By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Lawmakers on Tuesday revived a bill that would make it a felony to consume methamphetamine while pregnant, but would mandate addiction treatment, not prison, for first-time offenders.
Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, brought her proposal back to the Wyoming Legislature Joint Judiciary Committee during its Tuesday meeting in Lander.
The bill was killed by the Senate during the Legislature’s budget session earlier this year.
If passed, the bill would make consuming meth and other non-prescribed illegal drugs — excluding marijuana — a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, but would also provide what Oakley called a “groundbreaking” mandate on judges to sentence first-time offenders to treatment rather than prison.
She said that Wyoming’s existing child endangering statutes punish as a felony the simple act of having methamphetamine in the same vehicle or room as a child – but currently, the act of ingesting the drug “when you’re physically connected with the child” is not considered child endangerment .
Drug Court Touted
Oakley’s presentation of her bill followed the committee’s discussion of court-ordered drug treatment programs that featured testimony from Northern Arapaho tribal government officials, judges and health experts about the effectiveness of “drug courts,” or judge-ordered addiction treatment.
Oakley said it was fitting that her bill would follow such testimony, and referenced the speakers who had praised court-ordered treatment programs.
However, some of the speakers who had touted court-ordered treatment remained in the room to testify against Oakley’s bill, which would rely upon court-ordered treatment for first-time offenders.
Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, who voted in favor of a motion to draft a new bill for committee review later this year, said the conflicting testimonies confused him.
“I’m confused by a couple of the folks that came up to testify,” he said. “They’re telling us what a wonderful thing the treatment court is, and then come up here and testify against a bill that goes hand-in-hand with the treatment court.”
Cooper said Oakley’s bill may need modified, even to the point of reducing the penalties for those who offend more than once, but he believed the bill should move forward nonetheless.
‘He Still Loves His Mother’
Sunny Goggles Duran, director of White Buffalo Recovery Center and foster parent to two children who suffered from prenatal drug exposure, said she was concerned that children would suffer if their mothers were taken away from them to be placed in prison. She also said mothers wouldn’t seek prenatal treatment if they were worried about being sentenced to prison because of their drug use.
Goggles Duran spoke of a little boy in her care who had many birth defects including cleft palate, missing fingers and other issues, and said the health problems could be linked to a lack of prenatal care, as his mother was fearful of being punished for her drug addiction.
Goggles Duran worried that adopting the felony crime against meth and other drug use while pregnant would further discourage mothers from seeking care.
The boy “did not get prenatal care,” said Goggles Duran.
“We don’t want to deter these parents from getting the necessary medical prenatal care,” she said.
Goggles Duran also said that the child’s mother is still a “loving” mother who should not be in prison, because her son still needs her.
“He still loves his mother. His mother is a loving mother and has raised two other children before she was consumed by this addiction,” said Goggles Duran. “And she needs the services that will help her.”
Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, countered Goggles Duran’s testimony concerning the lack of prenatal services, saying that while mothers abusing drugs may not get prenatal are if the bill were adopted, “I’m not sure they’re getting any prenatal care now,” given the testimony.
“I’m sure this bill is the right thing to do,” added Washut.
Committee Co-Chair Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who had vehemently opposed Oakley’s bill on the Senate floor in March, voted against the bill, as did Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie.
The bill advanced with several ayes, and is now slated to be refined in the judiciary committee over the coming months.