As the pressures mount and the deadline for a budget draws near, protocol helps maintain order and respect at the Wyoming Legislature. That, and a shared determination to do what is right for Wyoming, will guide lawmakers through the final days of the 2018 session.
Parliamentary procedure was once an obligatory part of education for many high school students and covers a set of rules governing how best to conduct meetings in an efficient and respectful manner. Its primary purpose is to accomplish the will of the majority, while protecting the rights of the minority.
Often newer, younger legislators — and local government leaders — have received little exposure, if any, to parliamentary procedure. The consistent exceptions are those who participated in FFA in high school. Rural and agricultural America evidently still understands how a clear process can preserve mutual respect.
Protocol to assure order and respect is critical in deliberative bodies. Combine important issues with strong wills and, with time and pressure, nerves fray and tempers flare.
The need for respectful procedure will be evident as we head into the home stretch on the budget. Closing a nearly $1 billion gap in $5 billion budget is not an easy task. Even the most conservative among us has a list of favored projects or programs.
The classic example of the need for protocol comes from the U.S. Congress. In 1856, a southern pro-slavery senator smashed the gold top of his cane into the skull of an unsuspecting abolitionist northern senator, then beat him repeatedly until restrained by horrified onlookers. The victim had spoken about the South on the floor for two days and made reference to a relative of the attacker in derogatory terms that make today’s political rhetoric seem tame.
This incident proves the need for a set of legislative rules that, at first glance, may seem odd and antiquated. In the Wyoming Senate, it is a breach of protocol to use any proper names in floor debate, except when being recognized to speak by the chair. Sen. Charles Scott of Casper, for instance, is often referred to as “the senator from Bates Creek.” Bates Creek is the location of Scott’s ranch.
Referring to him as “Senator Scott” in floor debate will rapidly draw a point of order objection from someone in leadership.
It is also a violation of protocol to refer to what anyone may think or do with respect to the matter under consideration outside of the chamber. For instance, it is a breach to say the governor opposes or supports something, or that the House may not enact a certain provision. This serves to promote true deliberation within the four walls of the chamber, and, hopefully, to do what is right and not what is merely politically expedient.
Props are forbidden. Outside printed matter cannot be distributed unless a member signs on the document. Visitors to the chamber are allowed (only with permission of the Senate president).
The rules of the Wyoming House and Senate are over 80 pages with a supplemental manual that runs hundreds more.
Even with all that, there are still occasions where irritation and exhaustion can lead to intemperate remarks or other violations of protocol. These usually draw an objection from one’s peers, which tends to slow things a bit. In one instance, the offender delivered an apology on the floor.
It was the right thing to do, and the parties involved remain collegial to this day.
Dave Kinskey represents Wyoming Senate District 22, which consists of Johnson County and eastern Sheridan County. A businessperson and former mayor of Sheridan, Kinskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (307) 751-6428.