Women, young people may face barriers to joining Wyo. government

Young Wyomingites at the ENDOW Summit 2019 in Casper. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — What does it take to get involved and hold public office in the Wyoming Legislature?

The Wyoming Legislature holds general legislative sessions lasting 40 days every other year. Their budget sessions last 20 days in the years in between general sessions.

This may act as a barrier to young people wishing to seek public office in the legislature, as it requires them to be away from work for substantial amounts of time.

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Casper’s Kyle Gamroth asked Representative Tom Walters whether he thought something should be done to make it easier for younger people to get involved in the legislature.

He asked whether raising the per diem for legislators may be a way to make it more economically feasible for the young and the less wealthy to consider running for office. Gamroth addressed his questions to Walters during the Saturday, Sept. 7 “ENDOW Summit 2019” in Casper.

That gathering was focused on how to help Wyoming attract and retain young people and what could be done to give them a greater say in the future of the state.

State legislators receive a salary of $150 per day when in session. They also receive a $109 per diem for expenses they incur.

They can also generally receive $150 for two days each month outside of the legislative session as well as quarterly compensation of $750.

Legislators can also be compensated for work on committees outside of legislative sessions. Details about the compensation scheme for legislators is available in the Wyoming State Statutes.

State legislators across the country had an average age of 56 compared with the average age of the general adult population in the United States of 47. That is according to the National Conference of State Legislators, using 2015 data.

In Wyoming, the average legislator was 59 years old, compared to the average adult Wyomingite’s age of 46.5.

In response to Gamroth’s question, Walters said he thought the current average legislator was in their mid-50s. He said that he didn’t think that people in their mid-50s are particularly old.

Nevertheless, Walters expressed some openness to taking a look at the per diem rates payed to legislators.

A bill made it through both the Wyoming House and Senate in the last legislative session which would have raised the per diem from $109 to $149.

Legislators living within 25 miles of the Capitol would have received only half of this per diem.

Governor Mark Gordon vetoed that bill.

Gordon was also in Casper on Saturday and was also asked about barriers to young people in participating in state government.

When asked about Walters’ statements that suggested an average legislator age in the mid-50s wasn’t too old, Gordon joked that this was true relative to an average age of legislators in their 70s.

Gordon went on to say he thought it was important that the state look at ways to support and encourage younger people to get involved in state government.

He said that could possibly include revisiting the per diem allowance rates moving forward.

Both Gordon and Walters expressed support for Wyoming’s “citizen legislature” model. This refers to a legislature where-in most legislators still hold full-time jobs outside of their work in the government.

Some of the ENDOW Summit attendees also discussed possible barriers to women in Wyoming’s legislature.

Women hold only 14 of the 90 seats available in the Wyoming Legislature, according to NCSL.

With women accounting for 15.6% of available seats, Wyoming ranks 47th nationally in terms of female representation, ahead of only West Virginia and Mississippi.