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Civility in the Wyoming Legislature

by Charles Ware

If you have sat in the gallery in either the Wyoming House or Senate you have heard debates on bills using rather unusual language.  For example, “I agree with the good senator from Converse County;”  “On and against the bill;”  “I rise in support of the bill;” and “This is a friendly amendment.”  You may only be able to identify a legislator by seeing him, knowing his voice, or knowing the geography of the state, because legislators in debate do not address one another by name.  This keeps debate focused on the topic and prevents deterioration into personal opinions or personal attacks.   And this is the way it should be.  The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate go to great lengths to school freshmen legislators in the “Legislative Rules of Civility.”  A legislator can surely disagree with an amendment or with a bill, and he can do so within the rules.  Again, by way of example, “I strongly disagree with the good Representative from Fremont County,” or “I oppose this bill.”

Another important procedural rule is that the person speaking always addresses his comments through the Chair of the Committee or the Chair of the Chamber.  This does two things.  First, it puts the Chair in charge of who speaks and in what order. Second, it allows time for a speaker to slow his thoughts or his anger down enough so he does not lash out against the position of the person who just spoke.  Importantly, these techniques serve to keep debate on topic.

Debate is supposed to be conducted this way in every legislature.  Some do it better than others.  For example, you might have seen TV footage of yelling in the House Chamber of Wisconsin or news shows from the Japanese or British Parliaments.  In my many years of working with the Wyoming legislature, I have never observed this sort of behavior, and I have come to appreciate why legislators “talk funny” while debating bills.  It is to make sure debate focuses on the bill content rather than getting off into emotional positions held about a bill.  Wyoming’s legislative leaders take great pride in being “civil” as they debate.

 

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Thursday, 18 January 2018

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