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Bill Giving Elected Officials Control Over Wyoming Health Orders Wins First House Nod

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would put elected officials in charge of public health orders that restrict the activities of healthy people won initial approval from Wyoming’s House on Monday.

House Bill 127 was drafted to give someone accountable to the state’s residents authority over how healthy people are treated when statewide orders are issued to prevent the spread of disease, said House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, the bill’s primary sponsor.

“We’re trying to keep people healthy and alive,” Barlow told the House. “If we start limiting healthy people’s activities, that’s where it becomes a little different, in my mind.”

During the year-long coronavirus pandemic, state Public Health Officer Alexia Harrist and Gov. Mark Gordon signed public health orders closing and restricting businesses and limiting public gatherings to slow the spread of the illness.

Under Barlow’s bill, the state public health officers and county health officers could continue to issue orders addressing the actions of people who are ill, such as quarantine orders.

Health officers could also issue orders limiting the activities of people who are not sick, but those orders would only be in effect for 10 days. After 10 days, local and state governing officials, such as county commissioners and the governor, would be responsible for approving any extensions of the orders.

Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the measure, said the bill would make elected officials responsible for actions affecting people who are not sick.

“One of the requests of the people was to have someone who was an elected person be ultimately responsible,” she said.

Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said such an arrangement could prevent unnecessary economic disruptions in the future.

“The way we currently address these problems has got to change,” he said. “The economic impact we have seen to our state and country over the past year based on the actions taken to address the problem have been astronomical, incalculable. Taking these steps is a huge step in the right direction to the elected officials and to common sense and sanity.”

The bill is one of several introduced during the Legislature’s session to limit the authority of public health officers to restrict businesses and actions in the wake of the business shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.

The bill now moves to a second reading in the Senate. 

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Bouchard’s Gun Bill Passes Wyoming Senate’s Committee of the Whole

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A gun rights bill that would have Wyoming declare federal gun laws that restrict the ability of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms null and void won approval in its first full Senate review Monday.

Senate File 81, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, would declare federal laws identified as “infringements on the people’s right to keep and bear arms” as invalid.

“We have a lot of threats in the federal government coming through Congress and I think everyone can agree, they’re there to have a chilling effect on gun owners and manufacturers,” Bouchard told his colleagues during the Senate floor session Monday.

The bill would also declare invalid any federal law “ordering the confiscation of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition from law abiding citizens.”

The bill would bar any Wyoming law enforcement officers from enforcing any federal laws ruled an infringement on the Second Amendment.

The law would apply to federal rules and laws already in place as well as any passed in the future.

“Law-abiding citizens should not have the harm of overreach from the federal government,” Bouchard said.

The federal actions the bill identifies as infringements on the Second Amendment include any tax or fee imposed on firearms and accessories “that might reasonably be expected to create a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items,” the registration or tracking of firearms or ammunition and any act forbidding the possession, ownership or transfer of a firearm.

Earlier this month, the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association said the bill, in its original form, could leave its members in a dilemma while trying to enforce the law.

“The … Act, while well intentioned to prohibit firearms confiscation by federal entities to unknown future laws, could actually inhibit Wyoming peace officers from enforcing certain Wyoming statutes, conducting complete investigations and ensuring successful prosecution,” said the letter, signed by all 23 of Wyoming’s sheriffs.

The letter said the law would leave law enforcement unable to seize weapons from people accused of serious crimes.

“For example, we could normally seize a firearm as part of a local case and turn the firearm over to federal entities for prosecution,” the letter said. “These cases run the gamut of aggravated robbery, child pornography and various dangerous drug investigations.”

The sheriffs also objected to a section of the bill that would allow people whose weapons have been seized to sue the officer involved, who would have no immunity from damages, even if acting within the scope of his duties.

“To punish and hold liable a peace officer who seizes a weapon which is later returned, is wrong,” the letter said. “It is already difficult to recruit and retain quality peace officers.”

The bill must be approved in two more Senate votes before it can be sent to the House for review by representatives.

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Wyoming One Step Closer to Making Bestiality A Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would make bestiality a crime was sent to the floor of the Senate for debate on Friday by a legislative committee.

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning in support of a bill submitted in response to a Sweetwater County incident and told members Wyoming is only one of only four states in the country that doesn’t have a bestiality law on its books.

“I don’t necessarily consider it a widespread or growing problem but in my county, we did have an incident last year where the matter was investigated, it was actually on video, there was no question about the facts,” Stith said. “Law enforcement investigated it. They were able to prosecute for trespass, but not anything more. The community felt trespass didn’t quite capture the justice in this matter.”

Stith is sponsoring House Bill 46, which has already been approved by the House, which would make bestiality a misdemeanor in the state and a maximum sentence of one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

This incident to which he was referring occurred last summer when a man in Sweetwater County was found to have trespassed onto private property to engage in sexual activity with horses.

The property owner told the deputy that they chained and locked the gate a certain way when leaving the corral at night. When they returned to the corral the next day, it was chained differently.

“While shocking, this is actually a very difficult case,” Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jason Mower said at the time of the crime. “Wyoming is only one of a handful of states without a bestiality statute on the books.”

Mower also explained that for an animal cruelty charge to hold up in court, it would have to be proven that the man actually injured the horses.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, also testified in support of the bill, but also the committee to consider making bestiality a felony, not just a misdemeanor.

“The good bringer of the bill has taken the first step, but when you look at other states that have similar laws in place … perhaps in this case it would be appropriate with a second or subsequent conviction to make it a felony-level offense,” Zwonitzer said.

Tara Muir, public policy director for the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, also testified in support of the bill, whether the crime is considered a misdemeanor or felony.

However, she said the bill didn’t include any provisions for victims who might be forced into bestiality, so she asked for an amendment consideration for their defense.

“I think [being forced into bestiality] happens more than we know,” Muir said.

Committee members agreed they would consider an amendment during a second reading of the bill.

Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police spokesman Bryon Oedekoven also testified in support of the bill.

“This bill came out of an incident in Sweetwater County but unfortunately, I can tell you this happens all over the state,” Oedekoven said.

The committee unanimously agreed to send the bill to the Senate for consideration on “general file,” when the amendments would be offered. “General file” refers to the consideration by the full Senate of a bill approved by a committee.

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Suicide Prevention Bill Languishes In Wyoming House

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s wide open spaces are refreshing to some, but desolate and lonely to others. And for those struggling with depression, the isolation can be literally fatal.

Wyoming health rankings in 2020 indicated that suicide was a leading cause of death in Wyoming for the ages of 15 through 24. And a recent Wyoming study conducted by the private Prevention Management Organization (PMO) showed that half of all residents in the state have been touched in some way by suicide.

That’s why a bill that would train students to recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts in their peers would be a benefit, according to freshman Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody.

“I’ve met several families who have lost a loved one to suicide, particularly the youth, a child, and so often they tell a friend before they tell a trusted adult,” she said.

Williams has taken up a bill that was introduced in the interim last session which was supported by veteran legislators Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell. 

Coe, who passed away a few months ago, and Northrup, who retired last year, had both served on the Joint Education Committee, where House Bill 175 has been considered.

And although the bill died in the interim, Williams has chosen to champion the cause, resurrecting it for the general session.

“After it failed in the House, I received numerous calls numerous emails from various suicide prevention advocates, across the state and in our local community, asking for it to come back,” she said.

Williams says the bill proposes an amendment to the Jason Flatt Act, which the state adopted in 2014, requiring teachers to be trained in suicide prevention methods. This bill would require school districts to provide suicide awareness and prevention programs to Wyoming students grades six through 12.

“I have been told by local school psychologists that up to 80% of the time, when a teen contemplates suicide, they tell a peer, they don’t tell an adult,” Rodriguez-Williams said. “And I’ve seen that firsthand.”

The statistic is confirmed by Terresa Humphries-Wadsworth, a licensed psychologist who for several years worked for the state of Wyoming in community suicide prevention – until all funding was cut for such programs in 2017. 

But she’s still working in the field, now on a national level, and says that especially for youth, talking about suicidal thoughts is more than just taboo.

“In high school, friends are so important that what they think of them is so important,” she said. “When they’re encountering these kinds of problems, they may kind of hint to their friends of what this is like, early in their thinking process. But as they start spiraling down, they start withdrawing from their friends and their activities. And when they go silent, that’s when it’s really scary.”

Humphries-Wadsworth, who lives in Cody, points out that the bill being considered would give teens tools to help friends who are in trouble.

“There are so many teens at suicide funerals, who say, ‘He said this to me, but I didn’t know I didn’t know he meant death. If I’d known, I could have said something, I could have done something,’” she said. “And I think that’s what this bill is trying to do – give them knowledge and tools to help save their friends.”

Rodriguez-Williams said the bill does not require any funding.

“There’s no fiscal note tied to this bill at all,” she said. “And if it does pass, most school districts will access the suicide prevention experts in their respective counties.”

According to Rodriguez-Williams, if this bill passes, school districts can look into a number of different evidence-based programs that are proven to work. 

“Suicide prevention has come a long way over the years,” she said. “We know what’s effective and what’s not. And it looks different in every community. So I think it’s important for school districts to choose programs that are right for them based on their demographics.”

The bill in question wouldn’t create “mini-counselors”, according to Rodiguez-Willams — just help students recognize signs that they may not have known about and teach them how to turn to a trusted adult, or to utilize services such as the 1-800 Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK).

“But what’s most important is that we’re building resiliency in our youth,” she said. “And we’re also teaching new skills. We’re teaching youth to recognize the signs and symptoms that come along with suicidal thinking.”

Rodriguez-Williams isn’t alone in the fight. In addition to advocates like Humphries-Wadsworth, Rodriguez-Willaims said she’s had support from other suicide prevention stakeholders in Park County. 

She emphasized again that there are no funds tied to this bill, which is why it could work.

“Prevention funds already exist at the county level, it’s not changing how these funds are dispersed or how they’re used,” she said. “It just simply allows school districts and schools to access services that are already provided. And the funding is already there, they can choose their own path.”

But the bill may not survive. 

HB 175 was referred to the House Education Committee on March 4, but no hearing on it has been scheduled.

Friday is the last day for bills from the House to be reported out of House committees. Bills not approved by committee by the end of Friday’s work will generally not be heard on the House floor.

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Death Row Exoneree Testifies In Support of Wyoming Repealing Death Penalty

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man who once sat on death row for a crime he did not commit recently testified in support of Wyoming repealing its death penalty.

Ray Krone testified before the Senate Revenue Committee last week, telling the story of how he was wrongly accused in 1991 of killing a woman who was found dead in a Phoenix bar he frequented.

“I used to support the death penalty, since it wouldn’t affect me and my family, so what do I care about it?” Krone said in his testimony. “I found out how wrong I was when I was 35 years old and got sentenced to death in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Krone was convicted one year after his arrest due to dental impressions found on the victim’s body that supposedly matched his. Ten years later, Krone was exonerated when it was discovered the woman was actually killed by another man who was also known for being a violent sexual predator.

The Wyoming Legislature is considering Senate File 150 (sponsored by Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas), which would repeal the state’s death penalty. The Senate was to debate the bill on Wednesday, but its discussion was held back for a day because of weekend blizzard that halted activity in southeastern Wyoming for two days.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the last person executed in Wyoming was Mark Hopkinson in 1992.

During a Senate Revenue Committee meeting on March 4, Boner explained his reasoning behind the bill.

“It’s during time of fiscal constraint that it’s more important than ever we reassess state government and maybe some things that used to work in the past are no longer relevant,” the senator said.

He described the death penalty as a rusty old tool on the shelf that didn’t work and was expensive.

There is only one person on death row in Wyoming, Dale Eaton, convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a Montana teenager in 1988 and then throwing her body into the North Platte River. His death sentence was overturned by a federal judge in 2014 although prosecutors said they would continue to seek his execution.

Wyoming’s Legislature passed a bill in 2004 banning the death penalty for juveniles.

Krone’s testimony to the committee was part of partnership between his organization of death row exonerees, “Witness to Innocence,” and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming.

The ACLU of Wyoming has been a major proponent behind repealing the death penalty in the state, arguing it is costly and ineffective.

The ACLU believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law.

Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, who is a co-sponsor of the bill (along with 12 other legislators, both Democrat and Republican), shared a video of the March 4 meeting with an impassioned plea.

“Let’s end the death penalty once and for all. Let’s end it now!” he wrote on social media.

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Legislator Says Wyoming Could Save Millions With Weed Legalization

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative from Laramie recently crunched the numbers and determined Wyoming would save millions with a recently introduced marijuana legalization bill.

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, asked during a presentation on House Bill 209 (which would legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the state) last week what the savings to the Wyoming Department of Corrections would be if the bill was approved.

“They reported back that approximately 335 people are incarcerated for drug offenses, 2,501 are under supervision, and the total cost is approximately $19,498,525,” Provenza tweeted.

However, DOC Director Daniel Shannon said the department was unable to identify those who were incarcerated or under supervision specifically for marijuana possession.

According to the Legislative Service Office, Wyoming would see $30.7 million in tax revenue increases every fiscal year with the legalization of marijuana.

Provenza, along with a number of other legislators (including Reps. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, and Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, and Sens. Cale Case, R-Lander and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie) is a co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.

“Legalizing marijuana will save millions and provide millions more in tax revenues,” Provenza added on Twitter. “This is far better for Wyoming than continuing to criminalize personal choices and freedom. The cost in money and human lives is tragic and ineffective.”

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Bill Proposed to Allow Sale Of State Land In Grand Teton

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By Tom Ninnemann, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would allow the state of Wyoming to sell certain state lands within Grand Teton National Park will be heard for the first time this week in the House of Representatives. 

Sponsored by Rep. Andy Schwartz and co-sponsored by Senator Mike Gierau, both D-Jackson, House Bill 164 would authorize the state Board of Land Commissioners to sell to the United States or a federal agency the 640-acre section of land known as the Kelly Parcel on the east edge of the park.

The sale would be for cash, and proceeds from the sale is to be deposited to the common school account within the permanent land fund. 

An amendment put on the bill in committee specifies that the sale price for the land will be no less than $500,000 per acre for a total sale price of $320 million. 

But Schwartz said the federal government is limited to purchasing for no more than appraised value – and an appraisal has not yet been done. 

Still, Schwartz said the measure would open the door to negotiation and prevent the state from putting the parcel up for auction.

The parcel is the last remaining tract of “school trust” land within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. The land was given to Wyoming by the federal government when it became a state and later became part of the park when it was created in 1950.

The state in 2016 sold another 640-acre parcel in the park, the “Antelope Flats” parcel, to the National Park Service for $46 million.

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Wyoming Legislators Help Stop Leak In Capitol Building Caused By Snowstorm

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Three legislators, including the leader of the House of Representatives, pitched in Sunday to help stop a leak in the Capitol’s House chambers that occurred when snow blew through a vent during Sunday’s blizzard.

House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, all helped out after water began dripping from the ceiling above the House into the chamber, Barlow said.

“You take care of things when you can,” Barlow told Cowboy State Daily. “We knew our staff was either stranded or taking care of other things.”

In addition, when he returned to the Capitol on Monday, Barlow helped Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, remove snow and ice in the ceiling above the Senate that had already left a wet spot on the floor of the Senate.

Ellis, who snowshoed to the Capitol from her Cheyenne home on Sunday to complete some work and helped out when she discovered Barlow and Crago at work, said the idea of legislators helping solve a problem with the Capitol says much about the nature of Wyoming’s Legislature.

“It was really cool to see,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It is such a uniquely Wyoming story. We often have to remind people that we are a citizen Legislature. We all take a ton of pride in that building. We take our jobs as legislators very seriously and (the Capitol is) an important asset to the people of Wyoming, so I’m happy to do what I can.”



Barlow said he was alerted to the problem in the House chamber after a security officer found the leak Sunday.

Barlow, who is living near the Capitol during the session, said he was able to walk to the building and when he got access to the Capitol’s roof, he was able to determine that a vent was stuck open that allowed snow to enter the building during Sunday’s blizzard and begin melting.

“You’ve got to be about half gopher to get into that area,” he said. “There’s lots of tight spots.”

Barlow, a rancher and veterinarian, used plywood scraps to seal the vent and then hauled the snow and ice down from the ceiling with assistance from Crago and Ellis, he said.

“I bet we hauled out probably 25 or 30 gallons of water in the form of ice and snow,” he said.

Ellis said she had finished her work in the Senate on Sunday and was preparing to leave when she heard Barlow and Crago working in the House and decided to stay and help.

“I only helped a couple of hours,” she said. “I just showed up at the end.”



The Legislature’s work was suspended Monday because of the storm, and Barlow said legislative leaders were working to determine whether the session would resume Tuesday.

He said much of the decision would be based on how much snow can be removed from streets surrounding the Capitol.

“There’s a lot of snow to move,” he said.

In addition, some legislators returned to their homes for the weekend and their return could be delayed by the closure of most roads in and out of Cheyenne.

But Barlow said those who stayed in town might actually have a more difficult time returning to the Capitol.

“Even the guys who are in town can’t get around,” he said. “You might be better off in Sheridan than in Cheyenne.”

Damage from the leak was limited to minor water staining, said Ryan Frost, a legislative information officer with the Legislative Service Office.

Wyoming’s Legislature is in its second year of meeting in the Capitol following its four-year, $300 million restoration.

“It’s like any person who moves into a new home, you’ve got to break it in and learn about it,” Ellis said.

This year’s session has been disrupted by the coronavirus. The session was broken into two pieces: a remote session held in February followed by an in-person session that is now about halfway completed.

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Bill Blocking UW From Creating Gun Rules Clears Senate Committee

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would prohibit the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges from creating their own firearms rules was approved for full debate on the Senate floor by a Senate committee Friday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 in support of Senate File 137, which sponsor Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said would prevent a “patchwork” of gun regulations from being in effect across the state.

“(This bill) is just intended for those who have reservations about repealing our gun-free zones but don’t like the idea of a patchwork of regulations across the state,” he told the committee.

The bill stems in part from a case in which a delegate to the Wyoming Republican Party convention in Laramie in 2018 was cited for trespass because he refused to remove the handgun he was carrying. The university said it had a policy against firearms on campus, however, there is no state law banning firearms on campus.

A state district court judge upheld the citation, saying state law gives the university the authority to regulate Wyoming-made guns.

Kinskey said the section of the law referred to by the judge was the result of a legislative error and would be corrected with the bill.

The bill would also specifically list “institutions of higher education” as being among the governmental entities that cannot adopt gun regulations more stringent than those adopted by the state.

Wyoming law is intended to give only the state government authority over regulating firearms, Kinskey said.

Terry Armitage, representing the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, agreed the uniformity in regulations provided by Kinskey’s bill is needed.

“Law enforcement doesn’t want to have to guess if they go to a college if there’s a different set of rules,” he said.

The bill was approved despite arguments from community college officials that they need the authority to regulate firearms on their campuses.

“(If) you pass this bill, it will impact our ability to do the state’s work of educating our citizens,” said Joe Schaffer, president of Laramie County Community College. “Can I tell you exactly what that means or how it will play out? No. But we have all the anecdotes and examples across other states and other communities.”

Erin Taylor, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Community College trustees, said trustees from all seven of the state’s community colleges are opposed to the legislation.

“They want to have the ability to make those decisions locally,” she said. “There are situations on a community college campus where it is not ideal to have a weapon involved.”

Kinskey said his legislation is a “backup” to Senate File 67, another bill he is sponsoring that would eliminate “gun-free zones” around the state and allow people to carry concealed weapons on public property including schools.

He added he expects no action on SF137 unless SF67 is killed.

SF67 is awaiting its first full review on the Senate floor.

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Bill Would List Political Affiliation For School Board Candidates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would allow school board candidates to list their political affiliation on ballots won approval from a Senate committee Friday, despite objection from the Wyoming School Boards Association.

Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, the sponsor of Senate File 138, told members of the Senate Education Committee that the party affiliation listings will help voters decide who to cast their ballots for in school board races.

“Every year during election season, I do my due diligence and try to make sure I understand who the candidates are,” said Ellis, a member of the committee. “Inevitably, before I was elected and spent so much time working on education issues, I really had no idea who was on the school board.”

Ellis noted by allowing school board candidates to add their political party affiliation, voters would also be alerted to some of their ideals.

“I think it would indicate to voters what your mindset is and I know there are people who are proud of their party affiliation, Republican or Democrat,” Ellis said.

However, she added the party affiliation listing would be optional for school board candidates.

However, Wyoming School Board Association Executive Director Brian Farmer said since the board positions are non-partisan, his association believes party affiliations should not be included on ballots.

“We believe school boards are nonpartisan and that they should operate with the best interest of children in mind without regard to political party,” Farmer said.

Additionally, non-partisan elections run on a different cycle than partisan ones, the latter of which are paid for by the state. School board elections are paid for by school districts.

Lobbyist Marguerite Herman added school board candidates generally make no secret of their party affiliation in their campaign materials and said she feels the affiliation shouldn’t be added to the ballot for these candidates since they do not hold the same type of power as a city councilperson or county commissioner.

“I’ve always had a bit of a Pollyanna attitude, but it’s that you should leave your political party affiliation at the door when you walk into a school boardroom,” Herman said. “You have to think of the district as a whole.”

The committee passed the bill on a vote of 4-1, sending it to the Senate floor for consideration.

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