One of the most contentious bills from the 2023 Wyoming legislative session will have an encore Tuesday.
Ranchester Republican state Sen. Bo Biteman will reintroduce his Parental Rights in Education Bill, which would ban public school teachers from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity themes to children ages kindergarten through third grade.
It also would compel school districts to notify parents immediately of any change in “services or monitoring” related to their students’ mental, emotional or physical health.
The teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in Wyoming schools and libraries, and how much access parents should get to their children’s health records in schools, have been major topics in Wyoming in recent years.
During this year’s session, Senate File 117 died when House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, refused to pull it out of his drawer before the deadline to consider new bills. Sommers said the bill would impede local control and may be unconstitutional.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, tried to go around Sommers to revive SF 117 and have it assigned to the conservative-leaning House Agriculture Committee, but this effort failed by a 34-27 vote.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee will discuss a new draft version of the bill that’s identical to SF 117.
Education Committee Co-Chairman Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, told Cowboy State Daily previously he agrees with Sommers and described the bill as “unconstitutional as almost any other bill I have had.”
The language of SF 117 mirrored Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act passed last year, which many had labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
During a committee meeting in May, Biteman said the Legislature’s failure to pass SF 117 is an example of Wyoming lawmakers ignoring the wishes of parents.
“We kicked the can down the road, we need to address it,” he told the committee. “If we’re going to address mental health, we need to have the sideboards on it that my constituents want.”
During a Campbell County Public Library board meeting in Gillette last week, the board voted to remove its library director for her refusal after months of tension over sexually graphic books in the library’s children’s and teen’s sections.
The director, Terri Lesley, said she did not want to determine what is sexually explicit and what is not.
In Rock Springs, two parents are asking a federal court to block their school district for allegedly helping to socially gender-transition their high school student.
One of the criticisms levied against Biteman’s bill is that it attempts to address two separate issues in one piece of legislation.
Biteman has disputed this argument and said both points fall under the overall umbrella of mental health.
However, Biteman may be setting the stage for splitting his draft bill in the future as it is titled “Parental Rights in Education-1.”
Rallying The Troops
On Sunday, the Wyoming Democratic Party shared a post from the Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom, encouraging people to show up to Tuesday’s meeting at the Wyoming Capitol and oppose Biteman’s bill.
“Wyoming successfully defeated this bill once before and we'll do it again, but it is ALL HANDS ON DECK,” the Family Alliance said in the post.
The Family Alliance also implored people to message every member of the Education Committee.
LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality made a similar post last week, referring to it as “Florida bills bogging down our budget session.”
Biteman’s bill is scheduled to be discussed at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.