CHEYENNE — After four years of attempts, state lawmakers are close to passing legislation that would reduce Democratic representation on the powerful and traditionally nonpartisan legislative committee that sets the agendas, rules and protocols for the entire body.
Sponsored by Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, House Bill 36 – Management council membership would reduce the overall number of positions on the Legislature’s Management Council and effectively reduce the proportion of minority-party lawmakers that must be included by making several of the seats available to “at-large” candidates.
If passed into law, the bill would immediately impact the makeup of the Management Council, a leadership committee that designates the legislative agenda, disciplines members and sets rules and regulations for the entire Legislature.
Bill proponents argue that despite Democrats representing just 10% of the Legislative membership, members of the minority party currently occupy five of Management Council’s 13 seats, giving them an outsize influence on the Legislature and its operations.
HB-36 would likely reduce that influence even further. By cutting two slots from the committee and turning two other positions into at-large rather than partisan positions, Republicans will have no obligation to support a Democrat seeking to join the Management Council beyond those required by statute, clearing the way for Republicans to have even greater influence on the policies steering the Legislature’s work.
Laursen said his legislation is not intended to politicize the Management Council’s operations but to bring the priorities of the Legislature’s top committee more in line with those of the individuals they govern.
“I just kind of wonder if those that are involved in the [Management Council] might have a different opinion from what the members they’re currently supposed to manage do,” Laursen told members of the Senate Rules Committee this past Tuesday before they advanced his bill to the floor by a 3-2, party line vote.
Laursen is unconcerned with the potential politicization of the body, he said, telling WyoFile that the Legislature’s Management Council should reflect the body that the people elected. The only factor that has thus far prevented that from happening were a few “wobbly Republicans” who wouldn’t support the bill in the past, Laursen said.
But critics argue that the Management Council was never intended to operate the way that’s envisioned in Laursen’s bill.
In testimony on the bill on March 9, Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, noted that the Management Council’s creation in 1971 coincided with that of the Legislative Service Office, a nonpartisan entity that assists lawmakers with drafting bills and conducting research. At the time, Yin said, the intent of the Management Council was not to serve in a political capacity but instead to manage the LSO operations and ensure that the agency’s time and resources were used in a prudent fashion.
“If we make it possible that 10 members can be of the majority party and create a supermajority of one party, you have a concern where that single party can essentially tell LSO whatever it wants to do,” Yin said. “Including denying resources to the minority party.”
“The LSO is nonpartisan because it’s meant to serve all members of the Legislature,” he said. “If we make it possible to deny service to other members, I think we’re going to have a very dysfunctional government.”
Wyoming’s political environment has changed since then as well. According to a copy of the 1971 Legislative Digest obtained from the LSO office, that year’s Wyoming legislature counted 11 Democrats in the Senate (compared with two today) and 20 Democrats in the House (compared with seven today).
The implications of altering the Management Council to match partisan ratios can be wide-ranging, critics argue. Since the Management Council was established in 1971, its powers have expanded significantly to encompass responsibilities far beyond that of managing the day-to-day duties of the LSO, according to a 2020 policy brief.
By altering the traditional structure established by that body, some, including Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, fear the Legislature could become even more partisan.
“Sometimes moderate voices should be heard and valued, even if I’m not seen that way by the conservative majority,” Sweeney said.
Others, like Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, argued that state Democrats, who represented more than 25% of the vote for president in the 2020 elections, are actually underrepresented in the Legislature. Nobody is rushing to compensate for that, Rothfuss noted.
“Don’t get rid of us because we’re pesky,” he told committee members last week.