Mixed feelings on residency bill

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ Reporter

 

Local elected officials have mixed feelings about House Bill 37 and the residency requirements it would set for county elected officials. 

“I am hearing concerns from my constituents who believe HB037 would limit their options for representation,” said Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle. “I share their concern.” 

The bill would require those running for elected county positions to live in the county they are running in for one year before the election. 

According to the Wyoming Legislature website, HB37 passed third reading in the house by a vote of 38-19, with 3 excused, and was referred to the Senate Corporations Committee on Jan. 30. 

According to Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, the bill was sparked by the Weston County election for county attorney, although he acknowledged that Weston County is not the first county to have issues with residency of an elected official. 

“My original intent was to make the bill effective immediately, but after seeing the vote, it was clear that Weston County wanted Alex Berger,” said Lindholm, who introduced the bill in the House. 

Gillette attorney Alex Berger, who challenged incumbent William Curley, won the Republican nomination for Weston County attorney in the primary election with 74 percent of the votes. His name appeared on the ballot only after Fourth District Judge John G. Fenn granted him a writ of mandamus, allowing his name on the ballot,. 

“I am not going after just the county attorney. This will be for all county offices, including the clerk, sheriff and commissioners,” Lindholm said late last year after introducing the bill in the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee during the legislative interim. 

Lindholm did not respond to requests from the News Letter Journal for an updated opinion on the legislation, but other county and state elected officials offered their thoughts. 

“I think that it is a good bill that is well written and well thought out,” said Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle. 

Hunt said that in general, there needs to be “clear and precise provisions outlining residency requirements.” 

Residency requirements for county elected officials have never been clearly defined by the state and there are variations for each office, Hunt said. 

“It is important to have clarification one way or another,” Hunt said. “In short, I do agree with what Lindholm has outlined in this bill.” 

Some senators, who have yet to hear the bill on the floor, disagreed. Steinmetz, for example, said she shared the concerns of her constituents regarding options for representation in smaller counties, while Senator Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said that he believes the bill was introduced too soon after the Weston County election. 

“It was pretty clear that the people spoke in Weston County about what they wanted,” Driskill said. “To come up with a bill that goes against that vote right away, to jump in right away, is a little premature.” 

Local county officials, including Clerk Becky Hadlock and Attorney Alex Berger, reported that they are also against the bill and the limitations it puts on smaller counties. 

“I don’t believe that they need to live in Weston County,” Hadlock said. “I think that puts a big hindrance on our county attorney, like we saw in the past election.” 

Berger said that he does not feel that the bill is in the best interest of small counties in Wyoming. 

“I messaged Rep. Lindholm expressing that I thought it would be more appropriate to limit the county attorney to the same judicial district,” Berger said. “That keeps it somewhat regional.” 

Berger said that the reality is that the people should be able to choose who will be their elected officials, and if that person is not a resident of their county, the electors should decide whether the person should hold the office. 

“What is going to happen in four years? What happens if this bill passes and I can’t move to Weston County? I can’t be on the ballot,” Berger said. 

“Another thing, I don’t think people are aware of is that the statute for appointing a county attorney, if no one is on the ballot, requires that person to be a resident,” Berger said. “If no one runs, this isn’t an issue the commissioners can fix.” 

“There are a lot of election statutes in the state that could use revamping and reviewing, but this isn’t one of them,” Berger said. 

Category:

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newscastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

Email Us

Facebook

Please Login for Premium Content