Tips for staying on top of the Wyoming legislative session | TSLN.com

Tips for staying on top of the Wyoming legislative session

Dustin Bleizeffer
WyoFile

As lawmakers gather in Cheyenne for the 2016 legislative session, WyoFile brings you the tools you need to influence the next four weeks of shrunken revenue budget wrangling. Residents can call, email, snail-mail, listen and comment online to make their views known.

This year is a budget session, and with a projected $600 million budget shortfall lawmakers will be in the mood to trim what they believe are lower priorities. They will have to move at a hurried pace to process hundreds of bills and calculate every aspect of state government for a budget that sets the course for the next two years.

That's why you need to stay connected to your Legislature, and let your representatives know your priorities. Fortunately, there's a variety of ways to stay connected and make your voice heard, even if you cannot attend the session in person.

Know your legislators

You're going to want to speak directly to the senators and representatives who live in your district, and you may want to contact other legislators responsible for bills you care about.

Begin at the Legislative Service Office's website, and go to the "Legislator information" page. You can find very helpful profiles of each lawmaker by visiting the "Members of the House of Representatives," and "Members of the Senate" pages, which include contact and other information about each member. The same webpage also offers a helpful "address lookup" function that will identify your Senate and House representatives by name (click on "Locate Your Representative" or "Locate Your Senator").

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Contact by email

Legislators are on their computers and looking at email while they work. If it's between 10 a.m. and noon, or 2 p.m. and about 4 p.m., they are likely at their desks trying to keep up with the stream of messages. Short personal messages are best, with clear, direct subject lines. Legislators can be contacted by email using the address formula firstname.lastname@wyoleg.gov. Contact information can also be found on the "Legislator information" page.

Contact by phone

You can leave a brief message for a member via phone. The House and Senate receptionists will take down a simple message ("Vote No on House Bill 255" or "Please call me about health care access" are about all they will transcribe for you) and deliver it to the lawmaker's desk. Many legislators will call you back, but usually at the end of the day, so your issue might have already gone by if you're not ahead of the game.

Senate Receptionist: (307) 777-7711

House Receptionist: (307) 777-7852

Old-fashion letter

Written mail may be directed to a legislator in care of the Wyoming House or Senate, 200 W. 24th Street, Room 213, Cheyenne, WY, 82002. Although the Legislature's physical address has changed, the mailing address has not, according to the Legislative Service Office. This is an attention-getting method, as most folks don't bother writing letters, but give yourself some time for it to be delivered. Thank-you cards certainly get a good reception, if you have someone to thank for their vote.

In person

Due to the Capitol renovation, the Wyoming Legislature has temporarily relocated to the Jonah Business Center, at 3001 E. Pershing Blvd. in Cheyenne. The Legislative Service Office created a Jonah Guidebook (embedded below) full of helpful information, including maps, where to park, committee meeting areas and decorum.

Live streaming

Live streaming has become a popular option for following the Legislature. While in session, a link will be prominently displayed on the Legislature's homepage http://www.wyoleg.gov. Keep this link — "Audio Broadcasts of the 2016 Session" — handy, for access to live audio feeds from the Senate and House of Representatives chambers, as well as audio archives of proceedings.

Tracking bills and more ways to comment

Now that you're letting your lawmakers know what you want them to do, you can track how they respond. Again, there are many methods, some better for certain circumstances.

You can recommend support for or opposition to a particular piece of legislation by using the Online Hotline (click the "continue" button at the bottom of the page and fill out the simple form that comes up). The hotline also allows you to leave a short comment regarding a bill. Comments will be available to all legislators.

If you're not near a computer, the Telephone Hotline is available toll free — 1-866-996-8683. Callers within the Cheyenne area can call 777-8683. You can also call the Telephone Hotline to hear the status of any bill, but you'll only hear about where the bill is in the legislative process, not more detailed information.

If you have a hearing impairment, call the toll-free Wyoming Relay Service for information on any bill. The number is 1-800-877-9965 for TDD or Text Telephones. Ask the Wyoming Relay Service operator to dial (307) 777-8683 to obtain the status on bills.

The Wyoming Legislature's website will have daily updates with important legislative information, including the text of all bills; information about amendments; a record of all roll call votes posted as soon as possible after each vote; record of actions taken on bills; bill status; Senate and House daily calendars; and standing committee meeting schedules.

To see the list of proposed bills, visit the Legislative Service Office website and click on "2016 Bill Tracking Information.″ There you will see legislation that is approved by interim committees for introduction, or sponsored by individual lawmakers. The webpage also provides roll call information to see how legislators voted, as well as an explanation of the Bill Status Report.

Now what are you waiting for?

The legislative branch has continually developed online resources and greater connectivity and is far more transparent to the public than it was 20 years ago. While that doesn't mean your lawmakers are any more likely to agree with you, it does mean there are fewer reasons to stay on the sidelines. Wyoming's Legislature meets less often than most states' do — why not give them a little something to think about while they're in session?

Follow the news

WyoFile will be at the session from opening gavel to the end. Veteran reporter Dustin Bleizeffer will report from Cheyenne, providing a Twitter stream of happenings, daily updates and a weekly breakdown of the legislative news. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer and @WyoFile, and check WyoFile's homepage for ongoing Legislature 2016 coverage throughout the session. You can connect with Dustin directly via email at dustin@wyofile.com or call (307) 267-3327.

–Reprinted with permission from WyoFile