Citizen Legislature the way to go – February 2014

On February 10th the Wyoming Legislature will convene for a twenty day budget session.  There are a number of bills already drafted which will impact agriculture.  One of the bills which may have a significant long term effect on landowners in this state is House Bill 23, Landowner’s duty to a trespasser-2

This bill in its current form seeks to provide the Judicial Branch with some direction in cases of trespass.  It would limit the liability a judge can assess to a landowner in the event of a trespasser who comes on his or her property.  This bill, sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee, would provide some protection for landowners into the future.

Of course the budget is the main reason for the session; however any session has a number of bills introduced which do not have anything to do with the budget.  These bills will need to obtain a 2/3 majority vote in order to be considered.  This has not been that high of a hurdle in the past, with many non-budget bills receiving the necessary 2/3 vote to go on to be heard by the body.

Wyoming is lucky that our body is still a part time legislature.  However, one only has to look at the number of interim committee meetings each standing committee holds between sessions before you have to wonder how much longer that will be the case.  Tradition holds that each member of the legislature sits on two standing committees.  With some of those committees holding at least three meetings during the interim of two days each, it doesn’t take long before the twenty days spent in Cheyenne starts to be the less than the interim work.  On top of this we also have seen several select committees created to handle everything from tribal relations to water development.

Moving to a full time legislature will have significant consequences.  I think most people believe that legislators should have to return home and live under the laws they pass.  That is perhaps the best way to ensure that bad laws get quickly overturned.  Citizens certainly have a better chance to change a law if it is biting a legislator at the same time they are getting bitten.

This leads to the dilemma that is facing many of our legislators.  Given that they must be away from their business as much as they have, the body faces the prospect that only those that are retired, have a really good income, have a very understanding employer, or have lots of money can serve.  Anyone thinking about running for the legislature only has to follow the body around for a year to figure out whether they can afford to participate.  Keeping good folks from running hurts everyone.  We certainly are lucky that the acrimonious situations we see in some of the more populated states or Washington, D.C. haven’t hit us as much, but sooner or later it will come and when it does, we will add one more reason for good people to avoid serving in the legislature. 

Let’s hope we can avoid some of these problems and better yet make it easier for people to serve so we don’t end up having to pay people to serve.

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President

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