With the historic Capitol finally open again, the experience of visiting the Wyoming Legislature this February will be significantly different than what visitors encountered in the halls of Cheyenne’s Jonah Business Center -- the improvised, temporary seat of government where laws were made over the past three years.
The setting is grander, the hallways wider, and with the changes, more intimidating than the previous building -- a converted K-Mart on the edge of Cheyenne.
It’s a different place, yes, but that doesn’t mean it has to be harder to find your way around. Here are some tips if you stop by for a visit.
Finding your way around
There are two primary entrances to the Capitol building, both located on West 24th Street and directly facing Capitol Avenue. The main entrance -- up the stairs and through the large wooden doors -- will bring you right under the rotunda and the primary receiving area.
Directly beneath the stairs, at what is referred to as the “Garden Level,” is the ADA entrance, complete with a wheelchair ramp and automated doors. If you enter there, an immediate turn down the hallway to your right and toward the restrooms will bring you to an elevator that will whisk you to where you need to go. (Fun fact: There are few signs for elevators in the Capitol building, and they tend to be located next to the bathrooms.)
While there is no security screening process for those entering the Capitol, to one’s immediate left upon entering will be a volunteer staffer with the Legislative Service Office who can offer directions and a calendar of committee meetings, which are scattered throughout the capitol and the capitol extension (accessible from the Garden Level by walking to the back of the building -- behind a number of safes in the walls -- and down into the white, brightly lit hallway in the basement).
On the first floor are the ceremonial offices of all the state’s top elected officials -- the superintendent of public instruction, the secretary of state, the state auditor, the treasurer, as well as an office for the attorney general. At the end of the hall to the right, the governor’s office and the ceremonial conference room, where bill signings take place, is located. The end of the hall to the left has two committee rooms, each of which will have bulletin boards outside describing the meetings taking place there that day as well as the pieces of legislation that will be discussed. A quick note: Even-numbered committee rooms are on the north side of the building, with the west wing to your immediate left upon entering the building. East is, obviously, to your right.
Arguably the two most important rooms in the Capitol -- beyond the Legislative chambers themselves -- are the House and Senate reception rooms, located on the third floor just outside of the chamber balconies. In these rooms sits a shelf of multi-colored documents listing the most up-to-date numbers on the budget (called “the goldenrod,” for the color paper it’s printed on). Nearby, green sheets list all the bills being discussed that day for the House of Representatives, while purple ones are typically for the Senate, and organize all of them by their status from first reading to third. Bills on the first reading list are those being discussed on the floor for the first time and have either been approved by a committee or voted to be discussed by a group of their peers, while bills on third reading are those that -- if successful -- will be sent on to their colleagues on the other side of the building. Bills at the top of each list are discussed first.
Bills on the consent agenda, which can either be priority bills or more minor pieces of legislation -- are voted on all at once.
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Participating in the session
The day can be long at the Wyoming Capitol, with the first meetings taking place a little after 7 a.m., and committee meetings lasting until 7 p.m. or later. Toward the end of session when the bills begin to stack up, the days can bleed well into the later hours of the evening, particularly as legislators fight to stay awake in the waning hours of budget talks. While the public can come in at any time, those advocating for a certain piece of legislation should know exactly when -- and where -- those discussions are happening before arrival.
For the most up-to-date proceedings of what’s going on in the Legislature, a large bulletin board should be prominently displayed listing all of the committee meetings, where they are taking place, and what bills are being discussed. These notices change place daily, and often on fewer than 24-hours notice, so be sure to check them often. You can also check the website at WyoLeg.gov, and track individual bills or meetings as they proceed through the gauntlet.
Members of the public can only comment or testify on legislation during the committee stage. However, members of the public can request to speak to lawmakers on the floor of the House or Senate during Committee of the Whole (i.e. when the Legislature is gathered for floor debates twice daily) by going to a staffer manning the entrance and filling out a slip of paper requesting to speak to lawmakers. Individuals seeking to distribute materials to all lawmakers must undergo a security screening, and a signed permission form must be granted by a member of the House or Senate to distribute the materials to the membership.
A full guide of what you can -- and can’t -- do can be found in the Legislative Service Office’s Citizen Guidebook, available online or as you enter the Capitol.
In committee rooms, people who are either citizens or registered with the Secretary of State’s office can reach out to the Legislature in advance of a meeting day to either distribute meeting materials or give a presentation, taking advantage of a number of audio jacks and HDMI hook-ups to link to a computer or another device. The third floor galleries for both the House and Senate Chambers also have audio jacks, which allow members of the public to record audio directly from the board.
And if you’re hard on hearing? Ask an LSO staffer for an ear set -- all the committee rooms have them.
Tips for survival
The long days of session can be physically and mentally taxing, despite the few number of days lawmakers spend in Cheyenne.
The best pieces of advice from lawmakers and lobbyists alike? Get a good night’s sleep, do you best to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, keep up a consistent exercise regimen, and above all, come to work prepared. Always be willing to take a day to one’s self: when every day is 12 hours long or greater, breaking up the rhythm is vital to one’s own sanity.
The best lawmakers keep to a very tight, consistent schedule and, by doing so, manage to stretch their endurance out to the days where it matters most: the very end, when millions of dollars move very quickly, and the House and Senate are in their heaviest debates.
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