CHEYENNE – Wyoming's 66th Legislature will remain in session longer than initially planned this year, through April 7, according to an updated session schedule.
Originally, the general session was scheduled to end Friday. But the Legislature could not convene on March 15-16, due to a record-breaking snowstorm. The revised schedule, published by the Legislative Service Office last week, will give the two chambers a few extra days to come to agreement on several consequential bills, not to mention a budget.
The deadline for a final vote in the second house on bills, as well as concurrence on amendments, will be April 6. The Legislature will not meet on Monday, April 5, in observance of the Easter holiday, but will reconvene on Tuesday, April 6.
State lawmakers have their hands full as the unprecedented session winds to a close. Their tasks include finding a solution to Wyoming's education funding model and agreeing on a supplemental budget.
Both Senate and House leadership told reporters Friday morning the chambers were especially close to striking a deal over the general fund budget.
"I think we’re there," Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said of the supplemental budget, adding, "We had some pretty extensive discussions."
It’s not a typical year for lawmakers to be wrestling over the state’s budget, which operates on a two-year cycle. At the end of last year’s budget session, in March 2020, Wyoming lawmakers had approved a $2.97 billion general fund budget.
But almost simultaneously, the pandemic reached Wyoming, the economy nearly tanked, and the governor made a series of budget cuts.
Now, the House and Senate need to agree on a budget to take the state through the remainder of the biennium budget, until June 2022.
At the heart of this year’s session also sits the ongoing puzzle of how to sustainably fund Wyoming’s K-12 education system, which is running at a multi-million dollar deficit. The House has cleared a bill to scale back education funding, while also adopting a sales tax if funding drops below a certain threshold. BY comparison, the Senate has proposed absorbing more systematic cuts.
However, members of the Senate's committee appeared amendable to the education financing bill proposed by the House on Friday and Monday, though many lawmakers still appeared hesitant to back any tax.
"I have gone through this bill myself now, and seen what you did, and I would be very complimentary of the work of the House on this," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Charles Scott, R-Casper.
It's been an unusual general session this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has knocked the governing body’s typical schedule off course. The Legislature convened for a one-day stint in January, followed by an eight-day, mostly virtual session in February. Then, on March 1, the governing bodies gaveled in at the Capitol for a month-long, in-person session.
The House and Senate galleries have had notably fewer members of the public this session due to heightened safety measures taken to slow the spread of the virus. Few lawmakers, who were offered the vaccine in the weeks leading up to the session, have worn masks.