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Rapping the gavel

Jan 6, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Take the session seriously, lawmakers, and keep Wyoming issues uppermost

Some hard and serious work is about to begin as the Wyoming Legislature convenes this week for its biennial general session in Cheyenne.

The general session is a grueling assignment for the lawmakers -- two full months Cheyenne, most of it away from families and jobs expect for those close enough to the capital to make it less disruptive.

An avalanche of legislation awaits them as well. The reading load for our lawmakers would rival that of any great university. Many can't pull it off and realize it, hence the reliance on staff, the Legislative Service Office and, yes, lobbyists to help carry the learning load.

A lot of groundwork has been prepared already through committee meetings during the hiatus between sessions, but there will be bills that no one has thought of yet that will rise to dominant positions in the debate and deliberation. Try as they might the lawmakers and their supporting personnel can't anticipate it all.

Any legislator will tell you that unlike patience, energy, and sleep, one thing that isn't in short supply during the session is advice. It comes from everywhere, non-stop, made all the easier now through electronic communications. You think you've got an e-mail backlog, check out a legislator's laptop sometime.

So it is with utmost respect for their situations that the newspaper offers two recommendations for the session that's about to begin.

First, quit worrying so much about what Barack Obama and the rest of the federal government is doing. Certainly there are many issues related to federal-state interaction that require careful, unwavering attention from our legislators and others in state government. But much rhetoric concerns peripheral matters that are irritating to Wyoming but which, practically speaking, don't really affect us very much.

The next two months are too important to our state for our legislators to worry so much about what the president says or what he wears, or who he had dinner with, or what book he's reading, or what his wife does. These lesser concerns threaten to undermine the vital work that needs to be done here. Let's pick our battles with Washington and the White House, and make sure they truly are worth our time and stomach acid before we give them priority over anything here at home.

Second, don't allocate one second more than necessary to discuss, consider and vote on laws that are long on publicity but short on substance. We remember a session some years back when an extraordinary amount of energy was invested into discussion of what the new Wyoming State Cookie was going to be. Many serious minds shuddered at what important state issue got left on the drawing board while the debate between the chocolate chip and the oatmeal raisin took shape. It seemed to go on for days.

Sometimes such bills can serve as a break from the tension of the rest of the session, almost the equivalent of recess to a busy elementary school class. Fine. But when the bell rings, it's time to get back to work.

In many enviable ways, Wyoming has an ideal legislative setup. Our state is small. Our state usually is wealthy. Our state has less partisan back-biting than most other states. Our legislators are close to the grass roots of the state. Our legislature operates out of the national spotlight for the most part.

So let's take advantage of all that. Dig into the job not motivated by what can ben condemned, resolved against, blocked, prevented or killed, but instead by what can be accomplished, what can be advanced, what can be built, what can be improved.

Best wishes to the Wyoming Legislature. Your state is watching you. Do us proud.

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Legislature, Wyoming