Here are the issues that lawmakers should study in the interim

The latest session of the Wyoming Legislature may have just ended, but it’s already time to start thinking about next year. That’s because much of the critical work that lawmakers do happens outside the Capitol.

It’s called the interim, the 10 or so months when lawmakers are not gathered together in Cheyenne. During that time, they meet in small committees to study pressing issues and draft legislation to address them. The work is critical. Many of the major bills that come up during the session begin as discussion items at a committee meeting that might be held in Lovell or Sundance. And those bills are often sponsored by a committee that studied them, dramatically increasing the likelihood they become laws.

Those issues don’t come out of thin air. Instead, the Legislature’s Management Council sets the priorities for each committee to study. Next week, they’ll be doing exactly that. Here are some topics we hope will get chosen for study:

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Workforce

It’s no secret that employers are having a hard time filling positions. Our state government is hardly immune. In the past year, we’ve learned that multiple agencies are struggling to fill critical jobs. Gov. Mark Gordon has made those staffing issues a priority, but they continue to vex multiple agencies including the Wyoming Highway Patrol, which is missing a quarter of its troopers right now. Wyomingites prefer small government. But remember: These vacancies have real-work impacts. Fewer troopers means slower response times when it’s your car on the side of the highway.

Education

The most pressing issues in public education are often the ones that receive little attention. We’ve warned against the distractions of trying to ban things that aren’t actually taught in Wyoming schools. But the interim session is a perfect time for studying how to better address a serious issue: how to retain teachers, many of whom have considered leaving the profession. Everyone would agree we want talented, knowledgeable educators in Wyoming. How do we attract them and then ensure they stick around? We’d also like to see study of some of the more sweeping proposals related to charter schools. One bill last session would have dramatically remade our education system by giving parents public money to send their children to private schools. A proposal of that magnitude should be carefully examined by a committee for all of its possible impacts, whether positive or negative.

Mental health

There is general agreement that more Wyomingites, and more Americans, are struggling with mental health challenges — especially young people. But there is little agreement as to why that’s the case. This is especially concerning in Wyoming, a state with a history of some of the country’s highest suicide rates. During the past session, there was considerable debate about the effectiveness of the state’s relatively new 24/7 suicide hotline. Funding for that hotline will be debated again soon. Before then, it would be helpful to know just what kind of impact it’s having here.

Housing and property taxes

Anyone who’s lived in the West recently knows just how much housing prices have increased. The same goes for property taxes. Lawmakers deserve credit for offering many approaches to address those issues during the just completed session. But most of those proposals died. The next 10 months will provide plenty of time to study more fixes — and ones that are more likely to gain success next year.

Criminal justice

Wyoming is one of the few Western states that doesn’t allow medical marijuana or legalized cannabis. What are the implications for that policy decision when it comes to our criminal justice system, our economy and our health care? Would reforming our laws save our government money? Cause more crime? Reduce dependency on opioid painkillers? We should know the answers to those questions, especially when polling by the University of Wyoming shows that 85 percent of residents back medical marijuana and more than half support legalization. We’d also like to see lawmakers study transparency measures for juvenile justice. An investigation last year by the Star-Tribune and WyoFile found that lawmakers themselves had little information about a rise in violence and isolation at the Wyoming Boys’ School. Those same lawmakers now have an opportunity to study ways to ensure they’re informed about our most vulnerable youth.

The interim session represents some of the most critical work that’s performed by lawmakers. We hope these issues will get the attention they deserve over the next 10 months. Wyoming will be better for it.

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