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GOP Legislators Divided Over Possible Same-Sex Marriage Ban But Oppose Condom Ban

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Republican leaders are divided over concerns voiced by Democratic lawmakers that rights to contraceptive access and gay marriage are threatened by the Roe vs. Wade decision.

No Republican state legislator interviewed this week by Cowboy State Daily wanted to outlaw contraceptives. But they gave mixed responses on same-sex marriage.  

“No, I don’t plan on outlawing condoms or even birth control,” said Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne. 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion to Friday’s landmark case declaring that abortion access is not a constitutionally protected right, wrote that rights now considered fundamental — including gay marriage, contraceptive access and private sex acts — may also face future scrutiny as fundamental rights.  

Wyoming law does not recognize gay marriage in its marital definition, but the state allows same-sex marriage anyway, due to a federal court precedent handed down in 2014.  

Reflecting on gay-marriage legislation specifically, Brown said he wouldn’t work to disallow it but added there are bound to be legislators who would, if it ever becomes a states-rights issue.  

“There certainly would be a fringe that would believe that’s our responsibility as a Legislature, to legislate those types of things, but I will tell you I think there’s a vast, and I mean vast, majority that would come absolutely unglued if that were (disallowed) here in Wyoming,” said Brown.  

Brown, along with former Rep. Tyler Lindholm, tried in the past to “actually get government out of marriage completely,” so that the practice would become only a social or religious construct, not a state civil union.  

‘Protect Existing Marriages’ 

The current Wyoming Legislature probably would not support the idea of outlawing contraceptives, such as condoms and birth control, said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, agreeing with Brown.  

Case said he predicts that the Legislature would “support laws protecting gay marriage” as well, adding that he’d be among the supporters, and would back legislation to codify same-sex marriage if court precedents protecting it were overturned.  

‘Traditional Family Values’ 

The Wyoming Legislature has a mixed representation from all walks of life, which makes its actions hard to predict, said Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette.  

Like Case and Brown, Bear said he’s not about to outlaw contraceptives. He clarified that he supports criminalization of drugs used to cause abortions, since they are not the same as contraceptives. 

Wyoming’s impending abortion ban also criminalizes the use of drugs to cause an abortion.

However, Bear added, he would decline as a legislator to recognize same-sex marriage in the state’s legal definition.  

“I always promote traditional family values,” he continued. “Those are important for society.”  

‘Can’t Predict the Future’ 

House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said it’s difficult to predict how he’ll react to any bill in particular, simply because some bills are poorly crafted, no matter how great their intent.  

“Until you see what is decided by the Supreme Court on any of these issues and then what bills come before the Legislature, (you can’t) react to them,” said Sommers. “I can’t predict the future on any of that.  

Sommers noted that he voted twice in the Legislature against recognizing same-sex marriage but said he couldn’t see himself voting to ban contraceptives.  

“What is written in bills matters,” he said. “It’s not an issue until you see it.”  

‘Acknowledged Liberty’ 

The Wyoming Democratic Caucus, that is, every Democratic delegate to the Wyoming Legislature, on Friday dispatched an impassioned statement condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The caucus also criticized Thomas’ willingness to review in the future cases dealing with rights that are not listed in the Constitution but which have been considered fundamental by federal courts for years.

“This court has chosen to curtail that freedom that has existed for almost fifty years,” said the statement.

The group said Wyoming’s imminent abortion ban would be “devastating” and will “limit (women’s) ability to choose whether they fully participate in the workforce or are forced to be mothers by the state.”  

In an apparent reference to Thomas’ concurring opinion, the group feared that Friday’s decision would “signal to… LGBTQ youth that you are not welcome here.” 

Multiple Democratic lawmakers told Cowboy State Daily in their own interviews that looking forward, they fear and disagree with the possible impacts of Thomas’ concurring statement.  

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Future Of Rape, Incest Exemptions In Wyoming Abortion Law Unsure, Wyo Senator Says

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Photo by Matthew Idler
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state senator from Lander could not speculate Wednesday on whether legislators will revisit the law banning abortions in Wyoming to remove the exemptions for rape and incest.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that when he added the exemptions to the bill creating a “trigger abortion ban” in the case Roe vs. Wade was ever overturned, the vote to adopt it in the Senate was split almost down the middle.

“It passed 15 to 14 in the Senate,” Case said. “With bills, you have to have the majority of those elected, but with amendments, it just has to the majority of those present. One senator was not there, but had she been, the vote would have been divided, 15-15, and my amendment wouldn’t have passed.”

The Legislature, during its budget session earlier this year, approved legislation to outlaw abortions in case the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned Roe vs. Wade the landmark court ruling from 1973 that declared abortion a protected right across the country. Under the law, abortions must become illegal in Wyoming within 35 days of such a ruling.

When the law was making its way through the Legislature, it did not allow exemptions in the cases of rape. That language was added by Case in the bill’s final Senate review.

Case said he felt strongly about adding the rape and incest exemptions to the abortion bill. While the senator said he understood his colleagues’ moral intent in crafting abortion legislation, he said it was important to have exceptions for rape and incest in the bill.

“Rape and incest exemptions have traditionally existed and there’s good reason,” he said. “If you don’t have it, you’re literally telling women that they will be carrying a child conceived from rape or incest and they have no choice in the matter. I look at the burden that we placed on women and autonomy over their bodies and decisions they can make in their lives.”

Removing the language would require the development of a new bill, which would then have win legislative approval.

However, he said he did not know what future Legislatures will look like and would not speculate on the possibility of removing the exemptions.

The abortion bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, did not return Cowboy State Daily’s repeated requests for comment this week, nor did several of her bill co-sponsors: Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, Rep. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, Sen. Lynn Huchings, R-Cheyenne, Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull and Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland.

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Wyo Republican Leaders Request Special Session For Gas Tax Holiday, Roll Back Property Taxes

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A group of 17 Wyoming Republican Party members are asking Gov. Mark Gordon to call a special legislative session to roll back state property taxes to 2019 levels and enact a fuel tax holiday.

Fremont County Republican Party Chairwoman Ginger Bennett, who organized the drafting and signing of the letter, said the current inflation and associated supply chain issues require that a special session be called to address the issue.

“The current economic situation is caused by massive bureaucratic overreach — in some cases, that overreach is simply a matter of statutes and regulations that have, over the years, been promulgated, without thought of ever repealing the action,” Bennett said. “Some of them are unwarranted now, as time has changed the circumstances. There is a need to meet from time to time to consider these, and to bring the laws current with on-the-ground situations.”

Property taxes have skyrocketed around Wyoming in recent months, with some counties claiming increases as high as 50%. The letter suggests letting the Legislature once again consider steps proposed in 2021 by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper to put a 3% cap on yearly property tax growth and to look at a suspension of the state’s fuel tax.

Gray told Cowboy State Daily he supports the idea of having a special session, but said he would take the property tax idea one step further and bring it back to 2017 levels.

Twelve of the 17 people signing the letter sent to Gordon on June 22 are chairmen for their respective county Republican parties.

Bennett said several legislators also suggested to her that a special session be held, although she would not name any. 

Gordon’s communications director Michael Pearlman confirmed the governor has received the letter.


“Many of the issues he is working on are ones that the letter highlights,” Pearlman said. “He is listening to people from around the state and values the opinions that are expressed.”

In May, Gordon promoted a property tax refund program passed in this year’s legislature that gives Wyoming homeowners the chance to qualify for property tax reductions if they meet certain income requirements.

Bennett blames the inflation on policies initiated by President Joe Biden, who Bennett said is “bent on dismantling the American dream.” 

Those policies have negatively affected many families she knows, she said, including her own.

Paul Garbin, a Hot Springs County Republican Party state committeeman, agreed.

“Lots of families can’t afford to buy gas and feed someone in the same week,” he said, although he added he has not spoken with anyone personally who has experienced that dilemma. 

Biden has initiated many policies that have increased regulation and moratoriums on production by Wyoming’s energy industries. These policies have been enacted in keeping with Biden’s goal of reducing greenouse gases and improving the environment.

But Bennett said the policies have also led to inflation.

“Wyoming has resources that, when unfettered by overregulation, can be utilized to effectively decrease inflation,” Bennett said. “These resources include not only our oil and gas industry on state lands, but also other industries on state lands, as well as private industry that depends on state institutions for licensing prior to being able to implement activities.” 

Bennett said she believes the country is in a severe recession. Many leading economists have stated there is a rising likelihood a recession will happen this year but few have said the country is in one currently.

The letter also asks that the state’s fuel tax of 24 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel be lifted until diesel prices drop to $3 per gallon and at least until Labor Day to assist truck drivers. 

The average price of diesel in Wyoming on Tuesday was $5.70. It has not been below $3 nationally since February 2021.

“The people of Wyoming must travel great distances, and the price being charged at the pump for fuel is a ‘silent’ tax,” Bennett said. 

The letter also demands that Gordon dramatically increase oil and gas drilling on state lands, change oil and gas drilling regulations and statutes so they cannot be used to prevent drilling and work with the refineries in Wyoming and Montana to assure maximum output can be achieved. 

Gordon was also asked to simplify and streamline regulations on meat processing plants, incentivize small sawmill production and increase fertilizer production on state lands.

“We encourage you to work with our legislators to develop additional solutions!” the letter said. “Some of our best resources are the fine minds we have working towards solutions for our people! By working together, we are certain that Wyoming can create sustainable solutions through conservative policy that allow the people of Wyoming to flourish.”

The last special session of the Legislature was called in 2021 to discuss federal vaccine mandates.

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Wyo State Sen. Schuler Says International Transgender Swimming Ban Good For Her Bill

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Sen. Wendy Schuler. Photo by Matt Idler.
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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

An international swimming association’s decision to bar transgender women from competing in women’s swimming competition should help with proposed Wyoming legislation that would accomplish the same thing at the state level, the bill’s sponsor said.

Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, welcomed news that the International Swimming Federation (FINA) voted Sunday to adopt the ban and create a new “open” division which would allow transgender athletes to compete against each other.

“They are finally acknowledging the physical differences between the sexes and listening to the science,” Schuler said. “I still believe my bill makes it more cut and dried but this decision is a move in the right direction.”

The FINA policy, which was adopted by 71.5% of its members, does not apply to Wyoming. It took effect Monday.

Schuler, during the Legislature’s 2022 budget session, introduced legislation to ban ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports in Wyoming schools. FINA’s approval of its policy should help with the bill’s chances when she offers it again during the Legislature’s 2023 session, she said.

Schuler said many of her colleagues in the House have signaled support for her bill, giving her reason for optimism at next year’s session.

She said she was pleased with FINA’s decision.

“I am happy to see that FINA has stepped up to the plate and taken on the issue of fairness in women’s sports,” Schuler told Cowboy State Daily.

“The most important fact of their decision and vote is that the organization reiterated the importance of protecting competitive fairness,” Schuler said, acknowledging that the creation of an open division “leaves the door open” for trans athletes who still want to compete at “an elite level.”

Schuler, a member of the 1976 women’s Olympics basketball team, has always explained that her legislation was intended to promote fairness to women, not to restrict the actions of other athletes.

“When your biological daughter, granddaughter, niece, or female cousins get left behind while others who ‘identify as females’ take their places on the court or in the pool, are you going to be OK with that? I think not,” Schuler wrote in a column for Cowboy State Daily last March.

Schuler has said that even though the Wyoming High School Activities Association has a policy in place regarding transgendered athletes, it has a loophole. Individual schools can still allow transgendered females, or those who just identify as females, to compete on women’s teams.

FINA said the new policy was about fairness as well.

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competition,” said Husain al-Musallam, the president of FINA.

Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said she doesn’t agree with the ruling but it doesn’t really impact things in the Cowboy State.

“Where we will eventually land on this will be different than where we are right now,” Burlingame said. “But my focus is on Wyoming and this really doesn’t impact Wyoming.”

Saying that, she did acknowledge that this ruling could bolster Schuler’s legislation next year.

“Insofar as it muddies the water in the overall conversation, yes,” she said. “One party has decided that there’s a lot of money in getting people riled up to attack children in sports. Children are not adults.”

To that end, Burlingame said the set of rules for children should be different than for adults.

“Childhood is a unique time and the ability to feel a sense of belonging to join a sports team and to learn good sportsmanship and how to be a good teammate are all valuable parts of growing up in Wyoming,” she said.

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Permanent Daylight Saving Time For Wyoming Just Got One Step Closer

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Rep. Dan Laursen (right). Photo by Matt Idler.
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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

The push to get rid of daylight saving time gained another victory last week with Colorado becoming the latest state to join Wyoming on the measure.

Although Colorado’s commitment doesn’t mean Wyoming residents will be able to avoid the dreaded clock change just yet,  Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) said it’s still an important step.

“It’s pretty fantastic,” he said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the Daylight Saving Time Year Round measure into law with strong support from both legislative chambers. With Polis’ signature, there are now 22 states that want to get rid of the time change between daylight saving and standard time.

Daylight saving time is the period between spring and fall when clocks in most parts of the country are set one hour ahead of standard time. Standard time begins in November for the majority of the U.S. and lasts through March.

Repealing the time change that dates back to 1966 is an effort Laursen spearheaded in Wyoming, crafting four bills before his 2020 bill finally received passage.

Laursen’s bill allows the state to observe daylight saving time full-time if surrounding states did the same thing.

Laursen explained in a phone interview Tuesday that this was a symbolic showing of solidarity against the federal government in the short term, but allows Wyoming to default to mountain daylight saving time immediately if the federal government allows it to do so.

Federal Efforts

In March, by a unanimous voice vote, the U.S. Senate voted to discontinue the practice of changing the clock twice a year and make daylight saving time permanent beginning in 2023. The benefits of getting rid of standard time include longer afternoon daylight in the winter months.

“During the long winter I would rather have the extra hour,” Laursen said. “I would rather be chopping ice in the afternoon daylight.”

The negatives, Laursen said, are mostly limited to darker winter mornings, which could negatively affect the safety and sleep patterns of children. Laursen said those issues could be remedied by having children start one hour later.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine published a statement in 2020 supporting a fixed year-round time. The organization also argues DST abnormally delays sunlight, which can throw off normal sleep cycles.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. told The Hill in March that despite supporting doing away with semiannual time change in the past,  she has since gotten mixed reactions from her constituents.

“I’ve been hearing a lot about this from my constituents recently because we’re in Seattle and it is so dark,” she told the Hill, “and so if we make daylight saving permanent, it’s gonna be dark until like nine o’clock in the morning.”

More Hurdles

The federal Sunshine Protection Act has two more hurdles to clear before it can become a law. The House must pass the bill and if it did, then it would go on to President Joe Biden’s desk. It is unclear if he supports the measure.

The federal government must enact this law in order for states to have the option to choose if they want to go on permanent daylight saving time or opt to standard time. In Wyoming, this could go into effect immediately with Colorado’s passage. In Colorado however, four other Mountain Time Zone states are needed to enact its passage.

Montana, Wyoming and Utah have all passed permanent daylight saving time measures. Arizona is already on permanent standard time and New Mexico declined to change earlier this year. Similar legislation failed in Idaho in 2019.

More than two-thirds of Americans want to stop the twice-a-year time change, according to a recent poll.

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Wyo Lawmakers Struggle To Find Answers To Fix Mental Health Care Problems

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Rep Sue Wilson. Photo by Matt Idler.
20657

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

In a rural state like Wyoming, with limited funding and even sparser population centers, it can be difficult to fill in every gap when it comes to providing adequate mental health care. When a jail is the only place a person having a mental health care crisis can be brought, few would disagree a problem exists. 

“We can all agree that a jail is not somewhere for someone to be treated and we don’t want someone’s situation spilling into other parts of the community,” Labor, Health and Social Services Committee Chairman Rep. Sue Wilson (R-Cheyenne) said during a committee meeting on Friday.

Over the past year, the Wyoming Department of Health has contracted with Missouri-based health organization MTM Inc. to analyze how Wyoming could improve its crisis care and residential services in both the short and long term.

“We want this work to feed into that larger, behavioral health redesign,” Stefan Johansson, director of the Wyoming Department of Health, said before the Labor Committee on Friday.

MTM has worked with WDH to develop a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic readiness assessment for all the state’s providers. This certification requires mobile – none of which currently exist in Wyoming – and in-patient crisis services.  

“We believe it dovetails nicely with behavioral health reform,” said Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers.

Wyoming Is Unique

Summerville said it’s unlikely Wyoming will be able to emulate what bigger states do for their crisis care, so finding a scalable fit for the state’s needs is the next best option.

There are four state-funded crisis stabilization programs to serve Wyoming’s 23 counties currently. These facilities host a combined 27 beds and nearly $4 million biennial budget. They are located in Rock Springs, Casper, Cheyenne and Worland.

“Having a facility in every community would be difficult to scale in a place like Wyoming,” Johansson said. 

Summerville said having only four facilities in the state creates for long drives and gaps in service for people. 

“If somebody is in Jackson and they’re in need of crisis intervention services, that’s a long trek (to Rock Springs),” she said.

These short-term residential facilities are designed to handle mental health crises, which if left untreated, could lead to placement in a more intensive clinical setting like a hospital or the Wyoming Behavioral Institute in Casper. Sometimes people from those facilities are brought to the crisis stabilization facilities as a form of a step-down before reintroduction into the public, Johansson said. 

Summerville said the goal of these facilities is to provide stabilization for a patient so they can return to their community. She said there is always a “tug-and-pull” between the needs of county and regional-level facilities.

1/3rd Of Facilities Gone

Over the last three years, six of the 17 nonprofit community mental health organizations serving Wyoming have gone away, Summerville said. In 2020, 317 people were served at these facilities statewide, an improvement from the year before.

She said there is a massive shift occurring in the healthcare industry as far as what it takes administratively to serve patients, which the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation only exacerbated. Crisis stabilization services are even more scarce.

“The smaller, each county having their own mental health care agency, it’s not sustainable anymore,” she said.

Recently, the legislature appropriated $7 million in America Rescue Act Plan funds for construction specific to crisis stabilization or women’s residential facilities. Summerville said this is still being studied, but it’s been at least a decade since any changes to mental health group homes were made in the state. 

“If they’re coming out of crisis care but they need that step-down care, but we can’t move anybody because we don’t have beds or have the right spot, it just bottlenecks the system,” Summerville said.  

Which Facilities

There are many different variables when it comes to determining which patients are brought to certain facilities in Wyoming. 

Summerville said a more cohesive overarching system is needed for Title 25 patients- the official term for involuntary mental health holds in Wyoming. Ideally in the long term, she hopes Wyoming can develop a statewide partner plan and recruitment strategy.

“The realities are, we have to collaborate on that care,” Summerville said.

Johansson said gaps exist within handling mental health crises when it comes to emergency and services for adolescents and children, resources and staffing, community stakeholder and resource agreements. He also said there is a lack of evidence-based intervention services in Wyoming, which include 24-hour crisis stabilization and suicide hotlines, mobile crisis services and crisis intervention teams.

Johansson said behavioral health should be reformed through the development of crisis group homes and other related facilities, to reduce Title 25 involuntary hospitalization admissions in the state. He would also like to see better support for a 24/7 crisis call center based in Wyoming, which does not exist. 

#988

On July 16, people will be able to dial 988 to be connected to a crisis center from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“We can’t underscore how important that component is, and how important it is that we tie the appropriate back-end services to 988,” Summerville said. “Some of those calls are going to be how to get those people into crisis stabilization services.”

Summerville said 65% of all crisis calls result in an individual being placed into a facility. 

In many communities, behavioral health organizations exist through municipal and county funding and other local dollars.  This requires collaboration between law enforcement, elected officials, judges and health staff.

“Improving that as much as we can would be a good way forward,” Johansson said.  

Often, acute mental health situations and Title 25 holds devolve into a law enforcement issue for many smaller communities. Johansson said officers are often the first person called on to address a health care crisis.  

These individuals are often brought to the local jail if they are too combative or if there isn’t space available at their local hospital. Avoiding that result, Summerville considers a cornerstone to behavioral health reform.

One solution, she said, would be to build small, two-bed, short-term inpatient facilities in each county.

“This could help significantly,” she said.

Johansson said there has been progress made in training officers for dealing with crisis calls.

“I think incorporating that more into the day-to-day work for these agencies, while probably frustrating for these agencies with other things to do, has become more of the reality,” Johansson said, noting that many agencies took the initiative to fund training for these situations. 

“We can’t understate the critical role law enforcement plays in all of the crisis care continuum,” Summerville said.

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Wyo Legislative Committee Revives Bill Making Meth Use While Pregnant A Felony

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Photo by Matthew Idler
20121

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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.  

Vote 

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.  

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Grieving Mother Asks Legislators For Felony Punishment Of Vehicular Homicide

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20069

By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

After a grieving mother on Tuesday told lawmakers of her son’s tragic death after a crosswalk collision in Cheyenne, a legislative committee started drafting a new vehicular homicide law.

The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee agreed Tuesday to direct the Legislative Service Office to draft an enhanced version of the state’s law against vehicular homicide. 

Current law designates the crime as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill being drafted by LSO would add a possible felony-level penalty for drivers who kill pedestrians within crosswalks or school zones.

Higher penalties for drivers who cause pedestrian fatalities are possible under the law currently. However, more intense penalties depend on the defendant’s state of mind – such as the disregard for life required for aggravated assault charges or the premeditation and malice required for first-degree murder.

‘If Only I Had Known’

Janelle Jones became emotional as she told the committee of her son, Makaili, or “Mak,” and how he died Nov. 5 following a crosswalk collision with a distracted driver.

Nothing about that day seemed different when it started, Jones said.

“I made him breakfast,” she said. “I set out his allergy medicine. I woke him up to get ready for school. We chatted casually over breakfast about the upcoming day’s events, and he was going to meet a friend after school and go to a movie.”

When the boy stood to leave, said Jones, he beamed while uttering a bit of teenage slang.

“Mak turned to me and flashed me the biggest smile, and enthusiastically said ‘Mom, doesn’t my outfit look fresh?’” She recalled with a tearful laugh.

“I said ‘Yes, you do look cool,’” she said, adding “If only I had known it would be the last time I would see my son smile.”

Seven minutes later the assistant principal at McCormick Junior High School called Jones, telling her to get to the school.

Sirens wailed.

Jones found her son “lying in the road,” surrounded by first responders performing CPR.

“I sat on the curb and watched in horror,” she said. “My hands wouldn’t work to dial my husband’s number on the phone. I forgot how it worked.”

Paramedics continued their CPR efforts the entire way to the hospital in an ambulance ride Jones did not get to share.

Jones was escorted by law enforcement to the hospital, where she was overcome by furious denial.

“No,” she remembered thinking when she saw two chaplains appear. “They cannot tell me this.”

An emergency room doctor and neurologist met with Jones. The  neurologist warned her that if Mak survived, he’d be paralyzed from the neck down and have little to no brain function.

X-rays and CT scans were taken while ventilator tubes and other emergency procedures were followed, to no avail. Jones was allowed to join her son in his room.

“My son died in my arms at 10:06 that morning,” said Jones. “I had to leave the hospital without my baby.”

Not Looking At The Road

Citing “dash cam” footage in the case, which is still ongoing, Jones said that her son waited at the crosswalk facing the school. Three vehicles in a line stopped for him, in the westbound lane.

But Mak hadn’t seen a vehicle in the eastbound lane which collided with him after the woman driving had been watching her daughter.

“She only turned to look at the road when her daughter shouted ‘MOM!’” said Jones.

“While there was no intent,” she continued, “this was not an accident… this was 100% preventable.”

Missing Piece

Jones told lawmakers that she has started a nonprofit organization called “For Mak” and has raised $110,000 for safer crosswalk systems.

But she said she believes there’s still a missing piece of the puzzle – criminal deterrence.

Other states such as Colorado and Utah, Jones noted, have felony punishments for vehicular homicide.

She hopes Wyoming would follow suit, adding that she believes harsher penalties may compel drivers to pay more attention and possibly prevent collisions.

In the committee discussion, Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, told his fellow committee members he doubted simply enhancing the penalty for vehicular homicide would deter distracted driving because most people don’t pay attention to criminal penalties.

However, he added that as a punishment, “it’s not inappropriate to consider a felony level crime for the taking of a life.”

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, said while the topic is highly emotional, lawmakers should use caution when assigning felony punishments for accidental crimes.

“I think the argument for (punitive) deterrence when you’re discussing accidents is low by definition,” said Oakley, adding that most significant-level crimes are punished harshly because of the criminal intentions associated with them.

Washut made a motion to change the crime of vehicular homicide from a misdemeanor crime to a felony, but that motion failed.

Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, made a new motion, which later passed with a mixed vote, for an enhanced penalty option for felony punishments when the vehicular homicide occurs in a crosswalk or school zone. 

The enhanced penalty option would not replace the existing misdemeanor option; prosecutors would have the discretion to evoke the enhancement as needed.

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, had spoken against the enhancement, saying she was concerned the state would give families the impression that victims who died after collisions in crosswalks or school zones were of more value than victims who were struck elsewhere.

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Drones Dropping Contraband To Wyoming Inmates, Dept of Corrections Says

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Drones have been flying over Wyoming prisons in attempt to drop contraband to inmates, the director of the state Corrections Department told a legislative committee Monday.

Dan Shannon told members of the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee drones have been flown over the state’s minimum security prisons and dropping tobacco products to inmates.

 “We do have issues with drones,” Shannon said as the committee began studying the issue of trespass by drones.

The committee is developing legislation to make drone surveillance and object delivery over prisons punishable by misdemeanors — or felonies, depending on circumstances.

The committee is also examining ways to define drones in the state’s criminal code and draft a bill that would make drone trespass and surveillance over private property a crime punishable by law.

All bill concepts are still in their infancy.

Shannon, who said drones dropping tobacco products over minimum security facilities has been a problem, also said corrections staff in other areas conduct a daily rooftop check over prison facilities with their own drones.

Shannon noted in a later interview that tobacco, which was outlawed from the state’s prisons in 2007, is so valuable, it’s a form of currency in WDOC institutions.

Because it’s outlawed, tobacco is considered contraband. Guns, communication devices, drugs, alcohol, and tools to escape also are considered contraband under the law.

The use of drones either for good or ill is a “two-way street,” Shannon told the committee.

He said that law enforcement agencies have been willing to help stop the illicit fly-overs, but added state law is limited and does not allow prison staff to “stop” a drone.

“I certainly would like to have the authority to stop that drone, especially if there’s a weapon or narcotics attached to it,” said Shannon. “I consider (the drone) a threat.”

“As much as I like the idea of shooting drones, I like the idea of a drone battle, maybe we should authorize that” in statute, quipped Joint Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.

State Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, made a motion to craft a bill addressing drone flights over prisons.

State Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, asked the Legislative Service Office to include language in the draft bill that would allow prison staff to “capture or disable the drone by whatever means necessary.”

“It’s pretty strong, but policy-wise I would put that forward,” Oakley added.

The committee approved the direction, as well as a provision brought by Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, matching penalties for the delivery of contraband by drones to other laws against importing contraband into prisons.

For example, smuggling a firearm into a prison on one’s person can be a 10-year felony; the punishment for gun-dropping by drone would match that penalty under the bill now being contemplated by the committee.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, emphasized that photographing or otherwise studying prison occupants or procedures by drone should be illegal under the bill as well.

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Bill Letting Game and Fish Ticket For Trespassing Revived In Committee

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A legislative committee on Monday revived a bill giving the Wyoming Game and Fish Department the ability to cite people passing through private property to hunt or fish on public land beyond it.

However, the bill is not intended to stop individuals from crossing over corners between public and private land to access the public land, its sponsor said.

“This is not a corner crossing bill,” sponsor Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, said during a Monday meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee in Lander.

Crago referenced House Bill 103, which he had brought to the state’s budget session in February but which, he said, was rejected before sufficient time could be devoted to its proper development.

Crago said the bill clarifies a Game and Fish Department statute forbidding people from entering private land without the permission of the owner for hunting, fishing or antler-gathering. The bill would allow the Game and Fish Department to cite people for passing through private property during those activities.

Different sheriffs read the current statute in different ways, said Crago, adding that he hoped to merely clarify the statute “so it’s enforced equally throughout the state.”

He also said he wants the bill to emphasize that an offense occurs only if there’s actual contact with the private land. For example, vaulting over a sliver of land or coasting down a river between two private banks would not be illegal under the bill.

Tim Cotton, an attorney who spoke publicly against the bill, said he hoped to see more provisions protecting unknowing offenders. He also said he disagreed with giving Game and Fish Department staff more authority because they aren’t governed by local elected officials, as sheriff’s offices are.

“Oftentimes (WGF) are poor custodians of the discretionary role,” said Cotton, adding that by having “an unaccountable, unelected Game and Fish Department enforcing (expanded laws) — we’ll run into issues on that.”

Nick Dobric, of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, offered a joint solution: require state entities to disclose locations of public easements using a public mapping system.

That way people have ways of knowing whether they’re trespassing by using someone’s road, he said.

There is legislation that recently passed Congress, Dobric said, that would compel federal entities to publicize their mapping and access data for recreational purposes as well.

The committee voted unanimously to develop Crago’s bill further.

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Father Of Slain Marine Rylee McCollum Runs For Legislature

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The father of a fallen U.S. Marine from Wyoming has filed to run for the state House of Representatives seat representing House District 16 in Teton County, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office.

Jim McCollum, father of the late Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, filed to run for the House as a Republican. Democrat Mike Yin currently holds the seat and has filed to run again.

McCollum told KHOL radio in Jackson that running for office was never a lifelong ambition or part of any plan.

“I didn’t seek this. I wasn’t looking for this. It’s not like [I thought], ‘This what I need to do.’ It just found me,” McCollum said. “It’s like, ‘You know what? This kind of makes sense. Maybe I can make a difference.’”

Unlike the rest of the state, Teton County is blue and a Republican candidate is not necessarily the safe bet to be winner. To that end, McCollum played down his party affiliation.

“The ‘R’ behind my name, don’t let that scare you,” McCollum told the radio station. “Respect and responsibility. Think of it that way.”

How does McCollum describe himself? What you see is what you get.

“I’m unfiltered. I’m very raw. Sometimes, I’m abrasive. But you know where I stand. I don’t ride the fence. You know what I say is what I mean,” McCollum said. “But I’m also intelligent enough to know, ‘Hey, you know, my view can change.’ We can have this conversation.”

Meanwhile, Yin, who has served in the Legislature since 2018, didn’t address his competitor directly but told Cowboy State Daily that he looks forward to talking with his community during the campaign about how to best serve Wyoming.

“I’ll continue to focus on how we work to ensure Wyoming is a place we can raise a family and that our kids can live and work in Wyoming and raise their own families in the future,” he said.

McCollum’s son Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was killed last August as the United States prepared to pull out of Afghanistan after 20 years of occupying the country. McCollum, 20, was one of 12 soldiers killed in a terrorist attack.

He was married and expecting a child, a daughter who was born weeks after his death.

More than $1 million was raised in support of the McCollum family through various GoFundMe campaigns. Actor Alec Baldwin even donated $5,000, although this would later be at the root of a conflict between Baldwin and the McCollum family that spawned a lawsuit in federal court. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge.

The McCollum family declined to meet with President Joe Biden after the Rylee’s death because they said they held him responsible for the young Marine’s untimely death.

Jiennah McCollum, Rylee’s widow, did meet with Biden briefly but reportedly left disappointed because she said she felt he was following a script.

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Legislative Committee To Study Film Incentives in Wyoming After Missing Out On ‘Yellowstone’ & ‘Joe Pickett’

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A legislative committee will once again study the idea of providing incentives for companies that film movies and television shows in Wyoming, its members decided earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee asked the Legislative Service Office to draft legislation that would provide rebates of up to 30% of spending by film production companies in Wyoming.

The bill is based on one that was considered and rejected by the Legislature during its budget session earlier this year.

The committee’s decision to study the bill came on the heels of a presentation by Charles Lammers, creative assets manager for the state Office of Tourism and a member of the state’s Film Incentives Task Force.

Lammers said Wyoming lost out to Montana to host shooting of the hit TV series “Yellowstone,” and other major productions such as “Joe Pickett” and “1883” because it lacks an incentive program.

“Wyoming needs a film incentive to even being to attract major productions,” Lammers said. “Many of these shows are popping up with Wyoming storylines, Wyoming scenery, and despite that they’re not being filmed in Wyoming.” 

Incentive programs in Montana have served to attract production companies, which in turn attract people like Dean Madley, who grew up in Cody and became interested in film production at a young age. 

Madley continued this pursuit as a young adult, but eventually found himself moving to Montana in order to pursue his passion, as opportunities were just too few and far between in his home state.

“I would want to be a resource to production companies as someone with general knowledge of (Wyoming) and its inhabitants,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Lammers said his department has received a large number of inquiries about film production since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He said the lack of an incentive program means the state has lost out on 27,000 jobs that were created in other locations shooting Wyoming-themed productions.

Under the Wyoming Film Production Incentives program to be proposed in the legislation, to qualify for a 15% rebate on costs, a production would have to spend at least $200,000 and have 1 million views.

Additional rebates would be available for companies whose production crews would be made up of at least 60% of Wyoming residents, crews made up of at least 10% Wyoming veterans or that could prove the production had at least 7.5 million views.

Rebates of up to 10% would also be available for smaller productions, such as commercials, documentaries and music videos, where production companies spend at least $50,000 and hire Wyoming workers to make up 60% of their crews.

A total of $3 million would be dedicated to start this program.

Lammers said Wyoming is the only state in the Rocky Mountain region without a film incentive program at this point, aside from South Dakota. He said non-traditional locales such as Oklahoma are starting to become a more common destination for film production companies.

Oklahoma recently launched a $20 million film incentive fund with great returns and Atlanta’s incentive program has made that city a hot spot for film production. New Mexico has also heavily invested in film opportunities, leading to production of the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” in that state.

Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, said he was hesitant about investing in an incentive program, only to run the risk of having production companies object to Wyoming legislation on social issues.

Over the last few years, companies have pulled out from projects taking place in Florida, Georgia and Texas because of legislation enacted in those states.

“Can you talk to me about state dollars being invested to start this, only to have a different outcome of a different political philosophy that would turn on the taxpayer’s money and then not shoot anything in Wyoming?” he questioned.

Lammers said it would be unwise to speculate on what is happening in other states and said production companies will always make their decisions based primarily on what makes most fiscal sense.

Rep. Christopher Knapp, R-Gillette, said film production would not create new job as much as it would provide a boost for existing jobs.

He also questioned Lammers about the need for the program when Wyoming-themed productions already promote the state to potential tourists.

Rep. Pat Sweeney (R-Casper) disagreed and said when the 1997 movie “Starship Troopers” was filmed in Natrona County, it was a major boon for the community.

“It’s not just service jobs we’re talking about here,” Sweeney said. 

Lammers said it would be best for Wyoming to go “all in” when it comes to recruiting film opportunities because it will help keep residents in-state.

Madley, in his interview with Cowboy State Daily, agreed.

“The tax incentive in Montana is a big reason my friends and I are still there and working in the state,” Madley said.

The committee will consider this topic again at its next meeting in August.

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Legislators Say Intergalactic Military Space Force Should Be Part of Wyo Military Structure

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming should recognize the intergalactic military Space Force as part of the state’s military structure, members of a legislative committee have agreed.

Members of the Legislature’s Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee approved a bill for consideration during the Legislature’s general session next year that would list the Space Force National Guard with other branches of the state’s military in Wyoming law.

Maj. Gen. Gregory Porter, Wyoming’s adjutant general, told committee members even though there are no Space Force personnel in Wyoming yet, military officials are thinking about how Space Force might look in the state.

The new military branch was first proposed by former President Donald Trump. Its creation drew strong reactions from many in the public, with some making comparisons to it being the American version of “Star Wars,” from both negative and positive perspectives. As of 2021, Space Force reported having an enlistment of about 13,000.

The administration of President Joe Biden is opposed to the creation of a national Space Force National Guard saying it would not deliver any new military capabilities.

But Porter defended continuing with the establishment of Space Force, noting there are already 1,500 Space Force National Guard members across seven states. Making this into a nationalized unit, he said, would only cost around $250,000, and mostly consist of “changing some name tags.” 

“It’s going to cost America a whole lot more money to not establish a space national guard,” he said.

Porter said the billions of dollars already invested in this program will go to waste if Space Force is folded in with the U.S. Air Force.

In addition to recognizing Space Force, the bill approved by the committee would make Space Force National Guard members eligible for reduced college tuitions and other benefits provided members of other branches of the military in the state.

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Roe V. Wade Reversal Would Force Wyoming Legislators To Take Hard Stand, Says Senate Leader

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

If the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wyoming legislators will have to take hard stands on the issue of abortion, according to a leader in the state Senate.  

In a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion draft that was leaked on Monday to Politico, Justice Samuel Alito, said to have authored the opinion, advocated strongly to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion case.

Roe v. Wade made abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy legal in every state. It remains the law of the land since the Supreme Court has not issued its final ruling on the case that spawned the court’s review.

“This is going to really open a new discussion if the repeal goes forward as the leaked draft suggests,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie. “All of the prior debate has been speculative and politically safe for proponents of turning back abortion. It was always just politics to them, because nothing could really be done (to overturn Roe v. Wade).” 

If the ruling becomes official, the state’s authority over abortions would be magnified, Rothfuss said, while the authority of the federal government would be diminished.

As a result, some legislators who have publicly supported outlawing abortion will have to determine whether such legislation, which would carry more weight than in the past, is something they really want, he said.

‘Embittered Our Political Culture’ 

Alito wrote in his draft opinion that creating one national law for abortion has not unified the nation, but has “embittered our political culture for a half-century.”  

“Roe abruptly ended that political process” of states’ sovereignty over reproductive laws, wrote Alito.

“It imposed the same highly restrictive regime on the entire nation, and it effectively struck down the abortion laws of every single state,” he added.  

Alito called the Roe ruling an “exercise of raw judicial power” sparking a “national controversy.”  

“We hold that Roe and (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a related 1992 case) must be overruled,” he wrote. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.” 

Defenders of the Casey precedent rely, he wrote, on the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from stripping U.S. citizens of the right to life, liberty and property without due process.  

Alito averred that abortion access is not implied in those rights.  

Trigger Ban 

The Wyoming Legislature this year passed a trigger ban – a law that would ban abortion in Wyoming five days after any Supreme Court repeal of Roe V. Wade.  

Abortion still would be legal in cases of serious risk of death for the mother, rape, and incest.  

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, while pleased with the content of the ruling, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday she was concerned for the integrity and privacy of the high court’s deliberations process in the face of the first-ever leak of a draft opinion.  

“The leak is unfortunate,” said Rodriguez-Williams. “There definitely needs to be an investigation, because a breach of the court’s confidentiality is almost an assault, and I’m skeptical as to why somebody chose to do that. It’s very unfortunate.”  

Rodriguez-Williams said the Supreme Court’s best reaction, in her opinion, would be to prioritize the case contemplating Roe v. Wade to quickly finalize the ruling and provide less time for outside interference to foment.  

Still, she added, the draft opinion looks hopeful for the trigger ban’s impact.  

“Wyoming is in a wonderful position, having passed (the law) during this last session,” she said. “We’re prepared and in a position where, because of the bill, we’d be able to ban abortion given… the reversal of Roe V. Wade.”  

“It solves the problem of abortion in Wyoming,” she added.  

Wyoming’s neighboring states of Idaho, Utah, and North Dakota also have trigger bans in place, as do Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee.  

Grandstanding? 

Rothfuss said he believes that due to polarization and peer pressure within the Republican party, some Republican legislators who voted for the trigger ban may not have really wanted to see it implemented, but voted for it because they thought it wouldn’t go anywhere.  

“There are many Wyoming Republicans,” said Rothfuss, “that understand the politics of the abortion debate and understand that if they support a woman’s right to choose, that they will be vilified by this absurd, extremist statewide GOP party that doesn’t represent the interests of any rational Wyomingite. And so they believe their vote to be politically expedient – and inconsequential.”  

Rodriguez-Williams told Cowboy State Daily that it’s possible some who supported her bill were merely being “politically expedient.”  

But she countered that the majority of Wyoming citizens, in her experience, hold pro-life values. 

She added those values will become a factor in the upcoming elections, since state legislators now have power over the abortion issue.  

Rodriguez-Williams took an opposite view of the Fourteenth Amendment from abortion-rights advocates, arguing instead that the right to life and liberty should be safeguarded for the unborn.  

“(Roe V. Wade) denies the right of a child to be born,” she said. “It denies a child to the pursuit of life and liberty… everything that they’re entitled to.”  

Rape and Incest 

Rodriguez-Williams said abortion clinics are a “rapist’s best friend,” and she objected to the rape and incest exemptions to her bill because she believes rapists can hide the evidence of their crimes by securing abortions for their victims.  

“More violence does not bring healing to a victim,” she continued, adding “Abortion is a violent procedure.”  

New Bills Brewing 

Both Rothfuss and Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, said they expected to see new abortion bills in the 2023 legislative session, especially bills attempting to remove the legal exemptions of death risk, rape, and incest for performing abortions.  

Yin said he hopes to bring a bill of his own reversing the trigger ban.  

“In my opinion this (repeal) would end up increasing our suicide rate, which is already too high, and leading to people getting illegal abortions,” said Yin. “Because they can’t (potentially) get a legal one within their communities.”  

Yin said the pro-life movement strikes him as contrary to Wyoming’s prevalent libertarian leanings.  

“Frankly I’ve always considered Wyoming a live-and-let-live state, and this is one (issue) where Wyoming has chosen to have the state tell someone what they can and cannot do with their body.”  

Yin, like Rothfuss, feared that anti-abortion laws in Wyoming are a product of pressures within the Republican party rather than sincere beliefs throughout the party.  

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Pandora Papers: Legislators Debate Strengthening Wyo Laws To Prevent Stashing of Foreign Billions

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

When crafting laws to keep shady operatives from stashing their money in Wyoming, lawmakers should be careful not to chase off honest businesses, according to state Treasurer Curt Meier.  

With some federal officials looking for ways to force some businesses to provide more information about themselves, Meier told the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Thursday the state must proceed carefully with any proposed changes in its own business rules.

“If the federal government gets too involved in regulating LLCs (limited liability companies) and any other corporate structure,” said Meier, “they’re going to find a way to tax it. We’ve got to be careful what we support.”  

Wyoming has been the focus of national news stories in recent months for its business-friendly policies, which allow companies and trusts to form in the state with fewer restrictions than those imposed in many other states, opening the door to the creation of trusts that could be used to hide billions of dollars.

As an example, an investigation by the International Consortium of Journalists revealed that Russian billionaire Igor Makarov used Wyoming to house, secretly, millions of dollars in assets including real estate and a 13-seat private jet held through an LLC and trust in Wyoming.
Trusts in Wyoming manage about $31.5 billion in funds. 

Couple that with the lack of an income tax in Wyoming, and the state has proven an attractive place to put money or manage property. The state also benefits from revenue from business filings: the 2022 fiscal year is expected to yield about $7.5 million in new LLC filing fees. 

Redefining ‘Bank’

Following the 2021 leak of the “Pandora Papers” — an exhaustive dossier of offshore filings used to hide the money and assets of billionaires, world leaders, celebrities and politicians — members of Congress have introduced a bill that would vastly expand the legal definition of banks.  

Financial institutions, or banks, are subject to federal know-your-customer and anti-laundering laws. Under the proposed Enablers Act, introduced in the U.S. House in October, the definition of “financial institution” would expand to include financial advisers, art and antiques traders, attorneys or financial notaries, some providers of trusts, public accountants, public relations fronts for anonymous businesspeople, and third-party payment services.   

Meier told the legislative Joint Revenue Committee on Thursday that more federal rules will lead to more federal taxes.  

He added he feared an earlier federal law, the Corporate Transparency Act, though touted as an anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering effort, would breed “intrusion into our daily lives,” another layer of “bureaucracy,” and a rigid dossier of nearly “everybody’s” personal information.  

Meier said Wyoming needs to be able to identify its business operatives and to have discoverable data on them to ferret out “bad actors.” But he said he would not support a public exposure of all business identity data of the kind collected by banks, because people have a right to privacy.  

“If you have a corporation that’s almost like you’re the king of that corporation, (like) you’re the king of your house,” said Meier.  

Meier proposed the secretary of state’s office be required to compare its data on business holders, routinely, against federal lists of money launderers, terrorists, other “bad actors” and their aliases – then turn the results of that cross-check over to law enforcement.  

‘This Isn’t Secrecy’ 

Speakers at Revenue Committee took differing stances on the Pandora Papers.  

Chris Reimer, a Jackson attorney and law partner, said large shady business fronts are the exception in Wyoming, not the rule, and he feared that burdening all of the state’s companies with tax and oversight laws would drive beneficial and law-abiding businesses to other states.   

He referenced an October story in the Guardian concluding that 81 of the trusts identified by the Pandora Papers as being used to hide wealth were held in South Dakota, whereas two were held in Wyoming.  

Reimer, who repeatedly criticized Washington Post stories describing Wyoming as a “tax haven,” discouraged lawmakers from “making reactionary changes based on sensationalized reporting.” 

“It seems to me the question is whether Wyoming should abandon a favorable and very privacy-centric (system),” he said. “And this isn’t secrecy. This is an interest in privacy; in not having others see our business. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a very human emotion and very human thought. Do we want to trade that for regulation oversight or taxation?” 

Registered Agents 

A Washington Post story published April 5 focused on Wyoming “registered agents” or people serving as required business representatives for companies they may know very little about.

“One agent,” wrote the Post reporter, “represents more than 250 companies – dozens linked to foreign owners – from a beige camper parked at a barren crossroads north of Cheyenne.”  

Reimer said these kinds of registered agents and the “shell companies” they front are on their way out of the system.  

“The so-called ‘secret shell company’ you’ll see referred to in the Pandora Paper-type articles,” said Reimer, “is a thing of the past.” 

“It’s over,” because of the Corporate Transparency Act, he said.

Reimer did not respond to an email Friday morning asking whether the new act would pursue identities behinds trusts that hold LLCs. State leaders in the past have been stymied by anonymous companies registered to trusts, not individuals. 

The Corporate Transparency Act is a federal law that passed in 2020 which will require corporations and limited liability companies — LLCs — to disclose ownership information directly to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department. The database is not running yet.  

“Every single corporation or LLC filed in Wyoming, or any state in the nation,” Reimer said, “(will) have to tell the federal government the full legal name, birthday, current street address, and tax ID number of each beneficial owner of any corporation or LLC ever filed.”  

Though accessible to federal bureaucrats and enforcers, the registry will not be public.   

Cowboy Cocktail 

Reimer also referenced the term “Cowboy Cocktail,” an LLC or corporation owned by a trust rather than an individual, specifically a domestic asset protection trust, in which the maker of the trust can also be its beneficiary.  

“Although I would never call it the ‘Cowboy Cocktail,’” Reimer said, “this is a standard procedure for any client who wants to hold an asset that is particularly dangerous from a litigation perspective.” 

For example, he said, a house across from a bar in Laramie is owned by an LLC, which is in turn registered to a trust – because of activities that could occur near that house due to its location.  

Reimer said the notion that Cowboy Cocktails are used as tax shelters is “ridiculous” because banks – and therefore federal anti-laundering laws – still are involved in the money transfers of those setups. 

Reimer also noted that state taxes, such as California’s income tax, can be dodged by filing in Wyoming, where there is no income tax, but federal taxes cannot.  

“Cowboy Cocktail” holders, though not exempt from federal taxes, may still enjoy anonymity. 

$31.5 Billion in Wyo Trusts

Conversely, an official with a money transparency activist group based in Washington D.C. disagreed with Reimer, saying that Wyoming’s laws make it a haven for illicit activity.  

“Wyoming has attracted and protected capital from people who undermine our security,” said Ryan Gurule, policy director for the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency coalition. 

“Secrecy under Wyoming laws appeals to oligarchs,” like Makarov, he said.   

Gurule asked rhetorically whether Makarov’s stash had yielded “measurable economic gains for local communities,” and added that Wyoming’s generous business laws “inadvertently contributed to this problem.”  

Gurule suggested reforms to boost business and trust transparency and raise identity-disclosure thresholds required to establish companies.   

Trusts in all states are, traditionally, private.  

Gurule noted that while there are federal checks on banking operations, foreign operatives with their wealth in trusts can “entirely circumvent, in some cases” the U.S. banking system – to the detriment of both Wyoming’s profitability and U.S. national security.  

“This legislative body, just like Congress, has an important role to play in ensuring Wyoming and U.S. financial systems are not inviting for bad actors,” said Gurule.  

A Wyoming-based lobbyist agreed with Gurule. 

Jennifer Lowe, Equality State Policy Center executive director, said Wyoming should legislate the business-transparency issue because its reputation is at stake.  

“A negative light has been shone on the state and some of the practices we have here,” said Lowe. “This is just one leak, the Pandora Papers. Who knows what’s really out there?”  

Mixed Reception 

Joint Revenue Committee members had a mixed reaction to the opposing testimonies.  

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said he was open to suggestions from both sides and hoped to “move forward” in some way. 

Rep. Patrick Sweeney, R-Casper, said he suspected that national news stories had painted Wyoming with “broad strokes.” But he said he was also aware that not all assets can be “monetized” and therefore not all values go through the banks.  

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, repeatedly expressed concern over whether Wyoming is a magnet for foreign nationals trying to hide their money from their home countries.  

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Expect Delays: Road Construction From Cody To Yellowstone About To Begin

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Travelers to Yellowstone National Park could see some delays on the drive from Cody to the park this year, thanks to a series of major road construction projects in Park County.

But experienced travelers probably will not be caught off-guard by the work, said a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

“I think we are very conditioned into the idea that we have to do road improvements in the summer, and it just doesn’t happen in Cody here,” said Cody Beers. “It happens all over the country in the summertime. So drivers, travelers, tourists, they’re used to it.”

The Wyoming Department of Transportation will have four major construction projects going on this summer in Park County, which will directly impact travel, Beers said – and that’s just this year.

“We’re going to be working our way down the North Fork (Highway between Cody and Yellowstone), over the next four or five years,” Beers told Cowboy State Daily. “We’ve got projects every year between Cody and Yellowstone.” 

Of the four construction projects in Park County this summer, the project that will affect the most people is on a 10-mile stretch of highway just east of Yellowstone on U.S. Highway 14-16-20.

“It’s pavement work, we’re working to do some guardrail repairs and improvements, which starts next week, May 2, and then paving will begin about mid-June,” Beers said.

Beers said there will be some traffic delays early in the project, but they will be fairly short.

“There will be a pilot car leading vehicles through the project, because we’ll be working on half the road,” he said. “And there will be very short delays until we start paving in June, and then we could have 10- to 20-minute delays of traffic going back and forth to Yellowstone.” 

According to WYDOT representatives, the last time this stretch of road was repaired was in 1997 and since the normal service life for pavement is about 20 years, it’s past time for maintenance on this stretch of road.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience, but these are pavement improvement projects that are designed to bring a road which is right on the edge of falling apart, back to a new state,” Beers said.

Work on the road into Yellowstone is set to begin Monday, May 2, and is anticipated to continue through August. But that’s not the only project that will cause delays for travelers taking in the views around Cody this summer.

“We’re also doing a slide project up on Chief Joseph (Highway) on this side of Dead Indian Pass,” Beers said, referring to an ongoing effort to stabilize Wyoming Highway 296 between Cody and the Beartooth Highway in Montana. “So there’s going to be some one-way traffic through that slide right where that big red hill is.”

Other projects include pavement rehabilitation on U.S. Highway 14A between Cody and Powell and a paving project near Meeteetse, Beers said.

“So there’s going to be some short-term delays around Cody,” Beers said.

Ryan Hauck, Executive Director for the Park County Travel Council, said that for residents, educating travelers about the best routes will be key to creating a positive experience for tourists in spite of construction delays.

“We just have to prepare to educate everyone that’s coming in, whether that is individuals, whether that’s our big motor coaches, international (travel) is starting to come back this year as well,” Hauck told Cowboy State Daily. “And then help them navigate through that. Best routes, maybe less popular areas, how to get to those areas.”

And it’s not just the east gate to Yellowstone, Hauck pointed out, that will see travel delays due to construction.

“Jackson is going to have it on their end as well,” he said, “and they have construction at their airport through June.”

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Lawsuit Challenges New Wyoming Voter ID Law

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By Ellen Fike and Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A lawsuit filed in state district court this week accuses Wyoming’s legislators of violating multiple sections of Wyoming’s Constitution with the state’s new voter ID law.

The lawsuit filed in Albany County District Court by former legislator Charles Pelkey on behalf of Tim Newcomb said the law requiring voters to show identification when casting their ballots infringes on the ability of citizens to vote.

“We’re interested in protecting people’s access to the ballot and getting access to the ballot should be as easy and convenient as possible,” Pelkey told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “Across the country, not only in Wyoming, we need to be challenging these efforts, otherwise we’re going to lose out on so many rights.”  

The voter ID law was enacted through House Bill 75 in 2021, which not only continues the existing requirement for voters to show a government-issued ID when registering to vote, but adds the requirement to show an ID when voting. The addition is what is being targeted by the lawsuit. 

The filing argued the ID law violates the “constitutional right essential to suffrage both in passage and operation” and is a “trammel against voting rights.”

He told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that the lawsuit was intended to show that there was no “fundamental” need for the law to be enacted. 

“There’s no reason why you should challenge voters when they’re attempting to express their democratic vote,” Pelkey said. “Like it says in the lawsuit, we thank people for serving on a jury. I think we should thank people for exercising the right to vote.” 

However, Rep. Chuck Gray (Casper-R), lead sponsor of the bill, called the lawsuit “another example of how the radical left wants to cheat in elections.”

Gray noted the bill was approved in both chambers — by a vote of 51-9 in the House and 28-2 in the Senate —- before being signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon.

“The radical left is trying to challenge a legally passed law,” he said.

Detractors of the bill argued while it was being considered that voter fraud in Wyoming is a non-existent problem and the legislation would subdue voter turnout.  

Wyoming is one of 35 states to have a voter ID law and one of 20 states to require a photo ID. The law went into effect last fall for local elections but will be tested on a much broader scale this year.

In the lawsuit, Pelkey also alludes to the state having the technology available for poll workers to access a photo ID that was used during the registration process rather than making the voter provide it again in-person.

“This is not the last century,” the lawsuit said. “State government needs to show why the first acceptable photo ID cannot display automatically to the poll workers when people vote, so voters can be welcomed and thanked for voting – rather than challenged.”

An Associated Press review of the 2020 presidential election conducted in 2021 found fewer than 475 potential voter fraud cases in six battleground states.

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Wyoming Legislators Who Have Had Drone Encounters Look To Trespass Law 

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily 

Multiple representatives in the Wyoming House have experienced trespass by drone, leading some to endorse a law that would make the activity a crime.   

State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said he’s excited to develop legislation criminalizing drone trespass, which is the act of flying a remote-controlled aircraft over another’s property, especially in a way that invades privacy.   

Some of his eagerness to confront the issue stems from being “a person who has had other people flying drones over their property, and not been very happy about it,” said Zwonitzer.   

In similar story to an account told last week by House Majority Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, Zwonitzer related that a drone flew over his home near Cheyenne in January while he was not home but his spouse was.   

Zwonitzer added that his spouse knew the drone was flying low because it could be heard before it even came into view.   

He believed it was there for “nefarious purposes,” said Zwonitzer, speculating that people with political motives could have been using the drone to snoop. But the trouble, he added, is that a drone can’t be asked why it is on someone’s property. 

“You can’t yell at someone to get off your place when it’s a drone,” he said. “If they drove up to your property you could say ‘Hey you’re trespassing; I need you to leave.’”  

Drones don’t allow for direct conversations.   

“It sure felt like a personal invasion of privacy,” he said.   

Zwonitzer clarified that he hasn’t envisioned what any bill might look like yet because he and the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which he co-chairs, still have to explore relevant factors, Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and other issues.   

While there are reasons other than political snooping that may motivate a drone-operator to send a drone over someone else’s farm, said Zwonitzer, he still wishes his options to confront it had been less “murky” in the eyes of the law.   

“I had a drone flying over my property and I couldn’t shoot it down, and I didn’t know what my options were,” he said. “I think it’s good to work on clarifying the law.”  

Though subject to prosecutor discretion, Wyoming law regards drone-shooting as property destruction. 

Sommers sponsored a bill during the Legislature’s recent budget session designed to put restrictions on the operations of drones over private property. He withdrew the bill before its introduction so it could be crafted after more study in the Judiciary Committee this interim. 

Sommers said his desire for the bill stemmed in part from the fact that one day when he was not at home but his wife was, a “drone came right at our kitchen window.” 

“If I’d been home that day I would have shot that drone down,” he told Cowboy State Daily earlier this month. 

Harassing the Wildlife 

Another House delegate, Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, told Cowboy State Daily that hunters on his land have witnessed drones haranguing wildlife.  

Neiman had co-sponsored Sommers’ bill this winter.  

Neiman told Cowboy State Daily that a public highway runs through his property, and “I’ve had, actually, people park on the highway and send a drone loose, over my hayfields, over my property to look at wildlife. And they’re too low.” 

Neiman said the drones are chasing deer and other wildlife, but as unmanned aircraft they’re impossible to confront, and often will retreat to their owners’ vehicles when they “see” someone approaching.  

In November, said Neiman, he heard the “high-pitched squealing” of a drone cresting a neighbor’s hill, “racing” onto his own property, and “running deer when my hunters were here, trying to harvest deer.”  

Many hunters, including children just learning the sport, pay a fee to hunt on Neiman’s land, he said, which helps to recoup the cost of feeding and overseeing the wildlife who frequent it.  

“I don’t mind if you look at stuff,” using a drone, Neiman said, “but interfering with a quality hunting experience and molesting the wildlife” is problematic.  

A Wyoming Game and Fish regulation forbids game-scouting by drone.  

Neiman speculated that pilots sending drones over his property are pursuing a variety of goals, including “just having fun,” viewing wildlife for enjoyment, and scouting game.  

Neiman said he He said he envisioned legislation that would promote mutual respect: for drone-fliers to respect property rights and privacy, and for landowners to respect drones as someone’s property as well.  

“A lot of times folks don’t realize the responsibility they have to make sure they’re not affecting someone’s private property,” said Neiman, adding that in most cases, fliers are just seeking “fun, and they don’t perceive they’re bothering anybody.”  

On the other hand, he added, as drones become cheaper and more prevalent, extra care should be taken to ensure that they don’t disturb domestic livestock and wildlife.  

“That’s the whole point of private property rights and asking for permission,” said Neiman. “Respect other people’s stuff.”  

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Former GOP Legislator Says Wyoming Will Never Legalize Marijuana

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

On the unofficial holiday for marijuana enthusiasts (April 20), a former Republican state senator who supports legalizing marijuana said Wyoming will never OK the drug until the federal government steps in.

Bruce Burns, who represented Sheridan in the Legislature from 1995 – 2018 and sponsored legislation that would have legalized medical marijuana, said Wyoming is far too conservative for the drug to be made legal in the state without changes in federal law.

“The only way it will ever be legalized in Wyoming is if it’s on the federal level,” Burns told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

“Because Wyoming is such a Republican state, the real competition is in the primary,” he said. “So there’s a race to be bottom, so to speak, to see who can be the most conservative.”

As a result, he said, the Wyoming Legislature is more conservative than the people its members represent. Conversely, elected bodies in California and Massachusetts are more liberal than the people they represent, he said.

Conservative Versus Libertarian

And there’s a difference, he said, between conservative Republicans and Libertarian Republicans. The latter are more open to legalization because they believe in less government.

That’s where Burns puts himself on the political spectrum and, as such, sponsored legislation that would have legalized medical marijuana.

The effort failed, he said, because of politics.

“Marijuana has good medicinal uses,” he said. “But it’s being ignored because of the political view of marijuana.”

Burns said he saw first-hand the positive applications of the drug when he, at the request of an uncle who was dying of lung cancer, purchased some pot and drove it out to New York.

“I secured him some pot and went to visit him in Long Island,” Burns said, mentioning that the statute of limitations had run out. “It had such a curative effect on him that he ended up gaining 15 pounds before he died.”

“But most importantly, it made his transition much more comfortable,” he said.

Wasting Resources

For the most part, Burns said, living in a conservative state is a good thing. But not when the issues involve marijuana.

Not only is Wyoming wasting money on incarcerating people, he said, but the state is missing out on the economic benefits of legalization.

“You’ve got places like Colorado which is making millions of dollars in tax benefits because of it,” Burns said. “At some point, I wonder if our deficit hawks in Wyoming are going to realize that.”

If Burns had his way, the state would decriminalize the drug.

“If somebody is caught with pot, I would make the penalty no more than a parking ticket,” he said. 

What’s the difference?  Burns said by decriminalizing marijuana, it gives the states a political way out.

“You’re giving the states permission to do it without there being any great punishment for it,” he said.

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Wyoming Law Unclear About Shooting Down Drones; Legislative Committee To Study Trespassing

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Lawmakers in Wyoming will address the issue of property-invading drones this year.  

Crafting trespassing laws pertaining to drones is a top priority for the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee in the coming months, according to committee chairs Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Casper, and Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who presented the issue Friday to the Legislature’s Management Council.  

“One, (the topic) does have to do with drones as it relates to hunting, and two, it does have to do with drones as it relates to residential uses,” said Nethercott.

The Judiciary Committee hopes to consider “whether someone can fly a drone in your back yard,” Nethercott continued, and “whether you have the right to remove it or trespass the owner of that drone.”

The Management Council, made up of legislative leaders, agreed to let the Judiciary Committee study the issue as one of its topics of consideration this year.

Neither Nethercott nor Olsen responded to phone calls requesting further comment.  

There is no penalty in Wyoming for flying a drone over someone else’s property, except for cases of voyeurism.   

Can You Shoot It? 

House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, sponsored a bill in recent months that would have made it a misdemeanor to fly a drone below 200 feet over private lands or homes. But during the February legislative budget session, Sommers asked the House to hold back the bill so it could be developed more as an interim topic.  

“When I crafted the bill I’d heard of multiple experiences about drones kind of invading privacy,” Sommers told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. One of those experiences was at his own remote home – when a drone “came right at our kitchen window” while Sommers’ wife was home and he was not.  

“If I’d been home that day I would have shot that drone down,” he said.  

But existing property destruction laws may prohibit that reaction, Sommers added. He said the prospect and consequences of shooting errant drones is another legal facet deserving “thoughtful discussion.”  

Other concerned citizens have spoken with Sommers about drones scaring wildlife from a river bottom and drones approaching their houses, he said.  

Sommers noted additional issues for the committee to address, such as what happens when a realtor using a drone to scout a house with the owner’s permission accidentally veers onto a neighbor’s property.   

The proliferation of nano drones, which can fit in a person’s hand and sometimes have video capabilities, “creeps me out worse,” quipped Sommers.  

Expectation of Privacy 

Sommers wondered aloud whether younger generations still expect privacy.  

“Do we in society today have any expectation of privacy?” he asked. “Or has that concept of privacy slowly dwindled as the internet and everything else has expanded?”  

Sommers spoke of satellite imaging, which he said has been a boon in exposing the realities of the war in Ukraine, but has eroded people’s expectation and understanding of privacy.  

Conversely, he said, Wyoming residents may also have a libertarian streak prompting expectations of a broader, less regulated arena in which to fly drones.  

“It’s a changing world and so I think that’s a great discussion,” he said.  

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State Rep Disappointed Gordon Vetoed Bill That Would Have Allowed Wyo To Issue Virtual Currency

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon’s veto of a bill that would have allowed Wyoming to issue its own virtual currency is being welcomed by state Treasurer Curt Meier, but met with disappointment by one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

On Friday, Gordon vetoed Senate File 106, which would have allowed the state to create and sell Wyoming “stable tokens.” The stable tokens would have a fixed value and would be backed by the state’s assets so they would not see the value fluctuations of other virtual currency.

In a letter to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Gordon said that he was vetoing the bill for a couple of reasons, primarily that Wyoming Treasurer Curt Meier’s office is already struggling to keep up with its current obligations and the new law would add more burden.

“I believe there are good ideas contained in this act, but I am concerned that not all stakeholders were consulted prior to its passage by the Legislature,” Gordon wrote. “Wyoming’s reputation is at stake, as are the reputations of the individuals tasked with implementing this act, should the effort fail.”

Gordon recommended the Legislature take up the topic as an interim study.

Treasurer OK With Veto

Meier told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that while he believed his office could have established the stable token by the end of the year, the key to having a successful stable token launch was in the marketing.

“You must create demand and demonstrate something that makes your particular token unique in an area that is already full of competitors,” he said. “There is potential for establishing a successful launch of a stable token, but I concur with the Governor that we need to study the issue further.”

Nor is the office’s chief investment officer an expert on digital assets, Meier said, and the time needed for him to prepare for the launch of a digital currency wold have been siginficant.

“SF106 would have taken a lot of his time and attention as part of this launch,” he said. “In this unstable market, our CIO needs to concentrate on what he is supposed to do – manage and build our portfolio. I thank the Governor for giving us our CIO back and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

Olsen ‘Sorely Disappointed’

But bill co-sponsor Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that he was “sorely disappointed” Gordon vetoed the bill, as it passed both the Wyoming House and Senate with more than two-thirds majorities in each chamber.

“In terms of this bill being vetted, on the House side, I sat through four House Appropriations meetings [about the legislation],” Olsen told Cowboy State Daily. “In my time in the Legislature, it is very rare that a bill take two committee meetings, let alone four. So the fact that it took four committee meetings told me that one of our most senior and experienced committees was taking its time vetting this issue.”

Olsen said that since there were four meetings about the bill during the session, there was plenty of opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in on the bill.

While Olsen did not disagree with Gordon’s assessment about the treasurer’s office, he did not think this meant Wyoming should stop moving forward. However, he had no intention of picking the legislation up as a potential interim study topic.

“We had the opportunity to be the first in the world with something like this, and I am 99% certain we have missed the boat, and you don’t get another bite at an apple like this,” he said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

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Senator Misses Special Session & Part Of Budget Session For Greek Foreign Relations Work

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily 

A state senator who missed last fall’s special legislative session and two days of this year’s budget session was in Greece attending to his official duties as a U.S. representative in a Greek foreign relations group.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, joined the World Hellenistic Interparliamentary Association in 2017, a little more than two years after he became a state senator.    

The retired U.S. Air Force General with 100% Greek heritage is now the treasurer for the organization, which was created in 1996 and counts among its members legislators of Greek descent from about 20 countries.

The organization is designed to improve foreign relations with other republics and expand global trade prospects for Greece and Cyprus.  

Cyprus is an island country nestled between the coasts of Syria and Turkey.   

“I go to Greece a lot and work with the Greek government on issues of trade, military significance,” Pappas told Cowboy State Daily on Monday in a phone interview.   

Of particular concern to Pappas is WHIA’s work to encourage American investors or investors from other democratic countries to buy publicly-owned Eastern Mediterranean ports to prevent Russian and China from winning them.   

Ports For Sale  

The European Union ordered Greece to privatize much of its publicly-held air and sea infrastructure as part of a 2010 bailout plan agreed to after the country’s 2008 economic collapse.   

A Chinese company in 2009 bought the controlling interest for Port of Piraeus near Athens. Then last year, a Russian oligarch purchased controlling stock in the Port at Thessaloniki.   

Two strategic ports still are up for grabs: Alexandropouli and Kavala in northern Greece.   

Pappas wrote to Wyoming’s congressional delegation in 2020, asking the delegates to assist and encourage Kentucky-based Black Summit Financial Group to place a bid for Alexandropouli, to prevent another Russian purchase of a key military and energy conduit.   

“We cannot have another port in Greece fall into the hands of the Russians, especially at this very strategic location,” wrote Pappas.  

Alexandropouli could be crucial to the unfolding of world events.   

The U.S. military uses the port for transporting personnel and equipment. American officials also see the port as a natural gas conduit for U.S. energy marketing in Europe, according a report by security company Trident Group America, which Pappas attached to his letter.   

By gaining control of the port, “Russia (would) not only be in a position to undermine the United States’ use of the port for military exercises, but also control whose (natural) gas is stemmed into the network, thereby negating America’s ongoing effort to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies,” the study states.   

Pappas said he also is working with Black Summit and the other WHIA delegates, looking for things “that (can help) them get an edge.” He added that he didn’t know the bidding deadlines for the two ports but may learn them soon.   

Tinderbox  

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has intensified efforts to calm Turkey’s military ambitions.   

A longtime NATO member, Turkey in 2019 purchased an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, which Pappas said, “sent everyone in the EU and NATO into a tizzy,” as a signal of increasing cooperation between the two countries.   

As a result, Turkey was booted out of a nine-country collaborative to build and purchase stealth fighter jets as the U.S. deemed the possibility of a technology leak to Russia a security threat.   

WHIA backed Congress’ move to block Turkish involvement in the aircraft program as well as an ongoing bid by Turkey to buy F16s.   

The F16 debate continues, but Pappas said it’s a “touchy situation – when you can’t give (Turkish leaders) what they want but you don’t want to push them away either” into the arms of Russia and China.   

“We (at WHIA) think that selling them more aircraft is a bad idea at this time,” said Pappas. “So we have been asking Congress to block the sale.”   

Turkish plans to buy another Russian S-400 merely add “insult to injury,” said Pappas.   

‘Excused’  

Pappas missed the Legislature’s special session in October so he could attend the Oxi Day Parade in Thessaloniki, an event to which he was invited by Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

According to his travel itinerary, Pappas visited with the press, the National Bank of Greece, Greek Secretary General John Chrysoulakis, power company Eunice Energy and other dignitaries.   

That week, the Legislature had called a special session outside its normal lawmaking schedule in an attempt to combat federal COVID vaccine mandates. The session resulted in a $4 million appropriation to the Wyoming attorney general’s office for future anti-mandate litigation.   

“Almost every one of those (special session) bills were, in my mind, something I would have voted no on,” said Pappas, noting that if he hadn’t already accepted the president’s invitation, he would have attended the special session, though he found it a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”   

“Most of (the bills) were punitive against Wyoming businesses – I certainly wouldn’t want to go there,” Pappas said. 

He added that the anti-mandate battleground at that time was not ripe for legislation anyway, because the state’s court case against the enforcing agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was ongoing.   

“Again, that could have waited” for the February budget session, said Pappas.  

The senator also missed the final two days of the budget session, but he told Senate leaders he’d be available by Zoom if needed.   

The session’s final day, March 11, saw a last-minute change to the state’s redistricting – or voter apportionment – update that added three legislators to the body while allowing some counties a slightly larger voter impact than others, to keep like-minded regions intact.    

“Those (changes) didn’t affect anything here in Laramie County, for sure,” said Pappas, who left the state March 10 for celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the Truman Doctrine in Greece – again at the invitation of the Greek government.   

Pappas said Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, has encouraged his involvement in foreign relations. He also said he looks for ways to benefit both Greece and Wyoming.

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Several Wyoming Legislators See Shake-Up Due To Redistricting

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Legislature’s redrawing of House and Senate district lines during its recent budget session has caused a bit of a shake-up among legislators.

Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, was one of the legislators who saw significant changes in his district because of the redrawing of legislative district lines that must take place every 10 years to conform with new census data. Before redistricting, he represented Converse and Platte counties, but now, he will represent Converse and Natrona counties.

However, said he felt optimistic about his work over the next two years within his new district lines, he told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.

“I think, overall, it’s a good community of interest,” he said. “We have a lot in common between these two counties, especially with agriculture and energy. I have real life experience in both of those areas, so I think these next two years will be a good time to work from a policy perspective.”

The redistricting effort — a job that took legislators until the final hours of their recent budget session — led this year to the addition of two new legislative districts, one new Senate district and one new House districts in Laramie County, which will be filled with new members to be elected in November.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that three areas saw significant growth in the last 10 years — eastern Cheyenne, eastern Casper and north Lincoln County.

“Places like Star Valley Ranch and Alpine saw huge areas of growth in the state over the last 10 years,” said Zwonitzer, a chairman of the House Corporations Committee that helped draw the new boundaries. “This was around 6% to 8% of growth.”

While some legislative district lines were redrawn to equalize the number of people represented by legislators, growth in east Cheyenne forced the creation of the two new districts in Laramie County.

The redistricting law has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon, but Zwonitzer believes the governor will allow the bill to pass into law without a signature.

Before the redistricting, each member of the House represented around 9,700 constituents. Now, with the extra two districts, each House member will represent about 9,300, Zwonitzer said.

Zwonitzer pointed out that by redrawing the redistricts this session, there are more seats in areas that would be considered “blue,” or Democratic, than before.

Meanwhile, Boner said his past experience representing two counties will come in handy as he continues his job in Senate District 2.

“You have to learn to take a step back and look at what’s best for both counties, but also to look at what’s best for the state,” he said.

Boner would not say whether he planned to run for the Senate District 2 seat in 2024.

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Schuler To Run Again For State Senate; Will Bring Back Transgender Athlete Bill

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Immediately after the Legislature ended its budget session, Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, wasn’t certain she’d be running for re-election this year.

But, now after a few days of reflection, she’s decided she wants another term and another chance to present her bill banning transgender women from competing on women’s sports teams to the Wyoming Legislature again.

Schuler, talking to Cowboy State Daily over the weekend, said it was important to her to introduce the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” again next year because a “miscommunication” earlier this month between House and Senate leadership resulted in the bill failing to be introduced in the House despite its solid victory in the Senate.

“This is something that I really have a passion for,” Schuler said of her legislation. “I believe strongly in this and I’m going to try to make this right.”

Last week, Penn State swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgendered female to win a NCAA swimming championship when she won the 500-yard freestyle title.

The photo of the trophy ceremony struck a nerve with Schuler, a former Olympic athlete herself.

“That picture says it all. It shouldn’t happen,” Schuler said.  “I feel so bad for the fourth place girl who couldn’t get on the podium because of this inequity.”

Many of the spectators at the event appeared to feel the same way as the crowd was relatively subdued when Thomas’ name was announced at the trophy ceremony.

Further, an Olympian who swims for Virginia Tech criticized the NCAA’s policy of allowing transgendered women to compete against biological women, saying in a letter it cost her a spot in a finals event.

“This is my last college meet ever and I feel frustrated. It feels like that final spot was taken away from me because of the NCAA’s decision to let someone who is not a biological female compete,” Reka Gyorgy wrote.

Schuler said even though the Wyoming High School Activities Association has a policy in place regarding transgendered athletes, it has a loophole. Individual schools can still allow transgendered females, or those who just identify as females, to compete on women’s teams.

“After talking to a number of athletic directors, there was not one of them who was in support of this,” she said. “One said he would quit if he was forced to allow a transgendered athlete to compete against biological females.”

As for the decision for people to transition to another gender, she said “to each their own” but when it comes to competition in female sports, it’s not fair to compete against someone who is “biologically superior to another.”

Schuler said she may have her proposed bill “tweaked” to bring it more in line with laws found in states which have successfully passed similar legislation.

She rejected the idea that the legislation shouldn’t be passed if it could end up in court, noting Idaho’s legislation on the topic got sent to the courts.

“You gotta pass a bill for the right reasons,” she said.  “You can’t worry about whether it’s going to get litigated or not.” 

Schuler said she was optimistic about passage next year as many of her colleagues in the House, she said, have signaled support.

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That’s A Wrap: House Speaker Eric Barlow Says Goodbye After 10 Years in House

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives delivered a tearful farewell at the Capitol last Friday, in the final hours of his career in the Wyoming House of Representatives.  

A veterinarian and rancher by trade, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, has served the chamber since 2013. He has held the top rank as House Speaker since 2021, and served as House Majority Leader from 2019-2020. He served as a US Marine in the Cold War era, from 1984-1988. 

“Ten years ago… I raised my hand and took an oath to do the best I could while I was here,” began Barlow during his farewell address. “And I had a lot of learning to do, but hopefully somewhere in there I was effective. And toward the end, I thought, maybe I could be helpful in leadership.”  

Barlow was chosen for his first leadership in 2014, as the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee Chairman, and went on to Chair the Select Committee on Coal and Minerals, the House Rules and Procedure Committee, the Management Audit Committee, and served for two years as Vice Chair of the Management Council.  

“I hope my term, the majority of my time here, I made people feel like I was listening, and I cared, and I was doing good work on behalf of the constituents back home who gave me the privilege to serve here,” Barlow said.  

He acknowledged the other representatives as his “brothers and sisters,” and expressed a special fondness toward the few remaining delegates who were sworn in with him in 2013, as fellow “freshmen.”  

Those are current Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Republican Reps. Jerry Paxton, of Encampment, Lloyd Larsen, of Lander, Sue Wilson of Cheyenne, Tom Walters, of Casper and Mark Baker of Green River.  

‘Couldn’t Be More Proud’ 

“But the family that gets us here, are the people who are right up here, for me,” Barlow said, gesturing to his own family who had come to see his farewell address.  

The speaker became emotional as he addressed his mother, Bernadette Barlow.  

“Come here, Mom,” he said. A small-statured woman approached Barlow and hugged him as he became tearful.  

“My mother,” Barlow told his colleagues, “was born in Southeast Asia, was a very well-educated attorney, law-professor type in Cambodia, (who met a man) from northeast Wyoming; and (she) came to northeast Wyoming and raised a family with three kids.”

Barlow said his mother has been a “pillar in the community.”  

“Mom, thanks,” he added.  

He then spoke of his two children, calling his daughter a “beautiful person” and his son “a joy.”  

“I couldn’t be more proud,” said Barlow.  

“But I gave up something with them to be doing this.” Turning to his children, he added, “I can’t give it back to you. I just hope maybe something I did while I was here helps you, sometime, along the way. I love you both.”  

Barlow said that, having acknowledged the generation that raised him and the one that he helped to raise, it was time for him to laud his own generation, and the member of it with whom he’s been able to spend his life – “because God said ‘this is the one,’ and that’s this wonderful woman right here.”  

Kelly Barlow was born in Mississippi but attended 18 different schools throughout her youth due to frequent family moves and as a result, said Barlow, “she learned you had to make friends everywhere you went.”  

The pair met in ninth grade at a Gillette junior high school.  

“And we bumped teeth the first time we kissed in the west stairwell at Twin Spruce High School,” said Barlow, prompting a wave of laughter in the chamber.  

They married 10 years later and have been married for nearly 31 years.  

“Kelly you gave up – you did the most – to help for me to be here,” said Barlow, praising his wife’s work ethic and faithful handling of many duties on their ranch. “Thank you for making this service possible for me.”  

Standing Ovation 

Speaker Pro Temp Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, delivered a speech on behalf of “the whole body.”  

“Leaders make decisions people don’t like; they make decisions that are necessary; they make decisions that are hard – and all we can ask for our leaders is that they work hard, that they have integrity, they’re honest, and they have service in their heart. And you, sir, have all four of those things and I am honored to serve under you.”  

The House delivered a standing ovation for its Speaker.   

Natural Endpoint’ 

Barlow told Cowboy State Daily in a Saturday email that he’s chosen now to leave the house “because I believe my time has come to a natural endpoint.” 

“Let’s be clear, this is not a ‘retirement.’ I am moving on. No golden parachute. No severance package. Just go to the ranch, do what needs to be done there, and prepare for what comes next,” he said.  

Barlow said one of most gratifying aspects of legislation was the tipping point between concept and policy.  

“Whether it is a moving debate, winning a close vote on an amendment, or passing a bill that was important,” said Barlow, those moments emphasize “the vital work we do and how gratifying it is when there is a success.” 

There were also challenges, he said, including tough votes, incomplete information, unclear expectations, and leaving the mission-focused “trenches” of policy-making for the desk of leadership, “where it seems no one is quite satisfied.”  

But looking back on a decade of thought clashes and policy changes, Barlow said “the losses are important too,” because they grant “insight into what can be done better the next time.”  

Barlow was grateful to the people who have mentored him, and hoped that he “provided something positive for someone along the way too.” He also acknowledged the legislative service staff, “who serve Wyoming with quiet distinction and deserve all our thanks.”  

His “seminal” moment, said Barlow, occurred in the 2021 legislative session, when the House hosted a ceremony honoring Wyoming servicemen and women who have given their lives since 9/11.  

“It was a needed reminder that while we serve, our American service members past, present and future make what we do possible,” he said.

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Dispute Over Cell Phone Leads To Sen. Tom James Getting Booted From GOP Meeting

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A dispute over a cell phone in a private legislative meeting last week resulted in a state senator being removed from the meeting by members of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

“Senate leadership…. just removed me from caucus using Highway Patrol,” Sen. Tom James, R-Green River, wrote on his Facebook page at about 4 p.m. Friday.  

Wyoming Highway Patrol’s “Division O” runs security for the Capitol.  

James did not respond to a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

The incident occurred during a private meeting of state Senate Republican members, called a “caucus.” Although floor sessions and committee meetings of the Wyoming Legislature are recorded for public viewing, party caucus meetings are private events with rules against recording. 

On Friday, the last day of the Legislature’s budget session, Republican senators met to discuss the redrawing of legislative district boundaries to conform with the latest census results, a process called redistricting.

James said Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, Majority Floor Leader Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, had arranged for his removal from the meeting after accusing him of recording the proceedings.

James wrote in his Facebook post that the leaders “(accused) me of taking photos and/or video – I was not as that is against the rules – of the caucus with my phone, they said to put away my phone and I refused.” 

“I told them I was not doing what they were accusing me of, but they still had me removed,” added James.  

Commenters to James’ post were critical of Senate leadership.  

“This is what happens when you stand with (Sen. Anthony) Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) and with the people, against the Nazi RINOs (Republicans in Name Only),” wrote April Poley, Bouchard’s campaign spokeswoman. “Thank you Senator James for being a reliable and principled conservative, and for standing against corruption.”  

Hicks did not respond to an email and a phone call.  

Dockstader and Driskill declined to comment. 

“What happens at caucus, I’m not really free to talk about it,” Driskill told Cowboy State Daily.  

‘Flat-Out Refused’ 

Other Republican senators described the incident.  

“I had my phone in there (as well)” said Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne. “And when they requested that we put our phones up, I put mine in my pocket and that was the end of that.  

“What Senator James chose to do,” she continued, “that was his prerogative and not something I was involved in, in any way.”  

Hutchings noted that Dockstader had told senators that no recording would be allowed.  

“And it’s just being respectful of the caucus,” she said. “But I can’t tell you what Senator James was doing (on his phone). He was standing away from me.”  

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, had a different vantage and said it appeared that James was holding his phone up in front of his body.  

Case did not know if James was recording either – but “he wouldn’t put his phone away.”  

“He said he wasn’t videoing, but he didn’t say he wasn’t (audio) recording. And he just flat-out refused to put the phone down or put it away,” said Case.  

So leadership summoned Capitol security “and asked him to leave,” Case added. 

Case said James exited the room peacefully.

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House Speaker Says He Asked Highway Patrol To Investigate Death Threat Against Lawmaker

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

House Speaker Eric Barlow asked the Wyoming Highway Patrol officers providing security at the state Capitol to investigate reports of a death threat made by one legislator against another, he said.

Barlow said Wednesday that he’d asked the Capitol security to get involved in the threat allegedly made last week by State Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, against Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete.

“As Speaker, I take seriously my duty to promote civil, respectful, and non-threatening discourse,”  he said. “I will utilize every resource at my disposal to protect the health and safety of all those who conduct business with the Wyoming House of Representatives.” 

LeBeau said she was contacted Friday afternoon, the final day of the legislative budget session, by former Rep. Sara Burlingame regarding the alleged threat.

Burlingame told LeBeau that, according to a lobbyist whose name neither woman would disclose publicly, Romero-Martinez had told the lobbyist during a March 10 telephone conversation he wanted to kill Burlingame and LeBeau.  

Romero-Martinez did not respond to a Monday call and text requesting comment.  

Barlow issued a public statement Wednesday noting that he was made aware of the alleged threat on March 10, the day it was said to have occurred.  

“Along with other members of the House of Representatives leadership,” wrote Barlow, “I spoke with individuals involved in this incident to better understand the nature and context of this situation.”  

Barlow wrote that he also asked Wyoming Highway Patrol agents to interview “the persons involved.”  

He said he could not release further details, since the incident is under investigation.  

Wyoming Highway Patrol officials said because the incident took place away from the Capitol and at a time the Legislature was not in session, they did not believe any criminal activity had taken place involving the Capitol. They also noted no ongoing “criminal issue” at the Capitol. 

Burlingame told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that she filed a report with the Cheyenne Police Department. The department confirmed a report had been filed, but details have not yet been made available to Cowboy State Daily.

Romero-Martinez defeated Burlingame in her 2020 re-election bid to represent House District 44.

Burlingame said Romero-Martinez lives near her and added their past dealings have been cordial.

LeBeau told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday she was frustrated that Barlow and other House leaders did not inform her of the threat Friday morning. She said she learned of it Friday afternoon, by calling Burlingame.

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Ethete Legislator Claims Fellow Lawmaker Made Death Threat Against Her

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

An alleged death threat made by one state legislator against another has resulted in a report being filed with Cheyenne police.

Rep. Andi LeBeau, D-Ethete, said she was told that Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, made a threat against her during a phone call with a lobbyist in the closing days of the Legislature’s budget session.

LeBeau told Cowboy State Daily she was told that Romero-Martinez had said if LeBeau “got in his way,” he would kill her.

In a Sunday Facebook post, LeBeau said the incident disturbed to the extend that she skipped the last day of the session on Friday.

“My last day working on behalf of the people who brought me there was stripped from me,” wrote LeBeau, “I’m healing from a death threat. I’m processing the trauma and stress of violence still being perpetrated upon women by men.”  



The report on the alleged threat was filed with the Cheyenne Police Department by former Rep. Sara Burlingame, now the director of Wyoming Equality, who said she was told she was also included in the threat.

Burlingame told Cowboy State Daily she had been told Romero-Martinez had threatened to kill both women and then kill himself.  

Romero-Martinez did not respond to a phone call and text on Monday seeking comment.

LeBeau said she was told on the afternoon of March 11 that Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, had made a threatening comment about her in a phone call with a lobbyist the previous day. 

Burlingame, who was defeated in her 2020 House re-election bid by Romero-Martinez, had found out about the phone call hours before LeBeau, and had been trying to contact LeBeau via text.  

“So I call her,” during a break from House action, LeBeau remembered. Burlingame told LeBeau on the phone that a lobbyist had related details from a “disturbing phone call” with Romero-Martinez, in which, LeBeau related, “he was basically suicidal, and then stated that if ‘they,’ meaning me and Sarah, didn’t get out of his way, he’ll just have to kill us.”  

Burlingame, who said she lives near Romero-Martinez in Cheyenne, said their dealings up to this point have been cordial. 

She added she had not spoken to him since the incident was reported.

Capitol Security 

Wyoming Highway Patrol officers who provide security services for the Capitol confirmed they had received a report from Burlingame that Romero-Martinez was alleged to have made an indirect verbal threat against LeBeau while on the phone with a lobbyist.

“It was a phone call between the lobbyist and him (Romero-Martinez),” said Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Clayton Barker, whose “Division O” runs security at the Capitol. 

“It was just kind of a hearsay: his word versus her word, or whatever the case may be,” added Barker.  

Barker said because the incident occurred away from the Capitol and outside of session hours, the patrol officers concluded that no criminal activity occurred at the Capitol.

Barker told Cowboy State Daily that Burlingame had asked to file charges against Romero-Martinez.  

Barker said he advised Burlingame to contact the Cheyenne Police Department instead.  

Burlingame said she did file a police report with Cheyenne PD on Monday. The details of the report were not immediately available.

No ‘Criminal Issue’ 

Capitol police spoke with Romero-Martinez about the phone call.  

WHP spokesman Jeremy Beck said the conversation was intended “to make sure he was not a threat to himself or anyone else.”  

And after that discussion, the officers concluded that Romero-Martinez was not a threat, said Beck.  

The WHP report of the incident is not yet complete, he added.  

‘Safe, Rather than Sorry’ 

LeBeau said the incident reflects a breakdown of House leadership.  

She related that she had spent that Friday morning, March 11, in the House chamber with Romero-Martinez, unaware that he had allegedly made a threat.

She did not learn of the incident until an afternoon break, when she called Burlingame.  

LeBeau went to the office of House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, to calm down.  

Connolly asked House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, to speak with LeBeau.  

According to LeBeau, Barlow said he was aware of the incident and had been at a recent event with Romero-Martinez, who “looked fine” at the time, but he then instructed LeBeau on how to lodge a complaint or involve law enforcement.  

LeBeau also said Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, had been aware of the incident but had not mentioned it that morning. Wilson, according to LeBeau, said she didn’t place much stock in the alleged comment because she thought it was typical behavior for Romero-Martinez. 

Neither Wilson nor Barlow could be reached by phone for comment.   

“I took a deep breath,” LeBeau related, “and said ‘I’m just going to urge you, when you hear something like this, to err on the side of being safe, rather than sorry.’” 

LeBeau told Cowboy State Daily she felt the incident was a continuation of historical attitudes that sought to “get rid” of Indigenous women.  

LeBeau is a Northern Arapaho tribal member.  

Tribal Treaties

The incident may have stemmed, LeBeau speculated, from a March 8 tribal relations meeting in which Romero-Martinez had offered a bill seeking federal support for further legal codification of American Indian treaties. 

LeBeau resisted the idea strongly, saying it was “divisive” and lacked tribal support. 

The Northern Arapaho Tribe does not have an official federal treaty binding it to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where it dwells alongside the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. 

LeBeau told Cowboy State Daily that this co-dwelling is due to a failure on the part of the federal government to allot the Arapaho Tribe a reservation of its own.

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Legislators Look For Ways To Exempt American Indians From Online Sales Tax

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

State lawmakers are considering ways to exempt American Indians from sales tax payments for online purchases.  

Wyoming Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, suggested the topic as a possible interim study March 8 during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations.  

The new legislation would ensure that “if you’re an Indian person and you’re purchasing something (online) that would normally be subject to state sales tax, on the reservation, then you are exempt,” said Ellis, who also co-chairs the committee.  

“I think we’ve got enough information to pursue this a little more and have some conversations.” 

Enrolled tribal members shopping at physical locations on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming do not pay sales taxes. But if they shop off reservation lands, they do.  

According to the Wyoming Department of Revenue, non-natives can be subject to taxation on reservation purchases, and retailers pay those collected funds back to the state.  

Hines General Store, a main retailer on the reservation, declined to comment on the system.  

Committee co-Chair Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, directed the legislative service office to study the issue further.  

“That’s a worthy conversation to have,” Larsen told Cowboy State Daily in a later interview. “For all entities involved as well as the state.”  

If online vendors neither exempt tribal members nor remit their taxes back to the Northern Arapaho or Eastern Shoshone tribal governments, said Larsen, it could cause legal complications later on.  

“It would really be unfortunate if we got decades down the road and then realized all these sales taxes from Fremont County, that perhaps should have gone to the reservation, were in fact distributed to the county – and then the county would have to pay back some sales tax,” Larsen said.  

Under Wyoming law, companies selling products online must pay Wyoming sales taxes if their gross revenues from Wyoming sales exceed $100,000 or if they have more than 200 transactions with Wyoming residents.

For tax collection purposes, state law generally defines the place an online sale occurs as the buyer’s zip code.

Larsen said he was “confident” the Committee would try to craft legislation that either exempts reservation-based tribal members from online shopping taxes or finds a way to send those taxes back to the tribal governments – but he wasn’t sure how. 

While the tribal town Fort Washakie has its own zip code, some locations in the nearby town of Arapahoe share zip codes with the off-reservation town of Riverton.  

In her own interview, Ellis said developing a gateway scheme for determining the ethnicity of buyers has been “the exact problem” in the nation’s tax structure.  

“A retailer shouldn’t have to look at someone and guess whether they’re Indian” in the brick-front shopping world, said Ellis, adding, “Now that we’re in this world of increasingly dominant online sales presence, that scheme just doesn’t make sense anymore.”  

Ellis said she and the other Tribal Relations delegates will have to conduct much more research before determining whether tax exemptions or the remission of tribal members’ online taxes to the tribes is more appropriate.  

“At this point we really need to start educating ourselves on what the law says,” said Ellis. “And start visiting with our tribal partners, with both tribal councils. It’s way too early for me to guess that outcome.”  

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes both dwell and maintain their own governments on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  

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Cheyenne Rep Says Legislators Wasted Session On Guns And Abortion Bills

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative who believes Wyoming is “losing its grip on reality” because of the topics addressed during the Legislature’s recent budget session is considering retiring from his post.

Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, told his colleagues during House debate on Friday, the last day of the Legislature’s budget session, that he was frustrated lawmakers were focusing on “non-issues” such as guns and abortion, rather than the ones they should have been working on, like the budget and redistricting.

“We would have had more time instead of the last day, than the two hours we have left,” he said during debate on the bill that redrafted Wyoming’s legislative district borders to conform with new census results. “But, instead, we were busy debating guns. We were busy debating abortion, we were busy debating non-issues in this state instead of our constitutional obligations.”

“Our constitutional obligations are to set a budget during the budget session, and then every 10 years, we’re required to redistrict,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “And instead of doing those….I think one of our biggest discussions was on wild horse and burro management. Yes, that’s a big deal, but my God, it took us well over an hour of discussion on the floor.”

At the time of his comments on Friday, Brown was reprimanded by House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, because they were considered “off-topic,” but he was also criticized by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, for calling the Legislature’s work into question. She told Brown he should apologize for this, but he refused.

“I said, ‘Well, you can want an apology all you want, but you’re not going to get it,'” Brown told Cowboy State Daily. “I’m allowed to vent my frustrations and these were actually frustrations sent to me by a constituent, although what he said was more vulgar. It gave me a push.”

He added that as one of the most conservative states in the nation, continuing to debate abortion and gun-related bills was just a waste of time. He pointed to the bill targeting women who use methamphetamine while pregnant as something that could have been worked on after the budget and redistricting work.

“We need to debate the true issues, like our tax structure, or whether we can attract new businesses here,” Brown said. “We’ve had five abortions in the state in the last 15 years, but every year since I’ve been in the Legislature, we’ve had a bill to fight abortions. I’m a pro-life guy myself, but at why are we passing more abortion laws to show how pro-life we are?”

After six years of being in the Legislature, Brown is now at a crossroads, because he said he is frustrated with the more extreme wing of the Republican Party, and with being accused by constituents and even people who don’t live in Wyoming of being corrupt.

“I’ve told a lot of people that I may not coming back to the Legislature because Wyoming is slowly losing its grip on reality,” Brown said.

He said he recently received an email from someone in Pennsylvania who accused Brown of being a “Republican in Name Only” whose support for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney was against everything a Republican state stood for.

At this point, Brown said he feels almost complimented when he is called a “RINO,” because it shows he stands for his convictions.

“The Republican Party does not get to choose who registers as a Republican or not,” he said. “That’s the beauty of our country. I’m very much a Ronald Reagan-era Republican, with the big tent for a global party that allowed for different points of view.”

He added he was “deeply disappointed” in the Wyoming Republican Party, which has become “an embarrassment” to him in recent years, as they have proven they are only loyal to former President Donald Trump.

“I am completely embarrassed many times to call myself a Republican from this state, because when people see your name associated with that, they think, ‘He must be one of the crazies,'” Brown said.

Gov. Mark Gordon said during a news conference on Monday that he was happy to see Wyoming focusing on matters important on state and national levels.

“I’ve always found a very practical streak of Republicanism that is fiscally prudent…I think those issues are the ones that consistently motivate Wyoming Republicans, whether they’re more centrist or to the right,” he said.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that he felt the most recent legislative session showed Wyoming has the most efficient Legislature in the country.

“We continue to get more work done in a shorter time for less money than any other state in the Union,” he said. “We solved several problems, passed a good budget that supports people and made long-term, midterm and immediate investments.”

“Pro-life bills and Second Amendment bills are important as well,” he said. “In the end it all worked, the interim committee process works, most of the good bills passed and most of the bills that need more work failed and once again more committee bills passed than individual bills.”

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Management Council Will Determine If Formal Investigation Against Bouchard Will Be Launched

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The complaint about Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, that contributed to his removal from his legislative committees has been forwarded to the Legislature’s Management Council, Senate leaders told Bouchard.

Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, sent Bouchard a letter late Monday informing the Cheyenne senator that the Management Council would determine if a formal investigation against Bouchard stemming from the complaint filed by the Wyoming Hospital Association should be launched.

“The Subcommittee must determine if the factual situation is sufficient to warrant a reasonably prudent person to believe that you committed misconduct,” the letter said.

Bouchard, Dockstader, and Senate Vice President Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Bouchard has until March 25 to respond to the complaint.

Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that there are hours of recorded committee meetings that prove WHA president Eric Boley’s claims against him are false.

“Let me be clear, in the event of another pandemic, the hospitals and their lobbyist Eric Boley are dead against grandma having rights to visitation,” Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily. “Their testimony shows it. A high-paid lobbyist like Eric Boley has everything to gain by removing an elected official like me from committees.”

On social media, Bouchard called the situation a “kangaroo court.”

“Senate President Dockstader wants to see if there was probable cause? You just can’t make this stuff up!” Bouchard wrote. “Taking action and stripping me of all committees, before even determining probable cause for an investigation under Rule 22 is like putting the Cart before the Horse.”

Last week, Boley filed a complaint against Bouchard, calling him “combative” and “disrespectful.”

“Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s behavior this past year has consistently been combative and disrespectful to the witnesses, committee members and the chairman,” Boley wrote. “He has been consistently disruptive to the work of the committee and has had a chilling effect on people wishing to offer public testimony.”

Boley pointed to one such incident that allegedly occurred last week, when he was approached by Bouchard and Sen. Tom James, R-Green River, about an amendment to a bill he had been asked to prepare for consideration by the Senate.

“They entered my personal space and confronted me in an abusive and demanding tone and tried to intimidate me with their body language,” Boley wrote.

Boley said he delivered the amendment to another senator as requested by the chairman of a Senate committee, but Bouchard was “furious” at Boley for not directly delivering it to him. He said Bouchard threatened him with a video that would “expose the fear mongering and fear tactics hospitals were using during the pandemic.”

Both Bouchard and James, speaking during the proceedings that saw Bouchard removed from his committees, denied threatening tactics were used in the incident involving Boley.

Bouchard was stripped of his committee assignments one day after Boley’s complaint was filed.

Bouchard has served in the Senate since 2017 and was re-elected in 2020 to a 4-year term. He is running against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the GOP primary for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat.

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Legislators Concerned Police Put Themselves Above The Law; Prosecutors Disagree

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming prosecutors would not hesitate to press charges against police officers who violate state law, according to the president of the Wyoming County Attorneys Association.  

John Worrall, Washakie County’s attorney, took exception Friday to statements made during a debate over a firearms rights bill that prosecutors would hesitate to file charges against police who violated the law by enforcing unconstitutional firearms rules.

“I know of not a single county attorney in this state that isn’t going to prosecute a violation of law if one is demonstrated – whoever it is that committed that violation,” he said.  

The issue stemmed from debate over Senate File 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” which won final approval from the Legislature this week. 

The bill will prohibit state or local law enforcement officers from enforcing unconstitutional rules and regulations having to do with firearms. Any officer who violates the law could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, fined up to $2,000 and sentenced to up to one year in jail.

During the House SAPA debate on Wednesday, Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, said he doubted county prosecutors would be willing to charge police officers under the new law.  

Wharff recounted two anecdotal examples in which, he said, prosecutors refused to charge officers implicated in wrongdoing.  

“Individuals went to their local county attorneys and asked for assistance,” said Wharff, “and in both instances they were told ‘I can’t help you; I have to work with those guys; I can’t bring charges against them.’” 

In a later interview with Cowboy State Daily, Wharff described the instances in greater detail – saying one was a thwarted cattle theft investigation and one was a failure to prosecute Highway Patrol agents for allegedly forging a false accident report. Wharff said he knows both alleged victims personally.  

Hearsay 

Worrall told Cowboy State Daily that without more information, Wharff’s claims of prosecutorial negligence should be considered “hearsay.”  

“I know of no legal exceptions to hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay – which is what Representative Wharff was quoted as saying in the debate in the Legislature,” said Worral. “If the people who claim (they were wronged by county attorneys) want to step up and be identified, that would be something to talk about.”  

Worrall also insisted that as far as he knows, the prosecutors of Wyoming would not hesitate to press charges against law violators, regardless of status.  

“We investigate (alleged crimes by) law enforcement all the time,” said Worrall. “Throughout our state, the various prosecutors – and I know of these things because I’ve done a few myself – we refer any of that stuff to outside counsel: an outside attorney who has no dog in the fight, to review whether somebody has done something incorrect or not.”  

Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun also told Cowboy State Daily that he would be willing to file charges under SAPA.  

“If it’s an intentional violation, that clearly violates the statute, yes, I’ll prosecute it. But like anything else, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or not,” said LeBrun. 

He added that because of the way people in Fremont County vote, “This is not a place where (gun-grabbing) is an issue. That just doesn’t happen in Fremont County.”  

Fremont, like Niobrara, Johnson, Hot Springs, and other Wyoming counties, has proclaimed itself a Second Amendment sanctuary county.  

Prosecutorial Discretion 

Rep. Dan Laursen R-Powell, also worried aloud Wednesday that county attorneys may not charge their law enforcement colleagues for gun-rights infringements.  

Laursen clarified in a later interview that state law enforcement of COVID health orders contributed to his outlook.  

“They went overboard, and we shouldn’t have allowed it,” Laursen told Cowboy State Daily.   

 Wharff, Laursen and Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, were all supporters of a similar bill, SF87, which would have allowed residents to sue law enforcement officers if they felt those officers enforced rules or regulations that unconstitutionally infringed on Second Amendment rights.

All three urged the House to vote against SF102, saying it was weak in its protection of Second Amendment rights.

Law enforcement organizations across the state had supported SF102 rather than SF87.

Fortner, during floor debate, referenced a “lobbying group” working on behalf of law enforcement to oppose gun bills like SF 87 because “they thought police officers and the sheriffs of the state – all the law enforcement – should have an upper hand to control we the people.”  

But Rep. John Bear countered Fortner’s statements, saying law enforcement agents are generally accountable to the people they serve.   

He also warned legislators against speaking badly of Wyoming’s law enforcement officers.

“We need to be careful that we don’t become like the crowd that wants to defund the police – and that’s what this sounds like,” he said. 

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Wyo Hospital Association President Lodges Complaint Against Bouchard

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A complaint (see below) calling state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, “combative” and “disrespectful” was filed with the president of the state Senate one day before the body voted to remove him from all legislative committees.

The complaint from Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, was sent in a formal letter to Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, on Wednesday.

“Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s behavior this past year has consistently been combative and disrespectful to the witnesses, committee members and the chairman,” Boley wrote. “He has been consistently disruptive to the work of the committee and has had a chilling effect on people wishing to offer public testimony.”

Boley said that Bouchard has launched attacks against other lobbyists and him when they try to speak on important topics about Wyoming health care.

He added that Bouchard uses bullying and intimidation tactics, which Boley said he believed should be brought to Dockstader’s attention.

Boley pointed to one such incident that allegedly occurred earlier this week, when he was approached by Bouchard and Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, about an amendment to a bill he had been asked to prepare for consideration by the Senate.

“They entered my personal space and confronted me in an abusive and demanding tone and tried to intimidate me with their body language,” Boley wrote.

Boley said he delivered the amendment to another senator as requested by the chairman of a Senate committee, but Bouchard was “furious” at Boley for not directly delivering it to him. He said Bouchard threatened him with a video that would “expose the fear mongering and fear tactics hospitals were using during the pandemic.”

“I believe [Bouchard] keeps people from testifying in committee because they are afraid of his attacks and aggressive behavior,” he wrote. “I don’t think he should have the privilege to stay on the committee when he has such a track record of complete disrespect to me and the public at large.”

Bouchard did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Friday.

Boley continued in the letter, saying that Bouchard yelled at him and called him a “liar” during an interim committee meeting in September.

On Thursday, the Cheyenne senator was stripped of his committee assignments for intimidating and disorderly conduct. The motion to remove Bouchard from his committee assignments was made by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, who did not provide details on the incidents that spurred the allegations.

James argued on Thursday before the Senate voted to remove Bouchard from his committees that there were no threatening tactics committed against Boley, although he was not named.

“There was no threatening tactics,” James said. “It was just a matter of saying that we’re going to be transparent about what happened. There was nothing threatening.”

Bouchard, in his testimony on Thursday, downplayed the significance of his promise to create a video and said he was still planning on it.

Bouchard has served in the Senate since 2017 and was re-elected in 2020 to a 4-year term. He is running against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the GOP primary for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat.

He has regularly been an opponent of COVID-related regulations.

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Sen. Bouchard Removed From Committee Assignments After Tense Vote

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

By a margin of nearly two-to-one, Wyoming’s Senate voted Thursday to remove Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, from his committee assignments.

Bouchard was removed from his committee assignments on a vote of 19-10 after a number of serious charges — including one that he threatened other members — were levied against him by Senate leadership.

President of the Senate Dan Dockstader, at the end of the day’s session, stepped down from the chair so he could initiate the action which some observers called “an unprecedented move.”

Dockstader, without going into specific details, said Bouchard showed “a continued pattern of intimidating and disorderly conduct and other behavior which is unbecoming of a member of the Senate.”

“Members of the Senate, this is in regards to showing open support for vulgar and threatening attacks on a member of the Senate, continued support of such statements even during the season, filming used as a threatening measure, and using intimidating tactics against members of the Senate and members of the public,” Dockstader said.

Senators voted to remove Bouchard from the Legislature’s Management Audit Committee, Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and Select Committee on Legislative Facilities.

Dockstader told Cowboy State Daily Bouchard’s removal from his committees will be in place until at least 2023, when a new Senate president takes office.

During brief discussion of the motion, some senators said without specific details, they had a problem voting on the motion to strip Bouchard of his committee assignments.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne. “I just don’t know what we’re talking about and I don’t feel like I’m making an informed decision.”

Dockstader declined to provide details, choosing instead to repeat his formal statement to the Senate.

Bouchard, speaking on his own behalf, said he was in the firing line because of an incident he had with “hospital lobbyists.”

Reading from his Facebook page, he said he “told the hospital lobbyists that video was coming on their COVID fear tactics.”

Bouchard then explained that he was planning on shooting a video to show how the lobbyists were using these “fear tactics” to combat legislation.

“That’s all it is,” he said. “I don’t know why people are afraid of things that are already online.”

Bouchard repeated that he still intended to produce the video and claimed his freedom of speech was being infringed upon.

Bouchard did not discuss the charge of threatening other members of the senate.

Sen. Tom James, R-Rock Springs, an ally of Bouchard’s, said he was present at the incident cited by Dockstader and disputed the Senate president’s account.

“There was no threatening tactics,” James said. “It was just a matter of saying that we’re going to be transparent about what happened. There was nothing threatening.”

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, another friend of Bouchard’s, claimed the Cheyenne Republican was being targeted because there were many other senators who didn’t like him.

“Kicking somebody off of their committee because you don’t like them sets a really dangerous precedent,” he said.

That was quickly disputed by Sen. Larry Hicks who chided Biteman for the claim and said the issue was over Bouchard’s actions, not if he were a likable person.

Following the vote, Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily the 19 members who voted to remove him from his committees were “Republicans In Name Only” opposed to his conservative stances.

“The RINOS that run the state of Wyoming decided that I’m dangerous to their agenda, so they decided to kick me off of my committees,” Bouchard said. “I was told of their plan 15 minutes before they motioned to remove me. The vote was preordained. It’s called a kangaroo court.”

After the vote, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who voted against the action, said in the nearly 30 years that he’s been in the legislature, the removal of someone from their committee assignment has never happened.

Former state senator Diemer True, who represented Natrona County from 1971 to 1991, told Cowboy State Daily he couldn’t recall that action ever being taken either.

“This is an extraordinary event,” True said.

Bouchard has served in the Senate since 2017 and was re-elected in 2020 to a 4-year term. He is running against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the GOP primary for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat.

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Wyoming Virtual Currency Plan Clears House

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to make Wyoming the first state with its own virtual currency won final approval from the House on Thursday.

Senate File 106, allowing the state to create and sell “Wyoming stable tokens,” was approved on a vote of 48-10.

A “stable token” is a form of virtual currency whose value is backed by solid assets. Its value is much more stable than that of other virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. Stable tokens allow people to trade in the digital realm without experiencing rapid fluctuations in the value of their digital currency.

Under SF106, the state would sell, in virtual realms, Wyoming stable tokens for $1 each. The money used to buy the tokens would be invested in treasury bills and the state would keep the interest.

Discussion on the bill Thursday focused on a proposed change in the way the interest income would be used.

The bill originally proposed dividing the income between the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund and the common school account.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, successfully offered an amendment to split the income three ways and add in the state’s school foundation account.

Harshman said while he likes the idea of putting the income into two “savings accounts,” he would also like to use some of the money to help schools immediately.

“(The amendment) says we’re going to take a third of this and spend it on today’s kids,” he said.

The amendment was adopted despite arguments that if it is rejected by the Senate, the state’s adoption of the token program could be delayed.

“I think this is a discussion we can wait and have at a later date,” said Rep. Mark Baker, R-Green River. “If we put this off, we really have missed the opportunity and we won’t be leading the way, we’ll be following.”

Backers of the bill had said earlier that as the first state selling stable tokens, Wyoming could become the nation’s leader in the field.

Representatives voted for Harshman’s amendment after Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said he did not believe the amendment would slow adoption of a program and added he agreed that some of the earnings from the program should be put to immediate use.

“I do think the way the bill was structured, we were sending everything into savings,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with forecasting some of those dollars now to work on deficit issues we’ve been concerned about.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to get this bill across the finish line. I do think the way the bill was structured, we were sending everything into savings. There’s nothing wrong with forecasting some oft hose dolalrs now to work on deficit issues we’ve been concerned about. 

I think this is a discussion we can wait and have at a later date when we see th eamount of revenue that could be potetnailly created withy something like this. 

The time factor in this is imperative. If we don’t move now, if we put this off, we really have missed the oportruity and we won’t be leading the way, we’ll be following.

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Nuclear Power Plant, Storage Bill Passes Wyoming Senate, Headed Back To House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would adjust the state’s rules for regulating nuclear power plants and waste storage facilities, prepared in anticipation of the construction of a nuclear power plant near Kemmerer, cleared the Wyoming Senate on Thursday.

House Bill 131 passed the Senate on a vote of 16-13 and is now headed back to the House, where represenatives will be asked to approve any Senate changes to the bill.

The bill won final approval after Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, successfully proposed an a amendment to require a report from the state Department of Revenue on how much income the state would lose from tax exemptions provided for the developers of small nuclear power plants such as the Natrium plant proposed near Kemmerer.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, pointed out that no matter what amendments did pass on the bill, it was not going to make a difference to Wyoming’s tax revenue anytime soon.

“This is destined for years of litigation, based on the experience seen elsewhere in the country in recent years on nuclear projects,” Scott said.

Last summer, Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced the Natrium plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant would be built in Wyoming by 2027 or 2028. The reactor is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

The proposed reactor would use technology developed by TerraPower, and would result in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

Earlier in the session, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, along with Reps. Karlee Provenza and Trey Sherwood, both D-Laramie, proposed an amendment to HB131 that would have required the plant to use as much Wyoming uranium as possible while prohibiting the use of Russian uranium.

The amendment failed.

TerraPower officials have said the plant can only use a type of uranium fuel rods made in Russia, although the company is working to cultivate other sources inside the United States.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

In addition to trying to build up American producers of HALEU, TerraPower is investing in an American company to produce the fuel rods, Navin said.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Wyoming Abortion Ban Bill Approved With Rape And Incest Exemption

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban abortions in Wyoming should the U.S. Supreme Court decide to overturn its landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade passed the Senate on its third reading Thursday morning.

House Bill 92, introduced by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R–Cody, would ban abortions in the state except when the mother faces serious risks of death or irreversible physical impairments.

Left intact was an amendment added by the Senate that would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, an amendment that was rejected by the House. As a result, the bill will now head for a joint conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will try to reach a compromise over the language.

The exception amendment elicited debate among a handful of senators when it was approved on Wednesday, including its sponsor, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who argued that a woman should have autonomy over her own body, particularly in cases when she has been traumatized by the circumstances leading up to that pregnancy.

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, argued against the amendment, saying that historically, sexual assaults take years to adjudicate in the courts.

“And by that time, the young lady could have had two or three children,” she said. “Incest, and this may sound amazing to you, may be the only way for this young lady to be able to prove that she has been molested. Taken away, that evidence, by taking away a life, may mark that young lady for life, sentencing an innocent human to death because of the way they were conceived.”

On third reading of the bill Thursday morning, Hutchings also introduced an granting the state’s governor – as opposed to the attorney general – final review of the Supreme Court case related to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

The landmark legislation of Roe vs. Wade made abortion federally legal in the country, taking away the state’s rights to make it illegal.

During the third reading of the bill Thursday morning, Sen. Case urged the body to vote against it, calling it “a form of bondage.”

“Mr. President, to have the state control these very intimate, personal private decisions is a very big step,” he said. “…I hope that we won’t pretend like everything is black or white. We won’t pretend like the servitude of women doesn’t matter. We will stand up and we will not pass this bill.”

The bill passed 24-5 with one excused.

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“Second Amendment Protection Act” Clears House By 43 – 15 Margin

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill aimed at prohibiting Wyoming law enforcement officers from enforcing unconstitutional restrictions on Second Amendment rights won final approval from the House on Wednesday.

Representatives voted 43-15 to approve Senate File 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act” in its final House review

Defenders of the bill debated opponents who maintained the bill should be killed because it was weaker than one considered and rejected earlier in the session.

“I, for one, would like my constituents to have something rather than nothing,” said Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette. “When we say it’s a weak bill, but we’re willing to go with no protection at all, which is weaker?”

SF102 would prohibit any Wyoming law enforcement agent from enforcing unconstitutional federal restrictions on the Second Amendment. If an unconstitutional federal rule was enforced, the enforcing officer could face one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

The bill had been roundly criticized by backers of another gun rights bill, SF87, the “Second Amendment Preservation Act.” The bill, which failed to win introduction early in the session, would have allowed citizens to sue officials they felt were responsible for enforcing unconstitutional barriers to the Second Amendment, including increases in taxes and fees on ammunition.

Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, tried to amend SF102 to essentially replace it with SF87, but the attempt was ruled out of order by House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, because of procedural rules he said would prohibit the consideration of the same bill twice in one session.

But opponents of SF102 said it provided no actual protection for Second Amendment rights.

“SF102 is weak at best,” said. Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette. “Do we want a bill that’s got teeth in it to … put us first or do we want a weak bill that does nothing to protect us?

SF102 had the support of Wyoming’s law enforcement officers, who opposed SF87 and one like it introduced and rejected in 2021 because it allowed them to be sued if they enforced a law someone considered unconstitutional.

“The reason being they thought police officers and sheriffs, all the law enforcement should have an upper hand to control we the people,” Fortner said.

Opponents also argued the bill would require action by one branch of government against another.

“SF102 says one branch of government is going to hold the other branch accountable,” said Rep. Robert Wharff, R-Evanston. “And that fails every time.”

However, the bill’s backers objected to the description of Wyoming’s law enforcement officers as wishing to maintain the “upper hand” over individuals.

“They do care about our rights,” Bear said. “They protect them every single day. It’s a mischaracterization to say they think they are above us. We need to be careful we don’t become like the crowd that wants to defund the police.”

The Senate will now be asked to approve any House changes to the bill. If the two chambers agree to the changes, the bill will be sent to Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature.

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No Critical Race Theory Bills Made It Through 2022 Wyoming Legislative Session

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The three pieces of legislation related to the controversial topic of critical race theory that were proposed in the Wyoming Legislature this session have all died.

Senate File 103 was the third and last of the bills that was still working its way through the legislative process, but ultimately failed to win a review from the House on Tuesday in time to be considered for this session.

SF103 would have banned all schools and colleges that are supported in any manner by public funds from teaching “divisive tenets often described as a critical race theory that inflames divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the wellbeing of the state of Wyoming and its residents.”

The bill was co-sponsored by five senators, including Sens. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne.

With the killing of all three critical bills aimed at restricting the teaching critical race theory, Bouchard told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that Wyoming may lose its designation as a “red state.”

“By contrast, Florida’s Legislature regularly passes conservative legislation and before the ink dries, Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it,” Bouchard said.

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 97, would have prevented any teacher, administrator or school employee from using public money for instruction that assigns any blame or judgment for societal developments on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, color or national origin.

HB97 sponsor Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily that is was disappointing and disturbing that all three of the CRT bills were killed this session.

“Critical race theory is totally inconsistent with our Wyoming values,” Gray said. “I plan on continuing to work on banning critical race theory.”

While debating HB97, Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, gave a brief, impassioned speech about why his colleagues should not move the bill forward.

“This bill…states the teaching of history must be neutral and without judgment. Now, how can that be possible?” Schwartz said. “If I were a Native American, I doubt I could accept the neutral, judgment-free approach about the relocation and decimation of the Indigenous population. I’m Jewish, I cannot accept the neutral, judgment-free approach on the murder of 6 million Jews in World War II.”

Schwartz told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that teaching history has great value, but with that, educators must look at both the good and bad points of history.

“Everything’s not always good, our founding fathers were not perfect,” Schwartz said. “To be able to teach both sides, you can’t be constrained.”

He said that HB97 would have constrained teachers, which is why he argued against it earlier in the session. He added that it is not the job of the Wyoming Legislature to decide what is taught in K-12 schools.

The “Civics Transparency Act,” which would have required online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state, died on a vote of 5-4 in the House Education Committee earlier this week.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

The Saratoga school district’s board of trustees voted in October to ban the teaching of critical race theory in its schools.

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Bill Prohibiting Electronic ‘Stalking’ Moves Ahead In House

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A bill prohibiting the use of electronic devices in stalking crimes has cleared its first hurdle in the House after winning approval from a House committee.

Senate File 100, which was approved Tuesday in its first review by the full House, would create a crime covering those who use electronic devices such as “tiles” or cell phones to stalk people. 

In the past, stalkers had to physically track their victims, following them in vehicles or sitting outside of their homes or work, or they placed telephone calls by landlines. Such tactics made it easier for law enforcement to catch and prosecute them because they were in plain sight, according to law enforcement officials.

In the digital age, however, stalkers have become much more sophisticated, using computers, cell phones, global positioning systems and other devices to track and terrorize their victims from the comfort of their homes.

However, Wyoming’s stalking laws have lagged woefully behind when it comes to prosecuting crimes using such devices, said bill sponsor Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, who told legislators he wanted to close loopholes in Wyoming’s stalking law with SF100.

SF100 would expand on existing laws to also make stalking through the use of electronic devices such as cell phones, IPads, computers and tracking “tiles” illegal. Tracking “tiles” are typically used to help people track personal items such as keys, wallets, purses and backpacks, but in recent years have been repurposed to track victims.

In last week’s House Judiciary Committee meeting, Landen said the proposed legislation emerged out of his experience in his 30 years as an administrator at Casper College, where he saw numerous examples of young victims being stalked. Landen noted the most common targets are young women between the ages of 18 and 24. In most cases, the stalker is someone they know or who they have been involved with.

New venue for stalking

The proposed bill in no way changes the definition of stalking, but rather updates the law to address the new methods in which stalking is occurring in 2022, according to Taylor Courtney, investigations sergeant for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.

This new legislation is vital, Courtney said, because it clarifies the language concerning digital modes of stalking and allows such incidents to be charged as felonies, which currently is not the case.

Increasingly, Courtney said his department is seeing more cases of stalking involving electronic devices, particularly with perpetrators accessing apps, email and other personal accounts on cell phones or IPads to track a victim’s movements and then intimidating them by exerting control over their lives.

“If you think about your own cell phone and what you have on there, everything from your contacts with friends, bank account information, messages and other communication and all your social media, our entire lives are on our cell phones or iPads,” he said. “And that is the most target-rich environment for somebody who’s stalking.”

Given the typical connections between the victim and the perpetrator, the stalker knows passwords, email addresses and other personal information that makes it easy to access accounts and exert control over the life of a victim.

“What a stalker is doing is trying to control, create or instill fear to be able to have power or just for the sheer thrill of being able to scare someone and make them change their pattern of life,” he said. “It’s an obsession.”

Upton Police Chief Susan Bridge, who also spoke in favor of the proposed law in an earlier House committee meeting, said that she and her department have also seen an increase in these types of electronic stalking cases. 

In one case she references, an estranged husband was tracking his ex-wife through AirTags that he asked the couple’s son to conceal on his mother’s car, so the husband could follow her every movement.

“We are seeing this more and more,” she said, noting that SF100 would be the perfect solution for prosecuting these crimes.

Clearing the House

Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, said on the House floor the bill is the legislative response to the modern evolution of stalking.

“Today, the world has changed,” he said. “Surveillance occurs through small devices that can be dropped into a purse or into a car or behind a license plate. It can also occur with certain computer applications that allow you to follow individuals, cell phones and the location of the cell phone or GPS system in some automobiles.”

Washut, a former police officer, repeated earlier concerns voiced by  legislators about the law interfering with a parent’s ability to monitor their children via their cell phone location.

“First and foremost, you must establish that we have a crime of stalking occurring and a harassment aspect of stalking is occurring,” he said.

The bill was approved Wednesday for a third and final reading Thursday in the House.

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Trump-Backed Crossover Voting Bill Dies In Wyoming House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming House of Representatives did not consider a bill Tuesday aimed at keeping voters from changing parties to influence the outcome of primary elections, leaving it to die in the closing week of the budget session.

Senate File 97 was not considered for “committee of the whole” on Tuesday, the deadline for reviewing bills returned to the full chamber by committees, meaning it will no longer move forward in the legislative process this session. The bill had been supported by former President Donald Trump.

The bill received a “do not pass” recommendation from the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, with five representatives voting not to move it forward.

If the bill had been signed into law, it would have specified that people wishing to change party affiliation would have to do so about three months prior to a primary election or between the primary and general elections. Currently, voters may change party affiliation up to the day of a primary or general election.

The Appropriations Committee heard more than an hour of public testimony on Monday regarding the bill, both in support and opposition.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, was the first to testify before the committee, echoing similar comments he has made about the legislation since the session began last month.

“We’ve seen in recent elections, a concerted effort by people that have no intentions of being with one party,” Biteman testified. “They want to influence the outcome of that particular party’s election. I don’t think that’s right.”

He has previously said that the bill is intended to keep Democrats from switching their party affiliation to Republican to influence the outcome of the Republican primary elections.

Biteman did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Gail Symons, who runs the legislative blog Civics 307, pointed out during her testimony that the voting numbers between 2018 and 2020 showed that more Republicans switched to Democrat than vice versa.

“While there might be a lot of communications…the truth is, it’s not translating into actions,” she told the committee. “By no means do I think it’s appropriate to change party and vote for no other reason than to mess with somebody else’s nominations. My point is the data shows that is not happening.”

Laramie County voter Angela Sylvester told the committee on Monday that having to register for party affiliation so far in advance would be a huge inconvenience for her, as a single mother.

“I don’t like to vote along party lines,” she said. “I like to vote for who I think would be the best person.”

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Bill That Allows Wyoming To Issue Own Digital Currency Moving Through House

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to make Wyoming the only state in the nation with its own digital currency won initial approval from the state House on Tuesday.

Representatives approved, in its first full floor review, Senate File 106, which would authorize Wyoming’s treasurer to issue “stable tokens.”

Stable tokens are a form of digital currency backed by solid assets, said Rep. Mike Yin, R-Jackson, who presented the bill in the House.

Yin said the values of most digital currencies can be very volatile, while Wyoming’s stable tokens, being backed by the state’s assets, would remain constant in their value.

Stable tokens allow people to trade in the digital realm without experiencing rapid fluctuations in the value of their currency, he said.

“You get the stability of the dollar and the liquidity of being able to transact these tokens … in the virtual world,” he said. 

Under the plan, the state would offer the tokens for sale through digital sources for $1 each. The money paid for the tokens would be invested by the treasurer’s office in federal treasury bills. The principal would be used to back the cryptocurrency, but interest from the treasury bills would go into the state’s coffers.

By being the first state to put such a system in place, Wyoming could benefit from the global digital currency market valued at $150 billion, said Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn.

“It gives us the opportunity to really capitalize on this advantage,” he said. “There is enormous, almost limitless potential. This is an opportunity for us to continue playing to our strengths.”

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said the state’s goal should be to sell tokens to as many people as possible.

“We need to be able to capture the market,” he said. “You want to be able to sell these to anyone outside of Wyoming … because our population is not big enough to generate the revenue we’re looking at.”

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, said while the interest paid by treasury bills is low, as the first state to enter the market, Wyoming could capture as much as 10% of the stable token market, leading to earnings of up to $30 million per year.

The bill will be reviewed a second time Wednesday.

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Bill Outlawing Abortions Moves On In Wyoming State Senate

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban abortions in Wyoming should the U.S. Supreme Court decide to overturn its decision in the landmark abortion case of Roe vs. Wade won initial approval from the Senate on Tuesday.

House Bill 92, introduced by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R–Cody, would ban abortions in the state if Roe vs. Wade is reversed unless the mother faces serious risks of death or irreversible physical impairments.

Speaking during the bill’s review in the Senate’s “committee of the whole” — the first review of bills returned by committees — Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, explained that the bill is a “trigger bill” that would not take effect until Roe vs. Wade is overturned.

The bill was proposed because the Supreme Court last year indicated it might be willing to overturn its previous ruling, she said.

“It is actually an abortion ban-in-waiting bill and act relating to abortion,” she said. “One limiting the circumstances under which an abortion may be performed, limiting the use of appropriated funds from the state and providing a delayed effective date pending the or highest court’s decision.”

The bill cleared its first full Senate review with no debate and will be reviewed a second time on Wednesday.

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Bill Making Meth Use By Pregnant Women A Felony Dies In Senate

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily 

A bill that would have made it a felony to consume meth while pregnant has died in the state Senate amid concerns that it could encourage abortions and flood drug treatment centers with expectant women.  

House Bill 85 would have added meth and illegal opioid use while pregnant to the state’s list of child endangerment felonies, which already prohibit exposing children to meth either by giving it to them or having it in their presence.

The bill failed to clear its first review by the full Senate, dying on a vote of 17-8.

Abortions in Prison? 

State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, told the Senate he opposed the bill because he wanted to see more emphasis on treatment. He also said he worried the bill would deter women from getting prenatal care and may prompt them to get abortions.  

“If they go into prison they can get an abortion,” he said. “It’s been decided in the courts, and they can go right in and get that done.”  

In an email to Cowboy State Daily, Wyoming Department of Corrections director Dan Shannon said yes, abortions are available to DOC inmates, but he has never heard of one being performed.

“As abortions opportunities are a constitutional matter, the Department of Corrections must comply with the current law” by not refusing them, wrote Shannon. He added that a confined woman asking for an abortion “would be required to address all medical expenses, transport cost, and court approved removal from the facility.”  

“During my 15-year tenure with WDOC,” he wrote, “I am not aware of an inmate receiving an abortion.”  

Lack of Support 

Sens. Charles Scott, R-Casper and Cale Case, R-Lander, both echoed Bouchard’s concerns that pregnant women may avoid treatment and care over fear of a felony conviction.  

Case said he’d like to see a law welcoming women to state-funded support.  

“Hey, if you have a substance abuse problem and you’re pregnant, come see us right now; we have a program of amnesty; we have a program to get you medical attention,” Case described the ideal law as saying. “We can help you in this miracle that’s happening in your life, to deal with the evil of substance abuse. That’s the bill I want to see.”  

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, called the bill’s plan of reliance on probation to keep a pregnant woman sober was “absurd” and said she’d like to see “a more thoughtful solution” crafted in the interim.   

Co-Sponsors 

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said he sponsored the bill as a “knee-jerk reaction,” but didn’t think the state’s mental health systems were ready to accommodate it its requirements.  

But fellow co-sponsor Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, countered, saying “Feeding the unborn methamphetamine probably isn’t the right idea.”  

He indicated that just the offer of treatment, which he called the “carrot” end of the solution, “does not work, so we need to come up with some new way of handling this.”  

Under Wyoming law meth consumption by anyone is a misdemeanor.

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Civics Transparency Bill Dies In Wyoming House Education Committee

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have required teachers to post their class materials online for public view has died in a Wyoming House of Representatives committee meeting.

The “Civics Transparency Act,” which would have required online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state, died on a vote of 5-4 in the House Education Committee.

The bill was rejected by the committee after several speakers criticized it as an unwarranted burden on the state’s teachers.

Wyoming Education Association president Grady Hutcherson said that the bill had an unintended consequence of demoralizing teachers in the state.

“It’s an insult to me as a professional, that I have to be micromanaged to this level,” he told the education committee. “We know that this bill is supposed to be about transparency. We wholeheartedly believe in transparency. We know the value of the parents’ involvement in the education process.

“Parents could come into my classroom anytime they wanted,” he continued. “So all of these things are already in place. That’s why the unintended consequence of this transparency bill is more about political rhetoric than being respectful of professional educators.”

Tim Mullen, government relations director with the Wyoming Department of Education, raised similar points. He also pointed out that there could be undue burden not only on Wyoming’s teachers, but its administrators, with trying to implement this new law into the schools.

“The idea that we don’t have transparency, or there’s a problem with transparency, in the state of Wyoming, we believe that nothing could be further from the truth,” Mullen said.

The bill was killed despite testimony from bill co-sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, that the bill is all about transparency in Wyoming’s education.

“What this bill is, is what the title says: transparency,” Driskill said. “Transparency means you put it up where you find it. I admire our teachers in what they do, unabashedly. Does this mean we shouldn’t be transparent in the materials we’re using?”

The bill was related to the critical race theory debate that was sparked last fall.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education proposed guidelines for American history and civics education grant programs which encourage schools to use curriculum related to the New York Times’ 1619 Project (a journalism project that focuses on the consequences of slavery and contributions of Black Americans), critical race theory and the work of anti-racism activist and author Ibram X. Kendi.

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Bill Prohibiting Use of Electronic Devices To Stalk People Clears House Committee

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would prohibit the use of electronic devices to “stalk” people cleared a House committee on Monday.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to send Senate File 100 to the House floor for a vote.

Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, told the committee the proposed legislation was inspired by his 30 years as an administrator at Casper College, where he saw numerous examples of young victims being stalked.

The majority of stalking victims tend to be young women between the ages of 18 and 24, Landen said. He told the story of one young woman who was unable to get a protective order against her stalker until after the third time he broke into her house.

SF100 would build on existing stalking laws to also make stalking by electronic devices, such as global positioning systems and Apple AirTag, illegal.

AirTag and other tracking “tiles” are usually used to help people track personal items such as keys, wallets, purses and backpacks.

However, stalking crimes involving such devices are becoming increasingly more popular in Wyoming, making it necessary for the legislature to update existing laws that currently are not on the books, speakers told the committee.

Speaking to the committee by Zoom, Taylor Courtney, investigations sergeant for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, said the proposed bill does not redefine what stalking is, but adds clarity to definitions about how it can occur.

While police are seeing small “trackers” used in stalking, what they see more often is stalking via cell phones, tablets and OnStar vehicle systems in cars, Courtney said.

“These devices have a GPS system that is already inside of them,” he said. “And all the phones now because of the emerging technology are turning into handheld lifestyle trackers because of the GPS access to the applications that are on your phone.”

Stalkers can then access Google and iCloud accounts to track a victim’s finances, photos, emails, videos and anything else that is accessible through a computer or cell phone.

He referenced the case of one young woman in Casper whose stalker had gained access to her accounts, including her email and Netflix account, and was sending her intimidating emails documenting where she was and what movie she might be watching.

“She and her mother were scared out of their minds because they believed he was sitting right outside of her window actually watching them,” Courtney said.

Upton Police Chief Susan Bridge, who also spoke in favor of the proposed law, said that she and her department have also seen an increase in these types of electronic stalking cases. In one case, the estranged husband of a wife in the process of getting a divorce had their son put multiple tracking devices on the woman’s car so he could follow her every movement.

“We are seeing this more and more often, and just yesterday, our department took another case involving non-specified electronic harassment within the statute,” she said, adding Weston County’s attorneys were hesitant to pursue the case given the lack of legal ramifications.

This proposed legislation, Bridge said, would fill these gaps in law.

After a discussion made clear that parents tracking their children using these devices would not fall under the legal definition of stalking, the bill passed by a 9-0 vote.

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Second Amendment Protection Act Bill Moves Ahead In House

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would prohibit Wyoming law enforcement officers from enforcing unconstitutional federal firearms regulations was approved in its first full House review on Monday.

Senate File 102, the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” was approved by the House “committee of the whole” on Monday, send it on for a second reading on Tuesday. The “committee of the whole” is when bills returned by committees receive their first full House review.

Supporters of the bill argued it was a good compromise to protect the Second Amendment rights of Wyoming’s residents.

The bill had been criticized by some as not going far enough to protect Wyoming residents from federal overreach in the area of firearms regulations.

But supporters maintained that if nothing else, the bill was a step in the right direction to support constitutional rights.

“This is moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland. “Really, it comes down to what’s constitutional and who’s going to uphold that. I don’t know if any legislation is going to change that.”

Legislation had been proposed last year and again during this session that would have allowed residents to sue law enforcement agencies and government entities for enforcing what would be defined as regulations aimed at impeding Second Amendment rights.

Critics said SF102 should have been rejected in favor of the other legislation.

“It’s weakened verbiage, it’s not the bill we need to bring forward this year,” said Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette.

But backers maintained SF102 had the support of law enforcement officers from around the state and was designed with their input.

“It’s a very short, sweet bill,” said Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. “Leaving the lobbyist aspect out of this, I have yet to have a single individual from our law enforcement community … call me up and tell me they don’t want to support this.”

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Wyoming House, Senate Approve $2.7 Billion Budget; On Its Way To Governor’s Office

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A two-year budget detailing spending of roughly $2.7 billion from the state’s main bank account in fiscal 2023-24 was approved Monday by both the Wyoming House and Senate.  

The budget for the state’s “general fund” authorizes spending of about $400 million less than the budget for 2021-22, which was approved in 2020 just days before COVID measures prompted unprecedented spending cuts nationwide.  

Savings 

Despite the cuts, about one-third of the members in each chamber voted against this biennial budget, with many delegates voicing concerns that the planned expenditures would diminish the state’s legislative stabilization and reserve account, a special savings account used to make up shortfalls between income and expenses.

“Under the current budget,” said Senate Vice President Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, “and the bills we currently have passed, we will have a LSRA of $1.457 billion” by the end of the biennium. 

That is  $103 million less than the account’s starting point of $1.56 billion.  

“We’re going backwards on our savings account, folks, so just keep that in mind as we go forward,” Hicks said.  

On the House side, Speaker Pro Tem Mike Greear, R-Worland, said he was “disappointed” with the budget and not confident that the LSRA would be replenished.  

“It’s a long time before that happens in this current environment,” he said. 

Greear referenced “geopolitical instability” such as the Ukrainian war impacting the global economy, which he said would “translate into our investment account.”  

“I wish we would have looked at shoring up these reserve accounts a little more to steady (the budgeting process),” he said.  

But Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, argued the increasing oil prices may result in a more optimistic picture.  

“The (fiscal projection) in January had $60 (per barrel) for oil and less than $4 (per gallon) on gas,” said Nicholas. “We know we’re going to have better returns from that,” he said.

Last week, the price of a barrel of West Texas Interimediate crude oil, the benchmark price for Wyoming oil, topped $96.

Nicholas also said the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for projects that are “immediate and needy” should help alleviate some of budget concerns.  

School Foundation 

The state’s School Foundation Program, the main source of funding for Wyoming’s schools, was also the source of some debate, as it was in 2020.

The foundation program is slated to pull $127 million from the LSRA in this budget to help with its expenditures of roughly $1.8 billion, Hicks noted in the Senate. 

“That’s the structural deficit we currently have in K-12 (school funding),” he said.

He added the structural deficit has been “baked in, into the foundation program” because of a failure last session to work out a 6% spending cut with the state House.

Investment Account 

The strategic investment project account likewise, said Hicks, contained $171 million last month, but could be drained by the current plan.  

“We’re leaving here with zero (in SIPA) and it … doesn’t look like there’s going to be any more money that flows from our general budget all the way down.,” he said.  

School Construction 

Wyoming plans to spend $245 million in capital construction for its K-12 schools this biennium.  

“There was not enough money to fund all the school capital construction in this budget, so we transferred $14.7 million out of LSRA,” said Hicks, along with another $4 million from the school foundation program, then another $46 million out of the school capital construction savings account itself.  

Hicks said that was a broad overview of some larger items in the budget.   

“And you can see where the structural deficits are at,” he added.   

Infrastructure Match 

On the House side, Nicholas, noted that $75 million of the budget is being set aside to use as grant matches for the Congressional infrastructure funding due to hit states next year.  

“There’s $1.4 billion dollars in it and it requires various matching components,” said Nicholas, “so we’re going to have to have matching dollars set aside in order to capture that infrastructure bill.”  

With both chambers having agreed to changes made during the three-week review of the budget, it is now headed to the desk of Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature.

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Wyoming Abortion Ban Bill Passes Committee, Heads To Senate Floor

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would make abortion illegal in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn its ruling in the landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade was sent to the Senate floor on Monday.

The Senate Labor, Health and Social Services committee voted unanimously to approve House Bill 92, introduced by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R–Cody, for full Senate debate. 

As written, the law would ban abortions in the state except when the mother faces serious risks of death or irreversible physical impairments.

Monday’s hearing was a continuation of one that began in committee Friday but was ended because of a lack of time. During the the two days of testimony, speakers appeared about evenly divided in their support for or opposition to the bill.

Rev. Tim Lasseter, president of Park County Right to Life, urged the committee to approve the bill as a way to protect innocent lives.

“I can think of no greater thing than protecting the innocent and unborn,” he said. “It says in the Bible that God knows when a sparrow falls from the nest. How much more will he care about and how much more does he care about an innocent life? This is simply a bill that would protect those innocent lives should Roe v. Wade be overturned.”

Michigan pro-life activist and attorney Rebecca Kiessling, flew to Wyoming to testify in person in favor of the bill after addressing the committee by Zoom on Friday.

Kiessiling is an attorney and activist who was conceived as the result of a rape and who nearly died before birth when her mother underwent two illegal abortions, she said.

She argued that the right to personhood is protected under 14th Amendment, which she said protects the right to life under all conditions.

“And once you recognize that personhood, you can’t discriminate, and exceptions are discriminatory,” she said. “…I deserved to have been born, and I wasn’t lucky. I was protected. Legality matters.”

The bill was sent to the Senate floor despite objects voiced by several Wyoming residents.

Hannah Thomas, a Cheyenne resident and third-year medical resident at Harvard Medical School, argued that banning abortions puts a woman’s health at risk. Citing multiple studies, Thomas said that making abortion illegal does not stop the act but rather puts women’s lives in peril when they seek unsafe procedures that result in death and other complications.

Thomas also said legislation that puts restrictions on a physician’s right to treat their patients would deter current and future physicians like herself from establishing practices in the state.

Lander attorney Christine Lichtenfels likewise argued no government should mandate a woman’s choice to an abortion.

Lichtenfels also took offense to language in the bill that would ban abortions from being performed because of a woman’s emotional or psychological health.

“When Wyoming statutes and common law recognize that emotional mental and/or psychological injury, and in the case of child abuse, constitutes abuse and is criminal by legislating that only the physical condition of a pregnant woman’s body matter,” she said, “it’s as if women as just livestock. That is the definition of dehumanizing and I ask Legislature not to dehumanize women.”

Others such as Dr. Larry Meuli, pediatrician and former state legislator and former leader of what would become the state Department of Health, said that legislation such as HB92 sets a terrible precedent on what he sees as government overreach by telling a doctor how he or she can treat a patient as well as giving the government authority over a person’s life.

He also shared former U.S. Senator Al Simpson’s advice to the Wyoming Republican Party not to let the issue of abortion tear the party apart.

“When I was in the Legislature, it was kind of live and let live,” Dr. Meuli said. “And I know that it is not part of present Republican beliefs.”

Several others, including committee member Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, spoke about the sanctity of life and defending the unborn fetus, which he said is protected under the Constitution.

“I know what my Constitution says, and it really boils down to a personal definition of when that (fetus) is a life,” he said. “It’s not just the man, there’s two people and somebody has to protect the second person. This isn’t really a whole religious argument. 

“This is a belief structure, and our laws are based on Judeo-Christian values and the First Commandment says what? ‘Thou shalt not kill,’” he continued. “At the end of the day, to answer your question, that’s where we’re coming at from this. When everything is said and done, that baby in the womb doesn’t have a vote or a choice.”

The bill will now be sent to the Senate floor for debate during the “committee of the whole,” the full Senate’s first review of bills approved by committees.

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Bill Banning Trans Athletes From Women’s Sports Dies In Wyoming House; Sponsor Disappointed

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would have banned transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports died late last week in the Wyoming House of Representatives after it failed to win introduction.

The bill passed the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday and was sent to the House for introduction, but it was not introduced by the Friday deadline.

Bill sponsor Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, repeatedly said that the bill was intended to keep biological males from participating in athletic teams or sports designated for women. Schuler, a former Olympic athlete, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday she was disappointed the bill was not introduced in the House.

“There was overwhelming support from the citizens of Wyoming and I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and texts,” she said. “I believe that our constituents feel, as I do, that we need to protect women’s and girls sports so that they have a level playing field. If I am back next session, I will certainly take another look at the legislation if the support is still there from our constituents.”

Schuler previously said that men have innate physiological traits that give them athletic advantages over women, which is why separate women’s sports programs were originally created.

The bill moved from the Senate to the House last week, when it won final approval on a vote of 24-5.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, one of the five senators to vote against the bill, argued last week that the bill might not even be constitutional. She added decisions on participation in sports should made by local leaders, not the Legislature.

“We, as a society, will continue to balance these interests, and in understanding how to raise our families and to raise our children in this state, we rely on those teachers, coaches, professionals and school boards to navigate these issues as we know they always have,” she said. “Let’s trust them to deal with these children, which they are, in the way that they know how to do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming has also argued against the bill.

“Trans people belong everywhere in Wyoming, including sports,” the ACLU of Wyoming said last week. “And the Wyoming High School Activities Association already has a policy in place for transgender athletes.

In her testimony, Schuler often cited the story of University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas who as a male swimmer ranked 462nd in the nation against other males but as a transgender swimmer ranked first in the nation among females.

“He was a very average swimmer,” she said of Thomas. “Then she transitioned to a female and she’s breaking all of these NCAA records.”

The editor of Swimming World magazine on Sunday said Thomas’ records should have an asterisk next to them — like Roger Maris did when Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record but played in more games than Ruth.

“Her name, for historical purposes, must be accompanied by an appropriate symbol, one that denotes a lack of fairness and disrespect for an entire sex,” wrote Editor-In-Chief John Lohn.

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Senate Committee Approves Bill Creating Felony For Meth Use While Pregnant

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Photo by Matthew Idler

A bill classifying methamphetamine use while pregnant as a felony crime narrowly passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, winning approval on a 3-2 vote despite some vocal opposition.

House Bill 85 is now slated for review next week by the Wyoming Senate. 

The bill would add meth use while pregnant to Wyoming’s child endangerment statutes, but it also would order judges to sentence first-time offenders to probation and treatment.

The sentencing requirement is “groundbreaking,” said bill sponsor Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, because such mandates for the judicial branch are not seen elsewhere in the law.   

Oakley added the treatment-first requirement to her bill early this week after opponents argued the prospect of a felony charge would discourage women from getting prenatal care or drug treatment.  

Felony Status 

Among the bill’s most vocal opponents was Lauren McLane, a University of Wyoming law professor who expressed concern the stigma that accompanies a felony conviction. 

McLane noted that she was not speaking for UW but for herself as a criminal justice reform advocate.  

“What we’re going to do here is we’re still going to give the mother of the unborn child a felony conviction,” said McLane, “and that felony conviction will cause not just probation and treatment but will result in cyclical travesty” including employment and other difficulties.  

Oakley maintained the bill allows for the deferral of an official conviction as prosecutors and judges deem appropriate.  

In Wyoming, felony convictions can be deferred and ultimately dismissed pending completion of a probation program.  

Committee member Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, added he believes people who commit felonies should have felony convictions.  

“Harsher penalties (under this bill) kick in for subsequent offenses – as they should,” said Cooper, who voted for the bill. “The thought of a felony following a person through life: yeah, that’s the consequence of committing a felony.” 

Korin Schmidt, director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, told the committee that her department received 115 reports last year of newborns testing positive for drugs immmediately after birth. Of those cases, 37 resulted in the child being taken into protective custody, she said.

Chair Opposes

The bill was sent on to the Senate floor despite the opposition of committee Chair Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, who said more time was needed to properly craft the bill. She also said the Legislature’s refusal to adopt similar bills four times in the past was “telling.”

“This law is not on the books and I think that’s a telling piece for Wyoming’s history,” she said, “which is certainly in favor of protecting children and (is) tough on crime.” 

Nethercott said she would like to gather more data on drug-exposed babies in Wyoming and to contemplate “some smarter solutions to addressing that gap” in the law.  

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