Session recap: How Chip Neiman killed dozens of “boring” problem-solving bills

Rep. Chip Neimain (R-Hulett) made headlines during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2023 legislative session when he singlehandedly killed Medicaid expansion by refusing to bring “House Bill 80 – Medical Treatment Opportunity Act” to the floor for debate.

As the House Majority Floor Leader, the second-term lawmaker had the sole power to decide which bills would come before the full chamber after they passed through committee—and which bills would not.

Far less discussed were the dozens of other bills—besides Medicaid expansion—that Neiman, a member of the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” singlehandledly killed by simply not letting them proceed to the floor.

In total, Neiman blocked 49 bills, effectively killing them all on his own. According to the Legislative Service Office, this is more than double the number of bills that usually die in this manner.

Several of the bills would have created opportunities for job training and education.

These were not, for the most part, controversial bills that dealt with hot-button political topics. Many would have improved existing state programs or created opportunities for job training and education. 

Others were simple fixes to day-to-day problems encountered by state agencies, so they were important in terms of keeping our government smoothly running.

Instead, the House Majority Floor Leader prioritized bills that dealt with national issues and sensational social subjects like abortion, vaccines, and Critical Race Theory. 

He especially prioritized bills brought by his friends—every single bill but two sponsored by Freedom Caucus members got a hearing on the House floor thanks to Neiman.

Mercifully, the vast majority of Freedom Caucus bills died. But because Neiman chose to bring them forth, they are what the House spent almost the entire session discussing.

Meanwhile, many bills that would have actually solved Wyoming problems also died, and the problems will remain unfixed. 

Who wants a functioning government?

When the Freedom Caucus gained power after the 2022 elections, its leadership promised that they would show Wyoming that they are more than confrontational headline-chasers—that they could govern. 

Rep. John Bear

“When I’ve spoken to other legislators, my colleagues that are not part of the Freedom Caucus, I try to assuage their concerns by letting them know that we’re not interested in burning things down,” Freedom Caucus Chairman, Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette), said before the session.  

“Until we have that opportunity to govern, we can’t prove what I’m saying.” 

Indeed, the Freedom Caucus did not succeed in burning much down this session. But they managed to strangle the legislative process, even as they gave airtime to hot-button issues that actually affect very few Wyomingites.

Some of the bread-and-butter bills Neiman singlehandedly killed by holding them back from House floor debate were:

Whether these bills were the perfect fixes for the problems they addressed, or whether the House would have voted to advance them, we’ll never know.

Many of the bills Neiman killed, however, were “committee bills”—bills that, rather than being sponsored by an individual lawmaker, had been vetted and proposed by one of the Legislature’s standing committees after months of hearing expert testimony, community input, and committee debate.

These are the types of bills—boring as they may be—that keep our government functioning. 

But regardless of what Freedom Caucus leadership claims about wanting to govern, they’re not really interested in a functioning government.

The campaign never ends

For members of the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” the legislative session isn’t a time to earnestly debate bills and pass laws that streamline government to improve people’s lives.

It’s just another step on the campaign trail so they can keep ginning up hysteria among voters over boogeymen like transgender athletes, in hopes of securing more wins in the next election.

Rep. Ken Pendergraft (R-Sheridan)

Freedom Caucus members campaign on the idea that the government is bad. So, as Neiman singlehandedly kills simple bills that would incrementally improve the government, he’s creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for his group.

Meanwhile, even if most of their bills die, they are able to keep the narrative and conversation focused on their issues, defining the terms for the next elections. 

But as Wyoming’s population rapidly ages as young people flee the state for opportunities elsewhere, the cost of housing and healthcare rise out of reach, our suicide and mental health crises intensify, and our education system remains underfunded, they are going to start wondering why our alleged leaders spend all their time creating conflict over issues that don’t really matter.

Making sure electricians are safe? Yawn. Training more rural nurses? Booo-ring. Scholarships for community college students to learn trades? What a snooze fest! These are just some of the bills that House Majority Floor Leader Chip Neiman singlehandedly killed by not allowing them to proceed to the House floor for debate.