WyoFile’s guide to participating in the 2014 Wyoming LegislatureBy Guy Padgett and Gregory Nickerson
The 2014 Wyoming legislative session will convene February 10, 2014 and will tackle hundreds of bills affecting a wide-range of issues in less than 20 working days. WyoFile’s Legislature 2014 coverage is intended to provide you with the background on key issues, as well as insight into what issues the Legislature is likely to address. Given the rapid pace of a legislative session, getting your senator’s or representative’s attention about legislation you care about will require excellent timing and the right method of contact. Here’s an overview of the surprising variety of ways you can make your voice heard before and during the session.
BEFORE THE SESSION
First, know which legislators are yours
Many of the best ways to contact legislators require you to know, by name, which ones represent you. The Legislature offers a helpful “address lookup” function that will identify your lawmakers by name and provide their contact information (click on “Locate Your Representative” or “Locate Your Senator”). Before the session begins, you can reach legislators at their home phone, by sending a letter to their home address, or by email.
Looking up draft bills
In the weeks leading up to February 10, you may want to look up bills that are proposed for introduction and give your two cents before the session begins. To see what’s in store, visit the Legislative Service Office website and click on “Bills for 2014”. There you will see legislation that is approved by interim committees for introduction. Each bill listed will need to pass a two-thirds vote by one chamber in order to be read in on the floor.
Weighing in on the budget
The main event for the 2014 session will be negotiations over the budget for 2015-2016. The Joint Appropriations Committee will hear budget presentations for each agency from December 9-20, and from January 13-17. These hearings are streamed online through the “live broadcast” link on the Legislative Service Office’s budget and fiscal page. The agendas for the budget hearings are available here and at the bottom of this article.
During the week of January 20-24 the appropriations committee will work over the budget and make amendments. If you’d like to contact a member of the committee during this week, email, or showing up in person in Cheyenne are your best bets. Find contact info for members of the Joint Appropriations Committee here. You can also contact legislators regarding the budget bills after the session begins in February.
DURING THE SESSION
The legislature will open its 2014 budget session on Monday, February 10 at 10 a.m. The first order of business is Gov. Mead’s state of the state address, which will be streamed live online and made available on the news section of the governor’s website. Following that, lawmakers will start working through bills. Each legislators will be accessible through a variety of methods described below.
Send an e-mail
Like many of us, legislators are on their computers and looking at e-mail while they work. If it’s between 10 a.m. and noon, or 2 p.m. and about 4 p.m., they are likely at their desk trying to keep up with the stream of messages. Emails for representatives and senators can be found on the Legislature’s Website. Note that beginning in 2013, all legislators have a new email address in the following format: [email protected] Short personal messages are best, with clear messages in the subject line.
Drop them a line
Written mail may be directed to a legislator in care of the Wyoming House or Senate, State Capitol, Cheyenne, WY, 82002. This is an attention-getting method, as most folks don’t bother writing letters, but give yourself some time for it to be delivered. Thank-you cards certainly get a good reception, if you have someone to thank for their vote.
Leave a message on their desk
You can leave a brief message for a member via phone. The House or Senate receptionist will take down a simple message (“Vote No on House Bill 255” or “Please call me about day care licensing” are about all they will transcribe for you) and deliver it to the lawmaker’s desk. Many legislators will call you back, but usually at the end of the day, so your particular issue might have already gone by if you’re not ahead of the game.
Senate Receptionist at (307) 777-7711
House Receptionist at (307) 777-7852
Just the fax
Very few people do this, but there’s still a working fax up at the Capitol, and sometimes getting your message noticed is half the battle. Faxes to legislators can be sent to (307) 777-5466 and will get delivered to the member’s desk just like a phone message, but in your own words.
TRACKING BILLS AT THE LEGISLATURE
Now that you’ve let your lawmakers know what you want them to do, you can track how that went over. Again, there are many methods, some better for certain circumstances.
Bills can be tracked using the Bill Status Information Service by calling 1-800-342-9570 within Wyoming or (307) 777-6185 from out of state. This service provides information about where a bill is in the process, but does not provide information about the details of the legislation, and does not allow callers to leave messages for legislators. This service is available on days the Legislature is in session from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The legislature’s employees who handle these calls are unfailingly polite and know the process well.
The Wyoming Legislature’s Website will have daily updates with important legislative information, including the text of all bills; information about amendments; a record of all roll call votes posted as soon as possible after each vote; record of actions taken on bills; and bill status. Senate and House daily calendars and standing committee meeting schedules can be found here.
To use the website to track voting at the Legislature, click on the “Bill Tracking Information” link on the homepage and then on the “Roll Call Votes on Bills and Amendments” link. On the top of the page select “Floor Votes” or “Committee Votes” from the drop-down menu. Then, select whether you would like the votes on House Bills or Senate Files. A list of all bills will then display on the page. Once you have selected the bill you want to review, the actions that were taken, as well as the day the actions were taken will display in the main section of the page. Click on the “view” link to see how each individual legislator voted.
Also available on the website are live and archived audio proceedings of the Wyoming Senate and the Wyoming House of Representatives. A link will be available on the website when the session begins that provides the option of listening to live proceedings, if the House and Senate are convened, and an archive of daily legislative proceedings. Streaming audio is also available of Joint Appropriations Committee hearings, which began December 9, 2013.
The Capitol is an open and historic building and the public is always invited to sit in on committee meetings, watch floor proceedings from the gallery, or wait in the lobby to chat. Seating can be quite limited — and so can standing room. Paper copies of bills and amendments can be obtained at the Legislative Service Office in Room 213 in the Capitol building, or in the lobbies outside of each chamber. Additionally, schedules of floor proceeding for both the house and the senate can be obtained in the office and are posted in the capitol rotunda. Schedules of the committees’ meetings are also available at the LSO office, or on bulletin boards near the entrance to each house’s lobby (and on the committees’ meeting room doors).
GIVING INPUT ON BILLS
Keep in mind that any input you give using either of these services here, or by testifying in person, is considered part of the public record.
You can use the telephone hotline to support or oppose legislation. Within Wyoming, the number is 1-866-996-8683 and for local callers within the Cheyenne area (307) 777-8683. Callers will not be able to leave comments regarding a bill or leave any complicated details at all, including “vote no on the Burns amendment tomorrow.” On the plus side, your “vote yes” or “vote no” message will go to all legislators from your county, not just your specific members.
You can voice your support for or opposition to a bill, as well as leaving brief comments, here. Comments will be made available to all legislators.
During the session, when a bill is introduced in either the Senate or the House, it is sent to a standing committee for review and to receive public comment. You are welcome to attend standing committee meetings and to testify for or against legislation. If you would like to provide written information to the Committee, you will be requested to fill out a Committee Handout Form at the meeting (copies of the form are also available on the Legislature’s Website). You are encouraged to e-mail an electronic copy of your handout in advance to the LSO at: [email protected], so staff can maintain an electronic archive of committee handouts.
Now What Are You Waiting For?
The days of legislators meeting at the spur of the moment to kill a bill or lingering into the wee hours after dinner are long gone, and not much remembered by the current, high-turnover memberships of the House and Senate. The legislative branch has been continually developing online resources and greater connectivity and is far more transparent to the public than it was even 15 years ago. While that doesn’t mean your lawmakers are any more likely to agree with you than they ever were, it does mean there are fewer reasons to sideline yourself from the process. Wyoming’s legislature meets less often than most states’ do — why not give them a little something to think about while they’re in town?
Joint Appropriations Meeting Agendas
— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY. Guy Padgett is WyoFile’s business manager. REPUBLISH THIS STORY: For details on how you can republish this story or other WyoFile content for free, click here.If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.