Wyoming to consider expanding some benefits for legislators but not health care
The Wyoming Legislature will decide this session whether to offer themselves workers’ compensation and life insurance benefits.
January 31, 2020
Members of the Wyoming Legislature will decide this session whether to offer themselves access to the same workers’ compensation and life insurance benefits offered to state employees.
However, members of the Management Council — which approved both bills in its meeting Thursday morning — voted down an amendment to one of those bills that would allow them and their peers to join the state’s health insurance plan, a move some believe could have helped increase diversity in state government.
That decision on an amendment to a larger group life insurance bill has been strongly pushed for by younger members of the Legislature as well as advocates for boosting representation in Wyoming’s “citizen legislature,” the majority of which consists of older, wealthier and Medicare-eligible males.
While the idea was opposed by some like Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs — who called increasing benefits contrary to the state’s concept of a citizen legislature — Wyoming remains an outlier among most state legislatures, the majority of which offer some form of health insurance to lawmakers.
Health insurance benefits can also help improve representation in state legislatures. Numerous states, according to a Star-Tribune analysis last August, have managed to boost diversity among their ranks by introducing benefits like health insurance for lawmakers — the lack of which can often prohibit those with young families from serving.
“If we want a diverse body, a different-looking body than who we see around this table in terms of age (…) we have to modernize our policies regulating the Legislature and who it can serve,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who sponsored the amendment. “Modifying our health insurance can do that.”
The amendment — which would have taken effect in 2022 after all currently serving legislators have faced reelection — would not require lawmakers to buy into the plan, and would merely offer them the option to participate. According to an analysis from the Legislative Service Office, premiums under that plan would start at around $1,000 per month, with plans potentially going as high as $2,500 for a family.
“If we want this to be a citizen legislature — not just someone that’s doing well or has a spouse that can provide that insurance — then we need to offer that flexibility,” said Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie. “And this provides that.”
Assuming there is a 90 percent participation rate in the state insurance plan, the total cost would be approximately $1.6 million per year, according to the LSO, the majority of which would come from state general funds. The office suggested this would have been the likely scenario, as premiums under the state insurance plan would likely be cheaper than those on the marketplace, meaning lawmakers would likely choose the state health insurance plan over those they already have.