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Legi House

Members of the public view the House Chambers from the gallery area Feb. 20 at the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne. This winter, the Legislature will discuss giving itself its first per diem increase in years.

Members of Wyoming’s citizen Legislature — unlike lawmakers in 40 other states — do not receive an annual salary for their service.

What they do receive instead is a per diem for the days they do work, amounting to about $109 a day. This money is used to cover meals, lodging and other expenses required in the execution of their duties.

This is different than a salary, and all but impossible to profit from, as the hotel (a $79 limit) and meal costs alone — as well as the cost of temporarily relocating to Cheyenne when the legislature is in session — often wipes out most, if not all, of the money allotted to lawmakers by the taxpayers each year. Sometimes, given the rising costs of travel, lawmakers may have to dip into their own pockets to perform their duties.

In the 2015 interim session, members of the Wyoming legislature began to work on legislation to revise the per diem rate for legislators from the current $109 to $129 — what then was estimated to be a roughly $1.2 million cost to the state budget. By that November, however, the state experienced a bust, and talks were scrapped.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Management Council, those talks were revived and, this winter, the Legislature will discuss giving itself its first “raise” in years.

The $40 per diem increase — which is based on the rate offered to federal employees in Wyoming — would take effect in 2020 if passed and would increase or decrease every year based on the consumer price index, as does the state’s current mileage rate for legislators. The draft legislation approved by legislators on Wednesday came out of the legislature’s Select Committee on Legislative Facilities, Technology and Process and will be introduced in the House of Representatives in the coming session.

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The draft passed 12-1 with just Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, opposed.

Per diem rates vary widely across the country, with annual salaries offered as high as the upper five-figures as they are in New York or California (plus a per diem on top of that), or as low as $200 in New Hampshire, which has no per diem rate.

Compared to nearby states or states with similar land area, however, Wyoming’s rate of compensation for legislators is quite low. According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislators, Wyoming’s current compensation rate is lower than each of its contiguous states, including Utah ($141 per day plus travel expenses), Colorado ($30,000 per year plus 85 percent reimbursement rate for expenses), Nebraska ($142 per day plus a $12,000 annual salary), Montana ($114 per day), South Dakota ($6,000 per year plus $142 per day) and Idaho ($17,000 per year plus $129 per day).

The general session convenes Jan. 8 in Cheyenne.

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Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds

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