With a little more than a month until the Wyoming Legislature’s 2014 budget session, it’s crunch time for lawmakers.
Legislators are wrapping up work on interim committees that met throughout the summer and fall. Interim committees study policy and issues facing the state. Committee members write and debate drafts of bills that are proposed to remedy the issues. The bills must be ready by Feb. 10, the first day of the session, said Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center, a Casper-based nonprofit that describes itself as fighting to empower the state’s residents, whose voices it says can be forgotten by special interests.
Lawmakers who are members of the powerful Joint Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of hammering out a state budget for the next two years, are combing through the budgets of each state agency prior to Feb. 10, Neal said.
Seven legislative interim meetings are scheduled during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 11 in locales from Cheyenne to Fort Washakie. Topics will range from Wyoming Capitol renovation to the conduct of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill to whether American Indians who live on the Wind River Reservation can be included in Medicaid expansion if the state does not expand it for other residents.
Jim Magagna, a longtime Capitol observer who lobbies for the Cheyenne-based Wyoming Stock Growers Association, described the interim as occurring in three waves, from May to December.
The first meetings “look at what needs to be addressed,” he said. “The second looks at the drafts [of bills]. The third meeting identifies the actual bills they’re going to introduce.”
While lawmakers are writing bill drafts, rewriting bill drafts and debating, they’re taking comments from the public, Magagna said.
There are no public comment periods during the appropriations meetings, Magagna said. But many people attend the meetings when the budget of an agency they care about is being discussed.
The appropriations committee met 10 times in December. It is taking a break until Jan. 13, then is scheduled to meet an addition 10 times in January.
She has attended the appropriations meetings in the past. But the state has more revenue this year and there is less controversy surrounding the budget, she said.
“It would appear that from my perspective, that the governor’s budget was received fairly well by the committee,” she said. “I don’t see many areas of controversy. Sometimes there are big issues.”
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, doesn’t have any upcoming interim committee meetings, and he’s not a member of the appropriations committee. But he’s still busy.
He’s met with town and city councils in Lyman, Evanston and Mountain View. He’s scheduled meetings with Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce and school districts.
“Of course the cities and counties are concerned with funding,” he said. “The state employees are concerned with [pay] increase that Gov. Mead has proposed. And [people are concerned about] any bills that are of interest to Uinta County, Lincoln County, Sweetwater County and Sublette County.”