CHEYENNE — After holding its first special session since 2004 last week, the Wyoming Legislature likely won’t have to wait another 16 years for its next one.
State lawmakers are expected to reconvene sometime in late June for a second, longer special session to continue addressing the whirlwind of issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with long-term budget issues that have been compounded by the virus.
A date has not been finalized for the second special session, but House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said in a news conference Friday that lawmakers could meet the week of June 25. In the meantime, legislative committees will meet to work on potential bill drafts.
Legislation that has already been vetted by committee will have a much better chance of passing during the second session than anything brought by individual lawmakers, Harshman said.
“Generally, in special sessions, individual bills don’t make it, because you just don’t have the time, and the process to be vetted in the public is so important,” Harshman said. “The enemy of all this is time.”
While they probably won’t see success with individual bills during the special session, lawmakers could have more freedom to change the legislation coming out of committees. During the special session last week, the rules were altered so that amendments couldn’t be brought on the first reading of bills. Senate President Drew Perkins, R-Casper, who also spoke during Friday’s news conference, said the second special session’s rules would likely allow for amendments to be brought on all three readings, as during normal sessions.
Other adjustments to the rules, such as allowing multiple readings of bills on the same day, will likely carry over from the first special session.
“It took us (over 12) hours to do four bills and three readings in one day (during the first special session),” Perkins said. “Now, you think about trying to do 10, that’s a significant challenge, but one that people have to be aware of.”
During the first special session, the Legislature attempted to work closely with Gov. Mark Gordon to make initial distributions of the state’s $1.25 billion in federal relief funding. The governor has the ultimate authority with distributing the money, which cannot be used to supplement lost revenue, but Harshman and Perkins hope to keep the legislative branch involved with whatever other initiatives might soon come forward.
“Basically, with nearly a year’s worth of general fund expenditures (in the federal money), it’s going to require more than five people in the governor’s office to figure that out,” Harshman said.
Other issues will remain after the state uses the federal funding, which must be spent by the end of the year. With Wyoming already anticipating an upcoming revenue shortfall of more than $200 million, budget cuts to state agencies appear inevitable. Lawmakers approved a roughly $3 billion budget for the 2021-22 biennium during their session that concluded in March, but just a couple months later, revenue projections for the state’s general fund have dropped by 30% to 40%.
“It’ll be a collaborative effort between us and the executive branch about what changes need to be made to the budget that we passed, because it’s very apparent that the budget we passed was based on projections that will not happen,” Perkins said.
The state could also gain a boost if a new pandemic relief bill approved by the U.S. House of Representative about a week ago becomes law. The $3 trillion package includes aid to ailing state and local governments, but given the sharp partisan divide on the legislation, its chances of success in the Senate are uncertain. In the news conference Friday, Harshman and Perkins seemed open to any help the state can get.
“We’ve done a lot of revenue replacement for the private sector, and we’re hopeful we can do some of that with this fourth (federal relief) bill for the public sector,” Harshman said. “But I think as far as cutting budgets and budget hearings and doing all that, that’s for later. That’s not for June, July or August.”
Over the next week, a few committees will meet to discuss proposals that could be brought during the second session. The Joint Revenue Interim Committee will be discussing the state’s budget shortfall – and the renewed possibility of expanding Medicaid – during its meeting Tuesday and Wednesday. The Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee will meet Friday to hear about the state’s COVID-19 response and consider legislation.
Livestreams of both committee meetings can be accessed through the Legislature’s website, wyoleg.gov.