Bill to extend health insurance to lawmakers moves forward

Bill to extend health insurance to lawmakers moves forward

The Legislative Management Board on Thursday introduced a bill that would allow legislators and their dependents to enroll in the state employees group health insurance plan.

The council also proposed a bill to create an independent commission that would review lawmakers’ compensation, but it killed legislation that would have raised lawmakers’ salaries.

The proposed bills come amid growing workloads for lawmakers and fears that insufficient compensation will prevent people from serving in the Legislative Assembly.

Some legislators consider the health insurance component to be the biggest game changer in terms of compensation and benefits that would encourage a wider range of people to serve.

Stacker ranked the most lucrative states for politicians in ascending order based on each state’s governor’s salary and state officials’ salary, using 2019 data from the Council of State Governments for governors’ salaries. and the National Conference of State Legislatures’ 2020 data for state officials’ salaries.

At an October subcommittee meeting on legislator compensation, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, shared with members that he knows a number of former lawmakers who left because of the health insurance, and that he himself had to give up health insurance for 10 of his 18 years in the legislature.

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“I think we have a very deeply self-selected group of legislators who can afford to be in the Legislative Assembly, for one reason or another,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said Thursday. speaking in favor of the bill.

“If we were to pass this legislation, I think we would be opening the door to a lot of people in Wyoming who previously couldn’t serve, wouldn’t serve, wouldn’t even run for office.”

If the bill — sponsored by House Speaker Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette — makes it through the Legislative Assembly as drafted, it will go into effect July 1.

Another bill very similar to the one the council put forward would have required lawmakers to pay the full cost of their premiums. Nobody decided to act on this bill after the passage of the other.

Wyoming is committed to a “citizen legislature.” But the format may limit who can participate.

While the lawmakers’ health insurance bill passed the board by a 5-3 vote (Senator Mike Greear, R-Worland, and Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs were excused), another that would have boosted lawmakers’ salaries did not advance.

Legislators’ salaries haven’t increased since 2005, according to the Office of Legislative Services. Currently, lawmakers receive $150 for each day of the legislative session, including weekends, as well as days they work during the interim session.

One of the bills the Board of Management considered on Thursday would have increased that amount to $230 a day starting Jan. 12, 2027. The board killed the legislation in a 3-3 vote. Greear and Hicks were excused from the vote and Senator Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, abstained.

Lawmakers who spoke out against the bill said the increase in legislators’ salaries was already supported with another bill that the Board of Management approved in October.

This bill would increase legislators’ per diem, or the per diem that covers their service-related expenses, from $109 to $155 per day. Wyoming has not increased this allowance since 2008, according to the Office of Legislative Services.

(The Board of Management introduced another bill at its October meeting that would increase legislators’ voter allowance from $750 to $1,000 per quarter, rates that have also remained the same since 2008.)

Panel recommends raising lawmakers’ salaries for first time since 2005

Laramie Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly, who is retiring this year, argued that the daily rate increase is “not a pay raise” and that the bill to raise lawmakers’ salaries would make up for it. inflation.

“We’ve talked at length about the desire to increase the opportunity for a wider range of individuals to be able to participate in the Legislative Assembly, and this is one way to do that,” Connolly said of the bill.

Passing legislation to increase legislators’ salaries can be optically challenging, as legislators themselves are considering bills that would change the amount of legislators’ compensation. (These increases, however, only affect future legislatures.)

For that reason, the Board of Management also proposed a bill on Thursday that would create an independent commission to review lawmakers’ compensation, an idea suggested by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, at the deputy’s meeting. October Committee on Legislative Compensation.

The commission would also make salary recommendations for Wyoming’s five state officials, Supreme Court justices, district and circuit court judges and district attorneys.

There would be seven members on the commission, jointly appointed by the governor, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Commission members would serve six-year terms for no more than two consecutive terms. They would meet at least twice during each term of the legislature.

Follow Maya Shimizu Harris on Twitter @M_ShimizuHarris

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