November 17, 2020
LARAMIE, Wyo — As part of its monthly People’s Review: Live! online series, the nonpartisan Equality State Policy Center will host a panel of transparency experts to discuss the importance of ensuring the public can observe and have access to lawmakers during the 2021 General Session.
“As the Legislature makes plans to meet at the Capitol for the upcoming session, even as COVID-19 is surging across the state and in Cheyenne, we have to ensure the public can fully participate as safely as possible,” said Chris Merrill, ESPC’s executive director. “Our concern is that members of the public could be effectively shut out of the people’s work if the Legislature doesn’t employ essential public safety measures and take full advantage of available technology. We should allow for lawmakers and the public to participate remotely if they determine it’s necessary to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
The roundtable discussion, “Shut Out? Ensuring Public Access to Lawmakers—Even in a Pandemic,” will take place from 5-6 p.m. on Thursday, November 19 via Zoom.
The event is free and open to the public, and people can register online here to receive an invitation to participate live.
In March 2020, the Wyoming State Legislature wrapped up its budget session in Cheyenne just as COVID-19 hit. Since then, the Legislature has held its interim committee meetings, as well as a special session, virtually. Meetings have been live-streamed on YouTube, and members of the public have been able to sign up ahead of time to testify.
“Our lawmakers have done an impressive job of pivoting quickly and working out a lot of the technological kinks on the fly,” Merrill said. “They’ve worked hard to continuously improve the process and allow for more transparency and public participation. But there are still problems with accessibility that need to be addressed. And the question is, if the Legislature decides to meet in person in January, how can we make sure the people’s work remains visible and accessible to the people themselves—many of whom have health conditions or other concerns that could preclude their full participation?”
ESPC is advocating that the session be postponed until April at the earliest.
“Shut Out?” will feature Merrill; State Sen. Tara Nethercott; Marguerite Herman of the Wyoming League of Women Voters; Darcie Hoffland, director of the Wyoming Press Association; and Shannon Anderson of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
“Right now, with looming budget shortfalls, Wyoming is facing an existential crisis,” Merrill said. “As much as any time in our history, it’s absolutely essential for the public’s voice to help shape and inform the conversation about how our state moves forward.”
The event is free and open to the public. Register online at https://equalitystate.org/the-peoples-review/.