Last week I reported on the start of the biennial budget session and gave a brief overview of the budget process.
The other major issue the legislature must resolve in this 20-day session is the reapportionment of legislative districts. The Joint Corporations Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee has been working on the matter for, at least, the past eight months. Redistricting has been a difficult issue because every district, every county and every region is competing to have their best interest represented. We are also required to adhere to the “one person-one vote” principle by drawing the districts so each district varies no more than five percent from the ideal district size.
We have held public meetings around the state and sought the input of each of the county clerks. I would like to commend our own County Clerk, Amanda Hutchinson, for her very competent and helpful assistance. Amanda, along with her excellent staff, have spent countless hours in helping me and the committee to seek the very best alignment of the House and Senate districts in Uinta County. I would like to also give a special thank you to Gary Welling, the Uinta County GIS Coordinator. I just cannot commend Amanda, Gary and the entire staff enough for their outstanding work.
At our last committee meeting on Feb. 11, a tentative plan was finalized. One of the things we had to consider was the fact that Laramie and Albany County grew by 9,500 people, which is about the average house district size. The rural areas of Carbon, Sweetwater and Sublette shrank by over 4,500 people. As a result of this population change, Laramie/Albany should gain one House seat and Carbon/Sweetwater/Sublette should lose one half of a House seat. Most of the rural area folks, myself included, do not like the idea of the most populous counties gaining more representation at the expense of the rural areas. Similar types of conflicts occur all over the state.
The compromise the tentative plan strikes is to expand the House from 60 to 62 representatives and the Senate from 30 to 31 senators. This allows the more populated counties to gain the representation they are entitled to, without the rural areas losing any districts.
I am reluctant to support a plan that expands, even slightly, the size of the Legislature. However, I believe this proposed 62/31 plan is easily the best option to ensure equal and fair representation for the entire state. It balances the requirement for more representation for those areas, which have grown, against the prospect of less representation for the least populated areas. It slightly decreases the average district size, thus, in theory at least, providing every citizen with a larger voice in who their legislators are. It provides for more districts to be closer to the ideal size than any other plan we have looked at.
This 62/31 plan was adopted by the Joint Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee. That is only the first step in the process. I anticipate many amendments will be proposed and debated in both Houses. The final plan may be far different than the plan adopted by the committee.
One good thing about this plan is that it does not make a lot of changes in Uinta County. These changes are listed below:
People in HD 19 and 49 will be in Senate District 15, and those in House District 18 will be in Senate District 14.
All of Bridger Valley remains in HD 19 and the City of Evanston (with the exceptions listed above) remains in HD 49. Further details can be found on the Wyoming Legislative website at wyoleg.gov.
Editor’s Note: As of Thursday morning last week, the Wyoming House approved the plan with two amendments. It now moves to second reading.