September 16, 2020
To: President of the Senate Drew Perkins Speaker of the House Steve Harshman Members of the Management Council
Re: Allowing for More Public Participation at Online Legislative Committee Meetings
Dear President Perkins, Speaker Harshman, and esteemed Members of the Wyoming State Legislature’s Management Council:
The Equality State Policy Center wishes to thank you for your continued work to make the legislative process transparent and accessible to the public, and to keep lawmakers and the public safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to you and the Legislative Services Office staff, the shift to online committee meetings has been relatively seamless. We’ve all been learning as we go. In this spirit, the Equality State Policy Center would like to offer recommendations for making the video-based committee meeting format more effective in terms of allowing for—and encouraging—public participation.
We ask that you consider the following proposals to allow for greater public access and further improve transparency for people around the state.
1. Ensure that commenting and testifying is as user-friendly as possible for citizens by removing the following barriers.
- Eliminate the deadline for members of the public to sign up to testify at an online meeting.
- Allow for real-time public comment in online meetings. Members of the public should be able to watch a committee meeting in process and decide, based on what’s being said or discussed, whether they would like to testify—just as they’re able to do during a traditional in-person meeting.
- Ensure that all discussed meeting topics are properly noticed and consistent with the posted agenda.
- Always allow an open comment period at the end of the day during any committee meeting. This is common practice for in-person meetings and should be extended to virtual meetings. This ensures that if something is added to the agenda the public has an opportunity to comment.
e. Update “Attending a Meeting” tab on wyoleg.gov/about page to include explicit protocols for how members of the public can testify and provide comment at online meetings. Current protocols on that page are for in-person meetings only.
- Restore an audio-only option for Zoom meetings.
- This option was available for a time but seems to have been discontinued.
- Many people in Wyoming do not have reliable internet service or enough bandwidth to livestream video and therefore can’t participate in video-only meetings. Restoring the audio-only option, which allows people to participate even without video, would ensure that more Wyomingites can tune in—and stay tuned in—to legislative meetings.
- Continue to hold interim committee meetings via Zoom and stream them on YouTube even after the pandemic ends.
a. Holding committee meetings via Zoom saves on travel costs for legislators and the public and makes the Legislature more accessible to more Wyomingites—including the elderly, people who cannot drive, people with health issues and other disabilities, and people who can’t take time off of work to drive multiple hours to attend a meeting.
We believe these practices and this proposed level of transparency will help both legislators and Wyoming citizens. They will also help foster public input, feedback, and comments.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these requests. And thank you for your dedication and service on behalf of the citizens of Wyoming.
Chris Merrill, Executive Director
Equality State Policy Center
cc: Matt Obrecht, LSO Director