Legislators decide against June special session

CASPER — The Wyoming Legislature will not be meeting in a special session later this month as anticipated, legislative leadership wrote in a letter to members Thursday, potentially delaying several bills intended to offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic until later this summer or the fall.

In a joint letter from House Speaker Steve Harshman and Senate President Drew Perkins acquired by the Star-Tribune, the lawmakers said the Legislature has finished all the work it needed to accomplish to contain the immediate economic and social impacts of the crisis in its first two-day special session earlier this spring. An anticipated, five-day special session rumored to be scheduled for late June is no longer necessary, they wrote.

“The lack of emergent issues in the work that you have done, lack of any additional action from the federal government since March, and how well the 65th Legislature did its job during the May special session have made a follow up special session in late June unnecessary,” they wrote in the letter. “We hope that you have taken pride in the yeoman’s work we did allocating CARES Act Funds supporting businesses, local governments, healthcare institutions, and others impacted by this crisis.”

“We are confident the Governor will implement our legislative directives addressing the needs of the State without the Legislature meeting in the near term,” they added.

The decision, which was made after a closed poll of lawmakers earlier this week, comes at a time where numerous committees were in the process of drafting additional pieces of legislation to address the impacts of the pandemic.

That list included bills to add nonprofits to the state’s business relief packages, allow workers whose hours were cut to seek unemployment benefits, offer a number of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and create a downsized capital construction plan for critical maintenance and projects around the state.

The decision also means a lack of action on administrative concerns, like a $15 million addition to the state’s common school account that, with legislative action, could have been freed up to be spent elsewhere.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Harshman said that a lack of federal action was the primary driver behind leadership’s decision not to reconvene this month. Additionally, he said that the several pieces of “first things first” legislation passed by the Legislature earlier this year gave Gov. Mark Gordon sufficient authority to use the $1.25 billion in federal relief funding to stand up whatever programs were necessary to address the crisis. No current bills in the hopper rose to the level of needing to pass immediately, Harshman said.

“There are things that would be nice to have, but you don’t have to do it now,” Harshman said. “So we took a poll of membership, and it was split right down the middle. They weren’t enthusiastic, we’ll say it that way.”

Harshman said that another special session could be held either later this summer or in the fall, depending on the needs of the state.

Either date, notably, would likely come after what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious Republican primary seasons in recent memory. Harshman said he doubted whether that factored into lawmakers’ decision to delay a special session, saying that the issues they planned to address “weren’t tough decisions,” and that the state was unlikely to face cash flow issues whether it waited to take action or not.

“We’re going to continue our work, come out with bills, and then we’ll have those ready for the special session if need be, and then give those recommendations to the governor,” he said. “As far as tough decisions — cutting budgets, raising taxes — those aren’t going to be made in this deal.”

Gordon’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.