wyoming.
Bills that are unconstitutional, not well vetted, poorly written, duplicate bills or debates and bills which negate local control, restrict the rights of people or risk costly litigation financed by the people of Wyoming should not become law.
Working with Appropriations and Revenue
I depend heavily on two particular committees – the Appropriations and Revenue Committees. These committees work on many of the most important bills during the session and are comprised of seasoned legislators with critical expertise. Their members currently hold a combined 106 years of experience in the legislature.
I rely on those bodies to scrutinize weighty legislation because they understand the repercussions of legislation on Wyoming’s citizens. These two committees are led by four chairmen and other pillars of the legislature.
The members of Appropriations and Revenue Committees are workhorses who use their experience to critically examine tough issues without letting rhetoric and intimidation get in the way.
As an example, bills like Senate File (SF) 0172, Stop ESG – state funds fiduciary duty act, in theory, have merit. However, it’s our job to determine how bills will play out in Wyoming’s reality.
I sent SF 0172 to the Appropriations Committee to ensure it was evaluated on its substance. The bill bans Wyoming government officials from contracting with businesses which have boycotted fossil fuels or are considering climate change in their investments.
Members of the Appropriations Committee identified significant gaps in the language, and the Treasurer’s Office raised questions about how this bill may impact Wyoming’s investment portfolio.
This bill is not worth risking our state’s fiscal future just to send a message. I am hopeful the language in this policy can be tightened up in the interim to allow us to support our base industries while preserving our investment strategies.
on Wyoming issues
Keeping bills in my drawer is another way to ensure we stay focused on solving pressing issues for Wyoming. Here is a list of the bills I currently have in my drawer and why.
SF 0086, Voter identification – concealed carry permit, allows Wyomingites to use their concealed carry permits as voter identification.
I like this idea, but House Bill (HB) 79 is a mirror bill which has already passed through the legislature and became law during this session. Consideration of this bill would have wasted time with duplicate debate.
SF 0117, Parental rights in education is a bill which disallows public school teachers from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity themes to children from kindergarten through third grade and directs schoolboards on how to interact with parents.
This type of teaching is not happening in Wyoming schools. Moreover, the bill strips local control.
Regardless of the issue, I’ve always fought against taking authority away from local schoolboards, town councils and county commissions. Additionally, I believe this bill is unconstitutional as it violates the single-subject rule.
SF 111, Child abuse – change of sex is one of two bills taking on the subject of gender change in children. I sent a similar bill, SF 144, Chloe’s law – children gender change prohibition out to a committee.
I did not see the need to spend time debating two similar bills.
I thought SF 144 had a more appropriate policy position, and I sent it to the Appropriations Committee to be vetted. The bill was passed out of committee with a “Do Not Pass” recommendation, but is available for debate if the Majority Floor Leader so chooses.
SF 143, Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act is virtually the same bill as HB 194, which would have created an education savings account (ESA).
An ESA account is similar to a school voucher system, giving parents state money to put their children in private schools or homeschool. However, HB 194 died in the House Education Committee.
The committee heard this bill once, and it failed. There was no need to waste time hearing the bill twice. I do not support this bill because I believe it is unconstitutional, and it is a major policy shift for the state of Wyoming.
I do believe this issue will be taken up as an interim topic in the Joint Education Committee, where the idea can be fully vetted.
Senate Joint Resolution 0001, Amending Wyoming’s act of admission for leases and earnings would request Congress introduce a bill and enact a law to amend Wyoming’s Act of Admission.
It changes the very language which made Wyoming a state, and I have serious concerns about its consequences. I believe it is a bad precedent to alter the document that created our statehood.
Bills not sent to committee
Bills I also did not send to committee included HB 0162, County optional tax – affordable housing, which would have allowed a county to impose a real-estate transfer tax; HB 0193 – Carbon capture energy standards-repeal, which would have gutted Wyoming’s carbon capture policy and HB 0115, Elections administration, which would have taken away election administration authority from the Secretary of State.
The Wyoming Constitution allows the legislature to meet in session for only 60 working days over two years. This time constraint is by design and helps curtail frivolous bills being debated over a lengthy period.
I will continue to do my best to keep us focused in the brief time remaining in the session.
Albert Sommers is the Wyoming Legislature Speaker of the House and Republican representative for Wyoming House District 20. He can be reached by visiting wyoleg.gov.