Despite some headlines, legislators say it was a good session
The Wyoming 2022 Legislative session got bogged down by a handful of social issues from addressing critical race theory to abortion and whether transgender women should be allowed to play on women's sports teams. But when it comes to the main focus of the session, which was the budget, generally lawmakers were happy. Senate Majority Leader Ogden Driskill was among them.
"I actually thought the session was actually incredibly, fairly easy going to tell you the truth when you look at what was taken up," said Driskill.
When Driskill looked at the ease with how the legislature funded a variety of capital construction projects, replaced some budget cuts from last year and utilized federal American Rescue Plan money, he was pleased. What was a bit harder were some issues the Senate specifically took on.
For instance, Thursday the Senate sanctioned Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne for what Senate President Dan Dockstader called a continued pattern of intimidating and disorderly conduct and other behavior unbecoming of a Senator. Earlier the Senate had debates over whether people outside the Republican Party should be kept from registering to vote in their primary. It seemed like one week was completely dominated by social issues. While it might have seemed crazy to observers, Driskill said it was no big deal.
"They're [social issues] passionate issues to many of our legislators. And, you know, we're going to deal with guns and abortion and similar issues. Whether we like it or not a citizen legislature brings issues that are big to them and to their constituents," said Driskill. "And so we deal with them, and they're never fun to deal with. And they often are contentious. I thought this year was probably a little less so."
On the flip side, many legislators are excited about some things they were able to spend money on and Driskill is no exception. He's glad they added money for rural health care.
"It's of critical importance to our rural areas to have these rural clinics…have good equipment in them and be able to run on a good basis. That's probably one of the proudest achievements I've done in the legislature," said Driskill.
Over in the House, Majority Floor Leader Albert Sommers also had health care on his mind.
"We were able to restore some really hard cuts to the Department of Health."
Sommers added that they used federal dollars well. "I think a lot of investment in health care, which took a real hit during the pandemic, and so I think those things are going to be really positive."
Jackson Rep. Mike Yin was excited to see money go towards mental health.
"I think putting more funding in for mental health was just extremely important, especially coming out of this pandemic, I know I needed it, let alone the rest of the state. So I'm glad we could put some funding in there for that," said Yin.
The Democrat even got people to support his amendment to add money for first responders. And he was delighted with something that didn't get a lot of attention.
"One of the few revenue committee bills that went through as a county optional property tax refund program. And I think that's going to hopefully help a lot of counties who are able to implement it to help some of their constituents. We've had property taxes rising across the board and the counties, so hopefully, that can be something that could provide a little bit of relief," said Yin.
One disappointment for Yin and many in the House was the inability to get more money for teachers to deal with inflation.
One goal coming into the session was to get money into trying to finally address Wyoming's Juvenile Justice issues by getting data and a closer look at how to fix the issue. Senate Judiciary Chair Tara Nethercott said now they can start some very important work.
"So I'm hopeful with an appropriation, new software tracking, and a new agency to be responsible for this task, that we will be able to have a greater understanding of what's happening with our youth that are coming into our criminal justice system, and providing the right resources and right avenues for their long term success," said Nethercott.
Lawmakers also provided some tax breaks for industry and time will tell if those will help or hurt the state. House floor leader Sommers said it's possible there's more good news as the state gets its share of the federal infrastructure bill.
"How that plays out on our roads and highways across Wyoming will be interesting, because we've had a shortage of funds there," noted Sommers. "So will that help put us back on track to have quality roads?"
But speaking of roads, he said his goal is to get on one and return home.