Social conservatives in Wyoming and around the country have criticized Speaker of the House State Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale for his actions, or lack thereof, on three different bills.
The bills would establish a scholarship fund to send some students to private schools, ban teaching gender identity and sexual orientation to young children, and ban doctors from performing transgender surgeries on children.
Over the last two days, the issue has garnered national attention.
On Saturday, Wyoming U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman retweeted a post made by Andy Roth, chairman of the State Freedom Caucus Network, which the Wyoming Freedom Caucus works under. Roth complained that Sommers is holding on to these bills in the “most Republican state in America.”
“This is about protecting our children,” Hageman said. “In Congress, I’m fighting for these very issues. I hope the Wyoming legislature will do the same.”
Texas congressman Chip Roy also retweeted Roth’s post commenting, ““Red” state leadership?”
A number of other people weighed in on Roth’s post, which has received more than 200,000 views.
On Saturday morning, Fox News mentioned a Tuesday tweet from the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, where it complained about the gender identity bill being in Sommers’ drawer for more than three weeks.
Teaching of Gender Identity
Sommers kept Senate File 117, also known as the Parental Rights In Education Act, in his drawer after the Senate passed it with an 18-12 vote on Jan. 27. Among other things, the bill prohibits public schools from teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation to children in the third grade or younger.
This bill expired on Friday when Sommers declined to send it to a committee.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, launched a failed effort to recall the bill from Sommers’ desk on Tuesday and get it assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. This attempt failed with a 34-28 vote, lacking the ⅔ majority needed.
Sommers told Cowboy State Daily earlier this week he believed this bill impeded local control and may not be constitutional because it has two subjects. The Wyoming Constitution requires bills to adhere to one subject each.
“Fundamentally, I believe in local control,” said Sommers. “I’ve always fought – regardless of what really the issue is – against taking authority away from local school boards, town councils, county commissions. And in my view that’s what this bill does.”
Universal School Choice
On Friday, Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, made a motion to have the Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act-2, a bill that would allow families to bring education funding for their children to the education providers of their choosing, pulled out of the speaker’s drawer and put up for discussion. Andrew tried to reference an obscure rule in this attempt. His motion was rejected on a voice vote.
Since the bill was not moved to a committee on Friday, it died.
“I am not going to bring that bill out from the Senate that’s identical to the one that already failed in my Education Committee,” Sommers said. “It makes no sense to me. So I’ve held that bill.”
Sommers also drew heat for sending a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing underage gender-change treatments to the House Appropriations Committee. Some view the committee as voting tepid on Republican social issues.
The committee recommended not passing the bill, which automatically puts it at the bottom of the Majority Floor Leader’s pile of bills.
In response, Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, sponsor of this bill, called for Sommers to be censured by the Wyoming Republican Party.
Sommers defended his decision to send this bill to the House Appropriations Committee and said he wanted a “seasoned committee” that is “not afraid to ask the tough questions” to analyze Bouchard’s bill.
“There’s all this pressure out from the outside to do things and I don’t want to put freshman legislators on a committee in the middle where they’re going to feel intimidated,” Sommers said. “Put the old hands up there that are just going to hear the bill, do the work, and do what they think is right.”
Sommers also sat on Senate File 111, a bill that would have enabled prosecutors to charge anyone administering or performing child gender change treatments with child abuse. He said he preferred Bouchard’s bill to the similarly-intentioned SF 111, which is why he took the preferential step of sending it to a committee.