March 14, 2022 |
After taking a recess to watch Cowboy basketball Friday evening, the Wyoming Legislature worked late into the night finishing the business of 66th Budget Session. The gavel signaled the conclusion.
Unless a special session is called, the legislature won’t reconvene until next January. Governor Mark Gordon addressed the upper chamber in the waning minutes of the session.
The week began with the House and Senate sending a two-year budget to the governor that includes $2.7 billion in spending. The fine print includes taking $103 million from the so-called Rainy Day Fund with no promise of paying it back.
The week ended with lawmakers in both houses approving a redistricting plan that expands the legislature by three. Facing a midnight deadline, the Senate adopted the 62/31 plan finalized earlier in the day by the Joint Conference Committee. Senator Bill Landen admitted of Casper admitted the Senate’s 60/30 plan was never considered in conference.
Down the hall, the House was passing the 62/31 plan by a 44-12 vote—10 fewer than had voted for the original version of HB 100. With the legislature’s midnight deadline less than two hours away at that point, the Senate was out of time to debate or redraw maps.
The objections on the Senate floor came from both sides of the aisle. Senator Chris Rothfuss of Albany County was one of the “no” votes. Rothfuss noted that the final version is out of deviation in Sheridan County and contains un-nested House and Senate seats. The Senate map did not contain those flaws, the Laramie Democrat said.
Sweetwater County Republican John Kolb was a “no” vote for a different reason. Kolb objected to the plan because it grows government without creating any benefit for the state.
Senator Tom James, also of Sweetwater County, leveled the charge of gerrymandering at the 62/31 map. James, who was shut down at a Corporations Committee hearing in January when he questioned where the chairman, Dan Zwonitzer lived, revived the allegation of criminal behavior on the floor of the Senate Friday night.
The allegation that Zwonitzer used his position as chair of the committee to redraw the voting district maps of Cheyenne in his benefit is not going away, even though the House voted down a motion to disqualify him from the legislature.
Senator Anthony Bouchard, who ran afoul of leadership for other reasons, posted this on his Facebook page: “Gerrymandering: I will no longer live in my Senate District. But Chairman Dan Zwonitzer’s new house is in it.”
The final version of the Joint Conference Committee plan approved by the Senate includes one amendment affecting Carbon County. The change moved seven people from the town of Bairoil in Sweetwater County into a district shared with Rawlins. The Wyoming County Clerks Association had submitted the amendment because Bairoil is a part of Carbon County School District 1. The change voids a split ballot for those seven residents.
Another amendment, which came from the Senate, to move Rock River into House District 47 was rejected by the Conference Committee. Albany County will move forward with four complete House Districts.
Senator Larry Hicks, whose Senate District now includes Rock River, voted “no” on the 62/31 plan Friday night. The compromise agreement narrowly passed the Senate: 17 aye, 12 no with one absent. The engrossed bill now goes to the governor for his signature. The next stop after that could be the courts.