EVANSTON — Evanston Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tammy Staley welcomed everyone to the chamber’s Legislative Breakfast, held on Thursday, April 7, in the Roundhouse. She introduced Uinta County Commissioner Brent Hatch as moderator of the event.
Attending were Reps. Robert Wharff, R-Evanston, Danny Eyre, R-Lyman and Scott Heiner, R-Green River, along with Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston.
Hatch said each legislator would have six minutes to speak and questions would wait until after that.
“First, I would like to say that I voted against accepting the ARPA funds from the federal government,” Wharff said. “I think taking it is trading our freedom and liberty for the federal government’s money. We need to be careful. The bill that I sponsored didn’t pass, and its primary purpose was to protect state rights.”
Wharff said he feels that the major issue of the day is the expansion of the federal government and that the feds are buying people’s allegiance and votes.
“We are no longer a free and independent people,” Wharff said. He said his goal is to “rein in the federal government.” He said our U.S. senators are no longer tasked with protecting our state’s rights and sovereignty.
Rep. Heiner said this is his first term as a legislator and he thought everyone worked together well.
“We were able to save money in the budget and passed some good bills,” he said. “However, there were a lot of people grabbing for the ARPA money, like pigs at a trough,” Heiner said. “The governor was able to reserve $72 million of it.”
Heiner said he was surprised at how government works and that there are no equal voices because two people — the speaker of the house and the majority leader — run everything and, if they don’t like a bill, they put it in a drawer and it isn’t seen.
It is a “good ol’ boy” process, Heiner said, and he’s made it his goal to change that. Heiner said all the legislators need to approve the rules at the beginning of the session and prioritize the bills that are seen. He said important bills aren’t brought up until the last session and some of them are so long — like the school funding bill, which was 23 pages long — that it is impossible to have time to read them.
“When I complained,” Heiner said, “they told me to read it later. After the voting is done, it doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair. We need to put the government back into the hands of the people and let the people run the government.”
Rep. Eyre agreed that there are problems in Cheyenne.
“I was also concerned with the process,” Eyre said, “like what happened with the redistricting bill. It was hard work and was changed at the last minute.”
Eyre focused on the redistricting process and preserving representation in rural areas. He said Uinta County was fortunate with fewer changes, and Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson was very helpful. Some counties lost more and some gained, Eyre said, and they ended with a plan of 62 representatives and 31 senators.
“Overall,” Eyre said, “we have good legislators in Wyoming and in Uinta County. Some people serve the state at great personal sacrifice, and it is hard work.”
Sen. Schuler said, “We passed some good things and some bills … not so good. I think we need to be more civil. There are some people who are so extreme and don’t want to compromise, and it makes it hard to find common ground. We saw some people escorted out of the chamber and people verbally attacking each other after the session was over. I was shocked. We need to work on being representatives of the people and being more civil to each other.”
Schuler added that even though the state budget is $400 million less than it was 10 years ago, they still managed to improve funding for mental health, senior citizens, home health care, suicide prevention, disability programs and for treatment facilities.
Questions and comments centered predominantly on the current lack of options for purchasing enhanced uranium for the TerraPower Natrium nuclear power plant planned in Kemmerer due to the fact that currently there is no place except Russia to get the enhanced uranium.
Due to the sanctions on Russia, they can no longer use that source. There is only one facility in the U.S., in Ohio, that could meet the requirements with an updating of their equipment, but it will take a year before it is ready, Heiner said.
Schuler commented that a bill before the legislature that stated Wyoming wouldn’t purchase anything from Russia didn’t pass.
A question was asked if there was a process to override the speaker of the house and Wharff responded that they had the option to override the speaker, but time was a factor and lots of good bills died in the process.
“It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override the speaker,” Heiner said, “and everyone is afraid of him. He has too much power and sometimes he will put your bill in the drawer out of revenge. Also, bills that are controversial often get put in the drawer. We negotiated with the speaker and got the abortion bill passed.”
One person asked if it was the bills of moral conscience that got put in the drawer by the leadership.
Schuler said Senate leaders have the authority to choose bills that are heard, and you never know what their priorities are. However, she added, the current speaker is on his way out, and she said she feels better about where the legislature is headed.
Eyre said it depends on the election who the next leadership will be, and people need to be careful voters. He said time and the number of bills to be heard are also big factors in the entire process.
Wharff was asked if he thought the rhetoric and emphasis on states’ rights over the unity of the nation is close to “pre-civil war talk.”
“Our Founding Fathers set up a system of checks and balances,” Wharff, a freshman legislator, said. “Limited government is in the Constitution and what works in one state may not work in another state. I think the sovereignty of states’ rights stops civil war. There is chaos in the federal government now and more and more executive orders are being made. We are not supposed to be ruled by one. If we continue down this path, it will more likely lead to civil war than if the states hold the federal government accountable.”
Schuler was asked about the bill she sponsored that would prohibit transgender girls and women from competing in high school and collegiate sports. She said there was support for the bill but they ran out of time and were short two votes. She said she plans to bring the bill back next session.
Someone asked if the Legislature had done anything about the need for more broadband in the state and also the need for more affordable housing. Schuler said there had been discussion on both and the lack of housing and construction issues are major problems throughout the state.