The Wyoming Legislative session ended last week on a disappointing note with Representatives Bob Nicholas (R- Cheyenne) and Tim Stubson (R-Casper) destroying SF 28 Post- Conviction actual innocence and SF30 Compensation for persons exonerated based on DNA evidence. Rep. Nicholas amended both bills to include onerous hearing provisions that indicated that he was on a crusade to ensure that those wrongly incarcerated would not be compensated for the miscarriage of justice. The House members refused to compromise on the amendments in the conference committee which led to both bills being indefinitely postponed. The Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle and WyoFile all wrote excellent articles on this travesty. Both bills started with good support on introduction and an understanding with most legislators and observers that the bills were needed, if not long overdue. It is frustrating to see such willful pique in legislators.
In other news of willful pique, the Medicaid expansion proposals to provide health care for Wyoming’s poor was again blocked in the name of political grandstanding to the base and a pathetic little bill allowing that the Governor “may” explore the expansion with the feds was passed. Given the fact that the Governor has stated that he has no intention of ever doing anything of the sort it was more like a slap in the face to those who go without adequate health care in our state. This despite the hundreds of constituents that made it clear to their representatives that they supported the bill.
HB49 Marijuana possession was a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of Marijuana which did not pass introduction. It was given little legitimate discussion as one legislator thought it would bring drug cartels roaring into Wyoming to do business. Of course, legalization and decriminalization bills have proven to do exactly the opposite, and not only keep millions of citizens out of jail, but keep criminals out of the marijuana business. Wyoming spends millions a year jailing and prosecuting small time offenders leaving those offenders with a criminal record that can follow them their entire life. For further information on how marijuana laws are harmful and ineffective, read our Program Coordinator, Ryan Frost's article It's time to rethink pot laws in Wyoming, or go to the The Uncovery to use the ACLU's new interactive online tool for marijuana arrest information.
HB77 The Student Religious liberties bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Kroeker and supported by the WyWatch Family Action group outlined a number of protections that are already stated in the Constitution and case law the bill then went on to provide statutory protection for students that proselytized or prayed in the classroom and at student events. Testimony in the committee hearing decried the fact that Gideon Bibles were no longer passed out in the classroom and that teachers were forced to lie to their students about evolution, science, history, and socialism. The ACLU of Wyoming was the only group that testified against the bill in committee, but fortunately the bill was never considered in the Committee of the Whole. The WyWatch group blamed Rep. Kermit Brown R- Laramie for this, according to their website.
Similar bills have popped up across the nation and are a clear danger for all of us. A grave concern is that this type of law would allow students to harass and bully other students under the guise of religious freedom. The bills are similar in nature to the religious refusal bills. (A religious refusal bill was just vetoed by the Governor of Arizona to much hue and cry)
Rep. Connolly’s HB 87 Marriage Equality bill also failed introduction, but it is heartening to continue to see these bills being sponsored and of course the ACLU will vigilantly continue to work for passage.
HB100 Investigative subpoenas Our perennial favorites are the investigative subpoena bills and we see one almost every session as the law enforcement folks continue to try and broaden their power for investigating without probable cause. Glad to see this one fail in the Committee of the Whole.
HB105 Unmanned aerial surveillance We were sorry to see this “drone” bill fail. It was a good bill and provided the privacy protection needed by requiring that law enforcement have a warrant for the use of drones in criminal investigations. It is unfortunate that this bill did not pass as the use of drones is going to grow at an incredible rate in the next few years and it would have been good to be in front of this growth with our laws.
This mean-spirited HB108 Validity of marriage bill from Representatives Gay, Davison, Halverson and Jaggi would ensure that same-sex couples married in other states would have absolutely no rights in Wyoming and was surely partly in response to the Wyoming Supreme Court case that allowed for same-sex couples married in other states to divorce in Wyoming. The bill failed introduction.
HB126 Restoration of rights after felony conviction No easing of requirements for restoration of rights, but kudos to Representatives Zwointzer (Dan), Barlow, Connolly, Greene, Kroeker, Loucks, Petroff and Senator Case for continuing to try.
HB134 Death penalty repeal Rep. Watt filed a this bill – what a surprise. That it failed introduction, not a surprise.
HB158 Indecency A really scary, undoubtedly unconstitutional indecency bill sponsored by Representative Jaggi, Davison, Gingery, Halverson, Krone and Senator Craft that would have changed public indecency to private indecency if it caused “affront or alarm”. Your Uncle Bob in his boxers and t-shirt might cause affront or alarm sitting in his Barcalounger. But should he go to jail for it?!? We were glad to see this bill fail.
SF47 Katie’s Law After a great deal of amending and discussion, Katie’s Law was again defeated. These laws allow for the collection of DNA upon arrest and are basically just fishing expeditions for law enforcement for individuals who are considered innocent until proven guilty. Statutes now allow for DNA to be taken and stored upon conviction of certain violent crimes.
Senator Bruce Burns’s SF49 Death penalty – execution “death by firing squad bill” failed introduction. Death penalty states are facing severe problems as drug makers that supplied the execution drugs are no longer willing to supply them for execution due to changing attitudes toward the death penalty.
SF87 Public records preservation, a good bill that died in committee.
SF116 Expungement of felonies a bill that allowed for an expansion of the number of felonies that might be expunged passed with added amendments. Good bill supported by Senators Burns, Case, Driskill, Rothfuss and Schiffer along with Representatives Berger, Blevins, Colemen, Connolly, Greear, Greene, Throne and Dan Zwonitzer.
There are always a number of other bills that we follow, and a number of those bills passed giving the state more felonies with harsher penalties. There are other bills that sure waste a lot of legislative time, but can also be somewhat entertaining and we try and follow those bills during the session, too.
What’s up next?
Here’s a list of the topics we will be following during the interim. The interim will be especially busy for the Joint Judiciary Committee as they have an unusual number of topics this year and we will be following a most of them.
JOINT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
Firearm Background Information
The Committee will examine background information provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for purposes of determining eligibility to purchase a firearm including information relating to involuntary hospitalization orders.
Juvenile Data Collection
The committee will receive information and consider the need for legislation relating to the collection and protection of juvenile justice data.
Criminal Trespass for Data Collection
The Committee will receive information and investigate the need for legislation to address trespassing on land to collect data.
Sentencing and Detention
The Committee will received information from the Department of Corrections and consider legislation relating to sentencing and detention, including mechanisms for improving and managing criminal justice populations.
Forfeitures and Seizures
The Committee will review forfeiture and seizure provisions and consider the need to clarify, update and create uniformity among statutes.
Method of Execution
The Committee will receive information from the Department of Corrections concerning the need to amend provisions relating to the method of execution.
JOINT CORPORATIONS, ELECTIONS AND POLITICAL SUBDIVISIONS COMMITTEE
Employers Review of Social Media
Social Media Accounts Upon Death
JOINT LABOR, HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE
Mental Health and Prevention Management
The Committee will study access and quality of care issues in the states’ mental health system, including overall access to substance abuse/mental health care, suicide prevention and the prevention management organization, and employee drug testing at the state institutions.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON TRIBAL RELATIONS
The Committee will receive reports and review information regarding education, including mechanisms for improving the quality of education and for improving graduation rates the committee will review opportunities for vocational and medical field training and will also receive a report on the new Wind River Job Corps Center.
Law Enforcement and Juvenile Justice
The Committee will consider issue relating to law enforcement, jurisdiction, juvenile justice and domestic violence. The Committee will also receive a report from the Indian Law an Order Commission.
SELECT COMMITTEE ON LEGISLATIVE TECHNOLOGY AND PROCESS
General Responsibilities Relating to Public Information and Public Outreach
As previously assigned by management Council, the Select Committee on Legislative Technology and Process will oversee legislative public outreach initiatives and efforts to improve the information available to the public about legislative activities.
All of the committees work is available here. Citizens are welcome at committee meetings to listen or give testimony. It is a great way to interact with and influence legislators.
Written by Linda Burt, executive director