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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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Bill Banning Trans Athletes From Women’s Sports Passes Wyoming Senate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports passed through the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday and is now headed to the Wyoming House of Representatives for introduction.

Senate File 51, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” passed the Senate in its third and final reading by a vote of 24-5. There was no discussion before the vote.

The five senators who voted against the bill were Sens. Cale Case, R-Lander, Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.

Bill sponsor Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, has repeatedly said that the bill is intended to keep biological males from participating in athletic teams or sports designated for women.

“This bill is just not meant to be about anything other than fairness,” Schuler said Monday during a Senate floor debate. “There are plenty of opportunities for transgendered athletes to compete on mixed sex or co-ed teams where biology is not a factor.”

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.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, argued during the same floor session that the legislation might not even be constitutional. She said such issues should be left to local leaders to decide, 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 Wednesday. “And the Wyoming High School Activities Association already has a policy in place for transgender athletes.

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Rylee McCollum Honored During Wyoming House Session Tuesday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The late Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum was honored Tuesday during the Wyoming House of Representatives floor session.

Speaker of the House Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, read a joint resolution signed by all the House members to the legislators. Gov. Mark Gordon was in attendance during the commemoration.

“The 66th Wyoming legislature of the state of Wyoming recognizes and honors Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum,” Barlow said. “Be it resolved by the 66th Wyoming Legislature, whereas…Rylee McCollum of Bondurant Wyoming was a beloved son, brother, husband, and father, to an infant daughter born shortly after his death…Rylee McCollum was born on February 26, 2001, in Riverton, Wyoming, spent his early days in DuBois…and graduated from Summit Innovations School in 2019.”

McCollum, a Jackson native, was one of 13 soldiers killed in Afghanistan in August as the U.S. military pulled out of the country after 20 years of fighting.

Chaplain Matthew Sullivan also gave a prayer honoring McCollum and his fellow soldiers from Wyoming who have died in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

Representative Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, read a poem by McCollum’s father, Jim McCollum, that commemorated his son.

“Many people don’t know how prolific of a writer Jim McCollum is, us close to him do,” Duncan said. “He’s a poet, he’s a writer, and to be able to get through all this, he has been gutting us every week, every day, so it was hard to choose.”

Jim McCollum was in the chamber on Tuesday, and thanked the legislature for their kind words about his son.

“I’m blessed to be here, surrounded by you guys. Thank you for this. Rylee was a patriot. Rylee was Wyoming through and through,” McCollum said. “He knew wanted to be a Marine from the time he was three-years-old. He did exactly what he wanted to do, he was exactly where he wanted to be, and we’ve learned in the aftermath that he was with who he wanted to be with, and died doing something greater than himself. You guys do that every day, I know you’re making a difference for the rest of us.”

McCollum’s heroism has been praised in the months since his death. More than $1 million was raised through various fundraisers for McCollum’s widow and baby that was born about a month after his death.

McCollum’s widow and sisters are suing Alec Baldwin for defamation following an Instagram post. Baldwin sent the family a donation following McCollum’s death.

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Bill Requiring Teachers To Post Class Materials Online Clears Wyoming Senate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill aimed at preventing the teaching of critical race theory by requiring teachers to post online the teaching materials they use in class cleared the Wyoming Senate on Monday.

Senate File 62, the “Civics Transparency Act” has now been sent to the Wyoming House of Representatives for introduction sometime this week. It passed the Senate without debate on its third reading Monday on a vote of 18-12.

The legislation would require online publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state.

“This bill has been portrayed as a huge bill, and it’s actually a pretty simple little bill,” co-sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said when the bill was introduced. “It does something we all look for all the time in this body, which is transparency and accountability.”

The bill is 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.

Rather than an outright ban on critical race theory, Driskill said SF62 would require schools to post an online description of materials are being used to teach so members of the public have a chance to give some input on those materials.

“It doesn’t say what they can use for materials, all it says is they have to put them online so parents and certain citizens can look at them and see what we’re doing,” Driskill said. “Controversial materials are really a good thing in our youth, as long as they’re balanced and they get a chance to see both sides.”

Driskill said he knew a balanced approach would not always be possible, but that learning about controversial subjects and opposing viewpoints made for well-rounded adults.

He also pointed out that no teachers would be penalized for not putting their materials online and that he did not want to affect teachers’ ability to teach. Rather, he just wanted educators to be transparent about what they were using for lessons.

The Civics Transparency Act was actually proposed last fall by Driskill and Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. It was also endorsed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

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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Wyoming Senate Passes Crossover Voting Bill On Third Reading

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill intended to keep voters from changing parties to influence the outcome of primary elections won final approval from the Senate on Friday.

The Senate passed Senate File 97, sending it to the House of Representatives on a vote of 18-12 after lengthy debate.

If Senate File 97 is signed into law, it would specify 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 affilitation up to the day of a primary or general election.

“I vote for people because I think they’re the best,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said during the floor debate. “To be honest, I’ve had a couple friends on the other side who’ve crossed over and voted for me. But they ain’t gonna be able to do it no more, if this bill passes.”

Gierau was one of the 12 senators who voted against the bill, joining Sens. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.

But senators agreed with arguments such as the one expressed during a committee meeting by bill sponsor Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, that the bill will discourage voters from changing parties to vote for the weaker candidate in a primary.

“It’s just to prevent people from gaming the system,” he said.

Biteman told the committee he was attempting to stop Democrats from waiting to see who runs in Republican elections and changing their party affiliations in order to affect the outcome of the Republican primary and general elections.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and I think it’s time we change that,” Biteman said.

Senators voting for the bill in its final Senate reading include Sens. Anthony Bouchard and Tara Nethercott, both R-Cheyenne, Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton.

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Senate Ag Committee Unanimously Supports Crossover Voting Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at keeping voters from changing parties to influence the outcome of primary elections won unanimous support Wednesday from the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.

The committee voted 5-0 to send the measure to the full Senate for debate.

The committee recommended slightly amending the bill’s language to better clarify the deadline for people looking to change their party affiliation before a primary or general election.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, who testified on the importance of the legislation before the committee late Tuesday.

“It’s just to prevent people from gaming the system,” he said.

Current Wyoming law allows voters to change their party affiliations as late as the day of a primary or general election.

If Senate File 97 is signed into law, it would specify 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.

Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, questioned whether someone who moved into a district after the cut-off date would be allowed to register to vote. Biteman clarified that the person would be allowed to register and vote, but would be unable to switch party affiliations during that time.

Biteman also noted that the legislation would not affect any new voter registrations that might occur after the cutoff date, such as when a voter turns 18 or moves into Wyoming from another state.

The cutoff date for voters to change their party affiliation would be around 97 days before the primary election and one day before the filing deadline for candidates.

Biteman told the committee he was attempting to stop Democrats from waiting to see who runs in Republican elections and changing their party affiliations in order to affect the outcome of the Republican primary and general elections.

“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and I think it’s time we change that,” Biteman said.

Wyoming Elections Division Director Kai Schon said that as written, the legislation could be implemented with only a small, one-time fiscal impact due to the change of the statewide voter registration system and the state electronic pollbook.

The estimated cost would be a little more than $12,000, and the changes would be implemented next year, he said.

Mary Lankford, Sublette County Clerk, spoke as a representative of county clerks across the state, along with Fremont County Clerk Julie Friess.

Lankford said the state’s county clerks were mostly in support of the legislation, but wanted more clarification for the cutoff date.

Lankford said the clerks were concerned about non-partisan voters in the state becoming disenfranchised due to the legislation. She said that many voters in the state have no affiliation and wait until they see who is running to decide which election to participate in.

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Wyoming Senate Approves Critical Race Theory Bill For Second Reading

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Senate on Tuesday moved a bill preventing the teaching of critical race theory in Wyoming schools onto a third and final Senate review.

Senate File 103 states that all schools and colleges that are supported in any manner by public funds shall not teach “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 approved in its second reading Tuesday with no debate. It is awaiting a third and final vote in the Senate.

The bill is co-sponsored by five senators, including Sens. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne.

However, Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that this latest critical race theory-related bill proposed in the Legislature is “unnecessary.”

“Nobody is teaching this theory,” he said. “It will never occur in the Wyoming K-12 school system. This is a college-level theory.”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

SF103 is the third CRT-related bill that has been proposed this legislative session. One that outright banned the teaching of the theory, House Bill 97, failed to meet the standards for introduction last week.

Schwartz gave an impassioned, if brief, testimony last week during debate, asking for colleagues to reject HB97.

“This bill…states the teaching of history must be neutral and without judgment. Now, how can that be possible?” Schwartz said at the time. “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.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the bill did not require a “neutral” approach to lessons, but that it did require a “complete and active perspective” of historic events.

The third bill, the “Civics Transparency Act,” which would require teachers to share the materials they use to instruct online for parents and community members to view, has been introduced and referred to the Senate Education Committee. The act was actually proposed last fall by Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Senate Majority Leader Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and was endorsed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

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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Wyoming Senate Introduces Critical Race Bill After House Rejects One

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill designed to combat the teaching of critical race theory in state schools was introduced in the Senate on Friday, less than a day after the Wyoming House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have banned instruction on the topic entirely.

Twenty-four senators voted to introduce SF162 on Friday, while five voted not to do so. It will be sent the Senate Education Committee for further review.

“This bill has been portrayed as a huge bill, and it’s actually a pretty simple little bill,” co-sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill said on Friday. “It does something we all look for all the time in this body, which is transparency and accountability.”

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for instruction of state and federal constitutions.

The bill is less direct in its approach to critical race theory than House Bill 97, which would have prohibited teachers from using public money for “for instruction that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, color or national origin.”

HB97 was denied introduction on a vote of 35-24. As a non-budget bill offered during a budget session, two-thirds of the House, 40 members, had to approve of its introduction for it to progress.

The main sponsor for HB97, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the bill was mischaracterized by critics during House debate as requiring a “neutral” approach to the teaching of history.

In fact, the bill allows the “discussion of otherwise controversial aspects of history” as long as lessons present “a complete and accurate perspective of the subject matter …”

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Rather than an outright ban on critical race theory, Driskill said SF162 would require schools to post an online description of materials are being used to teach.

“It doesn’t say what they can use for materials, all it says is they have to put them online so parents and certain citizens can look at them and see what we’re doing,” Driskill said. “Controversial materials are really a good thing in our youth, as long as they’re balanced and they get a chance to see both sides.”

Driskill said he knew a balanced approach was not always possible, but that learning about controversial subjects and opposing viewpoints made for well-rounded adults.

He also pointed out that no teachers would be penalized for not putting their materials online and that he did not want to impact teachers’ ability to teach. Rather, he just wanted educators to be transparent about what they were using to educate children.

The Civics Transparency Act was actually proposed last fall by Driskill and Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. It was also endorsed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.

Gray said he has not yet closely reviewed SF62.

“The other bill is over in the Senate, we’ll see what they send over to us,” he said.

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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Wyoming House Rejects Critical Race Theory Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a bill that would have banned the teaching of critical race theory.

House Bill 97 would have prevented any teacher, administrator or school employee from using public money for instruction that presents any blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, color or national origin.

Teachers also would not be allowed to instruct that any race, sex or color is inherently superior or inferior, that a person should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of their race, color or sex or that a person is inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color or sex.

Critical race theory is described by some as proposing that racism is a social construct ingrained in American life and laws.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, the bill’s main sponsor, said during arguments in support of the bill Thursday that it bill actually defined critical race theory and doesn’t just use an umbrella term to ban anything race-related.

He added it is similar to rules in place in other states.

“The state Superintendent of Public Instruction supports this bill and 14 states have passed these bans,” Gray said.

Other sponsors included Reps. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, and John Bear, R-Gillette.

Gray pointed out during the Thursday morning session that the bill actually defined critical race theory and doesn’t just use an umbrella term to ban anything race-related.

But opponents such as Rep. Andy Schwartz, D-Jackson, said the bill asked the impossible by requiring a neutral teaching of history.

“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 said when learning about the Holocaust, he has experienced a lifetime of discomfort and distress. He said it was “essential” that students should feel the same way when learning about dark periods in American and world history.

Gray argued that Schwartz was giving an “inaccurate” representation of the bill.

While 35 representatives voted to introduce the bill, 24 did not. Because it was a non-budget bill offered during a budget session of the Legislature, it would have required positive votes from two-thirds of the House to move forward.

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.

The Saratoga school district’s board of trustees voted in October to ban the teaching of critical race theory in its schools.

Last fall, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, drafted legislation that would combat the teaching of CRT in Wyoming schools.

The legislation would require a publication of all instructional materials used by K-12 public schools in the state and modify the requirements for instruction of state and federal constitutions.

This bill, the Civics Transparency Act, had not been introduced as of Thursday. The deadline for the introduction of bills was Friday.

Gray, Neiman and Bear did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

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Report: Wyoming Legislature Ranks Near Bottom For Representation Of Women

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came in near the bottom in a new report that shows the gender parity in state legislatures across the nation.

The state ranked third for gender parity among state legislatures, with only 15.6% of its legislators being women, according to a report published by New American Leaders, a nonprofit organization that recruits people of immigrant heritage to run for elected office.

This is actually a slight increase compared to 2015, when 13% of the Legislature was made up of women.

The two lowest states for gender parity in legislatures are are West Virginia (13.4% of its legislators are women) and Tennessee (15.2%).

Gender parity is defined as the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public.

Women serving as legislators in Wyoming are: Sens. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne and Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston and Reps. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, Andi LeBeau, D-Riverton, Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody.

Research organization Wyoming Women’s Action Network pointed out that Wyoming’s legislators are not offered certain benefits to make policies, unlike some states such as California and Michigan, which have full-time legislators and pay them tens of thousands of dollars per year.

“Our state legislature meets in January and February. Cheyenne is far from many, many, many of our legislators’ homes making a commute impossible (even if it weren’t the dead of winter),” Wyoming Women’s Action Network wrote in a blog on Monday. “There is no access to health insurance, retirement benefits, or childcare. So, in addition to the logistical and geographic challenges, there are significant economic and family constraints, too.”

The State of Pay report from the New American Leaders recommended five key policies that would close the representation gap and improve representation and policies for all communities: make state legislatures full time, create independent compensation committees, provide funds for full-time support staff, address the need for childcare and invest in candidate recruitment and training.

Wyoming legislators currently make $150 per day when the legislature is in session. They also receive a $109 per diem, but they can choose to not take this.

The top state for gender parity in its legislature was Nevada, where 54% of its legislators are women.

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Wyoming Legislators Have Mixed Reaction To Special Session, Don’t Feel Bill Is Effective

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming legislators had mixed reactions to the outcome of their weeklong special session that concluded Wednesday with one bill passed.

As sent to the desk of Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature, HB1002 would prohibit public entities at the state or local level from enforcing a federal coronavirus mandate on employers.

However, public entities that receive federal assistance and which could lose that funding by defying the mandate would be exempt from the law. The law would be in place as long as the proposed federal mandate, which is being challenged by several states, is blocked in court from taking effect or is ultimately repealed by court action.

The bill would also set aside $4 million to have the state attorney general help Wyoming residents who were injured or whose livelihoods were damaged by the vaccine mandate sue the federal government.

Rep. Chris Knapp, R-Gillette, said in a Facebook Live video along with some of his House colleagues that the most important thing accomplished this session was that legislators stood up for the rights of Wyoming residents.

“It seems like this was an opportunity for us to have a special session, go on the offensive, actually be proactive, protect your rights and at the same time, protect business rights,” he said. “I think that was one false narrative was this hurt businesses.”

Throughout the session, legislators struggled to strike a balance between preventing residents from being forced to get the vaccine against their wills and protecting businesses that may want or have to adopt a requirement that their employees get the shots.

The major piece of legislation to survive the first four days of the session, HB1001, which would have prohibited certain employers from requiring their workers to get the vaccine, died in the Senate on Wednesday when senators agreed it imposed too much of a burden on the state’s employers

That left HB1002, which Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, called a “feel-good” bill that doesn’t actually address the issue at hand, as the only bill out of 20 initially filed for consideration to clear the Legislature.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said he did not regret a minute of the special session and that his colleagues did the best they could, but agreed with Haroldson that the bill does “very little,” a sentiment shared by Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie.

“After 7 days, $175,000+ in tax payer money, and a whole bunch of debate, we have passed one bill that does effectively nothing,” she said in a social media post. “I fought for science and public health and I will continue to do so from my home district.”

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told Cowboy State Daily that even though he does not believe HB1002 was the best piece of legislation passed out the Legislature, he does believe the discussion and debate he saw among his colleagues was “high-caliber.”

He particularly highlighted the work done by Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.

“I think this session validated my point that we needed to slow down and not (do) all of this in three days,” he said. “I’ll take some credit for that, for promoting we not suspend the rules.”

While Case didn’t support HB1002, he did feel the session was worthwhile, as it reached people across the state and taught the lesson that vaccinated and unvaccinated people are just going to have to get along.

Case also joked that President Joe Biden waited until after the Wyoming Legislature adjourned to send out the new rules about the vaccine mandate, which were issued late Wednesday.

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Gray Says Harshman’s Disparaging Comments Come From Lack Of Accountability

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, addressed the disparaging remarks made about him from one of his fellow representatives last week.

In a statement, Gray said that Rep. Steve Harshman’s, R-Casper, comments followed Gray’s request for a recorded vote on an amendment following a debate last Thursday.

“Rep. Harshman’s wrong comments demonstrate how some members of the Legislature react when conservatives call for accountability through recorded votes,” Gray said. “It’s troubling that some members of the body view other members that way. I will continue to stand for accountability in government.”

While votes on amendments are most often cast as voice votes, lawmakers may ask that the vote on an amendment be recorded so it will be clear which legislators voted for or against the amendment.

Gray said he asked for the recorded vote on the amendment because “it’s pivotal for elected officials to be on the record about the work they do.”

Harshman did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Harshman, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at Gray.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

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Harshman Won’t Be Censured For Dropping F-Bomb & Swearing At Colleague On Hot Mic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A representative from Gillette has decided to not to seek the censure of one of his colleagues for breach of conduct, he confirmed to Cowboy State Daily.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues on Friday that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body this week, but he said Tuesday he had changed his mind.

“I simply evaluated what would lead to the best result as far as maintaining decorum as we go forward with technology like video conferencing,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily late Tuesday.

“The public nature of censure and the potential divisiveness of the debate would not improve the legislature’s reputation nor our decorum, so I chose a more private path of petitioning leadership to change the consequences to something more appropriate and more likely to reduce further breeches of decorum,” he said.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

A censure, a formal expression of disapproval with no binding effect, must be approved by a majority of those in the House. Had representatives voted to support it, Harshman would have been the first legislator in recent history to be censured.

Bear had said last week he would bring a motion to censure Harshman and one possibly one other unidentified House member when representatives returned to the Capitol to resume the special session Wednesday.

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Wyoming Senate Changes Bill To Allow COVID Test Rather Than Vaccination

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill designed to prevent some employers from imposing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on their employees was changed Tuesday to allow workers to keep their jobs without vaccinations if they are regularly tested for coronavirus.

As the Senate approved HB1001 in its second reading Tuesday, it adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, which she said would give employees an option other than getting a coronavirus vaccine against their wills to keep their jobs.

“If we allow employers to force a drug on their employees without knowing the immediate or future health implications, we are making the employee no better than a slave,” she said. “This amendment will allow us to have a stay (from the federal vaccine mandate) until the lawsuit is resolved and allow the employer to follow the plan and make sure employees are tested.”

The amendment came in the sixth day of a special legislative session called by the Legislature to determine Wyoming’s response to the mandate proposed by President Joe Biden. Under that mandate, federal employees, health care workers and workers for companies with more than 100 employees would have to be vaccinated or regularly tested for coronavirus.

HB1001 originally said employers could not force employees to get a vaccine unless the employers could prove the vaccination was essential to their business.

Hutchings said her amendment would provide an alternative to a vaccination mandate while adhering to the administration’s proposed rules, even though she said those rules violate the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.

Wyoming is one of several states to file legal action against the mandate. As it stood Tuesday, the bill and its prohibitions against vaccine mandates would not take effect until the legal challenges to the federal mandate have been settled.

Senators rejected an amendment that would have the bill take effect immediately rather than after a resolution to the legal challenge, agreeing businesses that would be subject to the federal mandate could lose federal contracts and support while the issue is settled in court. 

“Let’s shake our fist at the man,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “Let’s do it. But let’s not put a business in front. We’re all frustrated. We all want to fight. But do you want to fight your own fight or do you want to shove the viability of our state and our businesses … under the bus?”

The amendment was rejected despite arguments that unless the state takes a position against the mandate, the legislation is meaningless.

“We have a choice to send a strongly worded letter and shake our fists and stomp our feet but ultimately do nothing,” said Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan. “I don’t think that’s why the folks back home sent us down here. If we don’t pass this amendment, this bill doesn’t do much. This is a fight we must fight.”

The bill was approved for a third reading on Wednesday, as was HB1002, which would prohibit state and local government entities from enforcing a vaccination mandate.

Both bills were approved last week by the House, which is to return to the special session on Wednesday.

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Explainer: What Is The Cost Of The Special Session?

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By Ellen Fike Cowboy State Daily

The cost of the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will reach at least $125,000, according to latest state calculations.

However, the final cost breakdown will likely not be known for several weeks, according to the Legislative Service Office.

Costs for the special session will vary depending on how many members of the Legislature decide to waive the daily allowance they get to cover living expenses, which is $109 per day, and how many days they waive it and how many members participate remotely.

The payment, called a “per diem,” covers expenses such as lodging (excluding taxes), meals and incidental expenses. Since some legislators live in Cheyenne or within driving distance to the Capitol, they may choose to waive their per diem for whatever reason.

Legislators must notify the LSO of their intent to waive some or all of their per diem, and much of this does not occur until the session has adjourned, the LSO explained.

However, it does cost around $25,000 per day for the Legislature to convene, which comes from the legislators’ salaries ($150 per legislator per day) and per diem.

With 90 legislators (30 in the Senate and 60 in the House), the salary pay would amount to $13,500 per day. However, since the House of Representatives has not met two days of the session, this could reduce the cost by around $18,000.

The $125,000 figure assumes both chambers will meet for at least five days, four days last week and at least once this week.

Additionally, the cost to employ the 12 part-time LSO staffers during the special session is approximately $2,000 per day, meaning the state could spend nearly $175,000 by the time the session ends, if you factor in costs from the Senate meeting for two days ($9,000 for two days) and whether the legislature adjourns on Wednesday.

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Wyoming Business Owners Express Concern With Mandate Legislation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Business leaders from across the state are urging legislators to proceed cautiously in their work on bills to temper a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

More than 40 officials and representatives from numerous different businesses and industries spoke for more than five hours on Monday either in defense or opposition to the two bills in the Wyoming Legislature related to vaccine mandates.

The Senate Appropriations committee on Monday heard hours of testimony about HB1001 and HB1002 from people all over Wyoming.

HB1001 would prohibit employers with more than 100 employees or those that have contracts for services with the federal government or work with Medicare or Medicaid from making vaccination a condition of employment unless they could prove such a mandate is important for their business.

HB1002 would prohibit state and local entities from enforcing a vaccine mandate, but not take effect until the federal mandate is found unconstitutional.

Jeff Chapman, chief medical officer of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said HB1001 would make it difficult for his hospital to do business.

“My fear is the impact of the bill is going to create chaos,” he said. “As written, I think the impact is going to be chaos in terms of how we’re going to enforce it and how are we going to implement.”

Chapman raised concerns about religious exemptions, and suggested the bill allow employers to create a process to figure out what constitutes a religious exemption.

He questioned whether it would be enough to have someone state in a letter that they object to a vaccine due to religious reasons or if employers would have to go further and require some type of letter of confirmation from a clergy member.

Chapman said this has been an issue at the Cheyenne hospital and officials have tried to figure out how to deal with it.

Last week, a Banner Health employee in Worland testified that her religious exemption request to prevent getting the COVID vaccine was denied.

“I’ve been a born-again Christian since the age of 8,” Lorena Stewart said last week. “I think everybody was shocked when my request got denied. They want us to jump through these hoops, they didn’t want to make it easy.”

During his testimony, Chapman also suggested including some type of language in the bill about people getting medical exemptions to the vaccine.

Brett Glass, a small business owner in Laramie, told the lawmakers that there was nothing “good or useful” in either bill, and called on them to consider rejecting both.

“Neither actually nullifies anything that the Fed is likely to do,” he said. “They are both going to be superseded by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

He added that the legislators were fighting regulations with more regulations.

Mary Kate Buckley, president of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, also expressed concern about both of the bills. She noted that the resort employs 500 people year-round and more than 1,000 during the tourist season.

The resort also holds a contract with the federal government, due to it sitting on federal land.

“Following the law is very important to me, and as a leader, I need create clear expectations for my team at the mountain and we need to have an environment of certainty on how to operate our business on a day-to-day basis as a federal contractor,” she said. “Our federal contract status is critical to our business and we want to do everything we can to follow federal law, as well as Wyoming law.”

Nathan Anderson, a Union Pacific representative, also pointed out to the legislators that the railroad company is a federal contractor and will have to abide by the mandate. He said to avoid unnecessary and expensive legal battles, he proposed an amendment to HB1001, which would basically keep the bill from affecting federal contractors.

“This amendment helps to further move us toward both a safe operating environment and a recovery of our supply chain system,” Anderson said.

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Explainer: What Does It Mean To Be Censured In The Wyoming Legislature?

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, could become the first legislator in recent history to be censured for a breach of decorum, if his colleagues vote to do so this week.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues on Friday that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body this week. One is likely Harshman, but Bear did not clarify who the second was, saying he wanted to speak with the member first.

The Legislative Service Office told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that no legislator had been censured for breach of decorum in recent history. A censure is a formal expression of disapproval that has no effect.

Bear’s announcement comes after Harshman lost his privileges to participate remotely in the Legislature’s current special session. The action was Harshman’s punishment for an incident Thursday when Harshman, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, handed down the punishment after identifying three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

“Your conduct was unbecoming, so I want to condemn it, clearly,” Barlow said.

Bear on Friday announced that as a result of the incident, he would seek to censure Harshman, a move he originally planned to make on Monday. However, the House is not in session again until Wednesday.

According to the Wyoming Legislature’s rules, which the Senate and House of Representatives voted on during the legislative session in the spring, reprimand or censure of a legislator shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of the elected members.

The censure would remain on LSO records.

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With No Bills Pending, Wyoming House Breaks Until Wednesday

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Having no intention to introduce the lone piece of legislation approved by Wyoming’s Senate, Wyoming’s House Speaker announced Friday that representatives would not return to the floor of the Capitol to continue their special session until Wednesday.

Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, announced he would not move to introduce SF1019, which does not deal with a proposed federal coronavirus vaccination mandate, basically allowing it to die.

With no pending legislation before the House, Barlow said he saw no reason for the body to reconvene before Wednesday.

“(The Senate) did not send us a COVID-19 related bill,” he said. “They did send us a bill that is related to another subject and it’s not my intention to introduce that bill and refer it to committee.”

The special session that began Tuesday was called by the Legislature to chart Wyoming’s response to the mandate proposed by the administration of Joe Biden.

The House approved two bills related to the mandate, one prohibiting some employers from requiring their workers to get the vaccine to keep their jobs and another saying agencies in the state will not enforce the mandate. Those bills now move to the Senate for review next week.

The Senate killed its only mandate-related bill, which would have prohibited people who have not received the vaccine from being discriminated against, while approving one other bill, which would allow law enforcement officials with the Wyoming Gaming Commission to participate in the state’s retirement system.

Barlow said throughout the special session that he would not introduce legislation that did not relate to the mandate.

The Senate is expected to spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday reviewing the House measures and representatives will return to the floor on Wednesday to look at any changes proposed by the Senate.

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Wyoming House Approves First Anti-Mandate Bill Despite Criticism It Does Little

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban some Wyoming employers from using a person’s coronavirus vaccination status as a condition of employment won final House approval on Friday despite criticism that it does little to actually oppose a proposed federal vaccination mandate.

The House voted 38-20 to send HB1001 to the Senate for review on Monday, the fifth day of the special legislative session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a vaccination mandate for health care workers, federal employees and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 people.

The bill won final House approval after supporters argued it gave the state a good base from which to fight against the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“This is an attempt for us to say this is what we think ought to be done,” said Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette. “I’d say this is a compromise. I believe this compromise is a good one. It sets up exemptions that are appropriate and they will eventually go before the court system and I think they set up a good marker for what Wyoming’s position is.”

The Legislature called itself into session to determine a response to the Biden administration’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect.

As originally proposed, HB1001 would have prohibited employers from using a person’s vaccination status to determine whether they would keep their jobs, although employers would be able to adopt their own vaccination mandates if they could prove the step was necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workplaces.

As amended, the bill would extend the prohibition only to companies employing more than 100 and those with federal contracts or that work with Medicaid or Medicare, leaving other businesses free to adopt their own rules regarding vaccinations.

Opponents said the state has in essence created a new mandate to put on companies already faced with the possibility of dealing with a federal vaccination mandate.

“I’m arguing against this bill because I really think that we have overstepped and the state will now be guilty of doing the same thing we are upset at the federal government for doing, which is overreaching and putting their nose into somewhere it doesn’t belong,” said Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander.

Others maintained that while legislators entered the special session thinking they would offer a law to give the state a way to battle the federal mandate, the resulting legislation will not accomplish what they hoped.

“If your only goal was not to affect businesses and push back against the federal mandate, this bill doesn’t do that,” said Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.But supporters including Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said the bill was a good starting point that could be refined as it moved through the remainder of the process.

“We have a bill that says we’re going to respect people’s rights about what they’re going to do dealing with this vaccine,” he said. “It says in Wyoming you can have a mandate, you just have to do it the right way.”

Greear said by setting out the conditions by which businesses can implement their own vaccine mandates, the state has created certainty for businesses.

Also approved in its third reading by a vote of 41-14 was HB1002, a bill that would prevent Wyoming officials from enforcing any federal vaccination mandates and explaining the Legislature’s opposition to the vaccination mandates.

The bill was approved for Senate review next week despite criticism that it accomplished little.

“We’ve been here four days at $25,000 a pop for two bills, the second one where it’s ‘Let’s beat my chest real hard, go home and say we did something,’” said Yin. “I’m not sure how this bill does anything different than what the governor is already doing.”

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Wyoming Senate Defeats Bill That Would Have Prohibited Vaccine Discrimination

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Senate defeated a bill on Friday that would have prohibited people from being discriminated against based on whether they have received the coronavirus vaccine.

Senate File 1003 would have prohibited using a person’s vaccination status to bar them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities or from accessing areas otherwise open to the public. The bill was defeated by a vote of 13-15 in its third and final reading in the Senate.

The bill was one of three still being considered by legislators in the special session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a federal vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. The mandate would apply to federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100.

Rep. Charles Scott, R-Casper, spoke against the bill Friday, expressing concern about its implications for those trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“What I’m afraid we’re going to do with this bill, and with some of the others, is to put something into law that prevents some of the efforts to be sensible in trying to deal with what really is a deadly disease,” he said. “I think we would have been better served maybe to deal with some of these issues in our next regular budget session when we would have what the federal government is doing right in front of us and know what problems they might occur.”

The bill was killed despite arguments by supporters that the state needs to take some steps against overreach by the federal government.

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, recalled a time he was in Baltics and saw soldiers enforcing the “lack of personal freedoms” by demanding to see identification papers carried by citizens. SF1003, Cooper said, was designed to prevent such developments in Wyoming.

“It is about passports, it’s about personal freedoms and it’s about where this country is headed if we don’t stop,” Cooper said. “We have to stand up at some point and draw that line in the sand.”

Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, said the situation with the vaccine mandate came down to a person choosing between a “forced vaccination” or putting food on the table, noting that many of his constituents have called to tell them they would be out of a job Monday due to their refusal to get a COVID vaccine.

Banner Health, which runs several health care facilities in Wyoming, has ordered its employees to get the vaccine by Nov. 1 in order to keep their jobs.

While Salazar expressed some concern about the bill, he voted in support of it.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, pointed out that there is a big difference between discriminating against someone for their sex, religion or race compared to their vaccination status.

“We’ve morally agreed that we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of color or race, we’ve come to that agreement there is not a downside,” he said. “There very much is a downside with respect to vaccination status.”

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Wyoming Democrats Fail To Introduce Bill To Create COVID Impact Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Democrat leaders in Wyoming’s Legislature on Friday unsuccessfully proposed new legislation that would create a COVID impact support program using American Rescue Plan funds, legislators announced.

House Bill 1021, offered four days into a special legislative session designed to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus madate, would have created a program using ARP funds to provide monetary support for food, medicine, child care, mental health support and lost wages for people and families suffering from COVID impacts.

The bill’s introduction was defeated on a vote of 11-45.

One of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, urged legislators to change their rules to allow introduction of the bill because of the hardships experienced by Wyoming residents because of the coronavirus.

“We’ve heard from our constituents that they have struggled tremendously in trying to access basic necessities,” she said. “If COVID relief funding isn’t meant to ensure that those with COVID are able to access food, proper medical care, and resources while missing work to recover, then I don’t know what it’s meant for.”

But opponents to the bill pointed out it was offered very late in the special session. Under the session’s rules, legislation was to be filed five days before the session began.

In addition, several opponents criticized the program that would be established by the bill.

“”We’re distributing literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of (federal) dollars,” said Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton. “One of the criticisms I hear from my constituency is we’ve been too liberal and we’re actually encouraging people to stay home.”

The program would have been administered through the Wyoming Department of Family Services in coordination with existing social service programs (in an effort to prevent duplication of services), the legislators explained, and it is designed to provide a hand up for those quarantined or recovering from COVID who lack access to basic services.

Benefits under the program shall be initiated by boards of county commissioners who may request increased support to individuals and families suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. 

If the bill passes, $20 million from American Rescue Plan funds will be provided the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute.

“Whether an individual without a support system nearby to help with meals, or a family with lost wages who is deciding between rent and medication, this program is meant to alleviate the unnecessary suffering felt by our Wyoming friends and neighbors,” said Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily that the lawmakers were able to introduce new legislation on Friday due to the legislature working under the 66th legislature’s normal rules.

“Even during a budget session, you can file a bill on the last day of the schedule,” Yin told Cowboy Stae Daily. “We do have some introduction limits based on House Rule 4-5, where we’d need a 2/3 vote to introduce a bill after the 15th legislative day, however, we’re not anywhere near that date”

This is the first new legislation introduced since the special session began on Tuesday, as the deadline for bills was set five days before the session started.

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Wyoming Special Session To Last Until At Least Wednesday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The special session of Wyoming’s Legislature, originally scheduled to last three days, will now stretch into the next week at least, the Wyoming Speaker of the House said on Thursday.

Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told his fellow legislators to plan on being at the Wyoming Capitol until at least Wednesday.

“No bills will be accelerated, that means we’ll do third reading tomorrow,” Barlow said. “I don’t see any point working on a Saturday. Then come back Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

Barlow added that the House, which spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday reviewing two bills, will likely see short days next week when it receives the Senate’s measures. The Senate, which wrapped up its work before noon on Thursday after finishing its second review of two bills, will probably have longer days as it looks over the House bills, he said.

Only four bills remain of the 20 originally proposed in each chamber for review during the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

In the House, those bills still in play were HB1001, which specifies that vaccination status cannot be used as a condition of employment except under certain conditions and HB1002, which would prohibit the enforcement of mandates related to coronavirus and reiterate the governor’s authority to take legal action to defend the state against mandates.

In the Senate, SF1003 was the focus of much of Thursday’s work. The bill would prohibit using a person’s vaccination status to bar them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities.

The second bill up for a second reading in the Senate, SF1019, would correct an error in existing law that prevented law enforcement officers for the Wyoming Gaming Commission from participating in the state’s retirement system.

Initially when the special session was proposed, it was only supposed to last three days and would have wrapped up Thursday. However, special rules for the session drafted to speed up the process to accommodate that timeline were rejected.

By law, legislators have up to 20 days to finish the session.

Beginning Monday, the House bills will move to the Senate for review and the Senate bills will move to the House.

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Sheridan County Senator Compares Vax Status To Racism

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Blocking access to goods or services based on a person’s vaccination status is akin to racism, a state senator said during the second day of the Legislature’s special session Wednesday.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, made the comments while the Senate was debating Senate File 1003, sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, which would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status, as well as prohibit any requirements that a person obtain the coronavirus vaccine in order to receive or access benefits, services or educational opportunities.

“What are we having right now with COVID? Second-class citizens,” he said. “I’m hearing members who are perfectly OK with that; think it’s funny to have a vaxxed bar versus an unvaxxed bar. It’s not funny to have a Black-only bar versus a whites-only bar. We’re beyond that in this country.”

The bill was approved for a second review, schedule for Thursday, despite opposition from some lawmakers who said the Legislature was improperly trying to impose its will on the state’s residents.

“I think this bill looks at one overreach that could possibly happen and then takes another overreach that I think is far more draconian to try and fix it,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said.

Debate occurred during the second day of the special session legislators called themselves to chart Wyoming’s response to a coronavirus vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Measures being considered so far include measures that would make it illegal to base employment on a person’s vaccination status and prohibiting law enforcement from enforcing vaccine or mask mandates.

Under Biden’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies with more than 100 workers would have to get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

One proposed piece of legislation named after a Laramie teenager who was arrested following her refusal to wear a mask earlier this month died Wednesday in the Senate.

Senators voted 11-18 to reject HB1010 on Wednesday. The “Grace Smith Medical Freedom Act” would have required county and state health officers to grant a waiver from coronavirus immunization or face mask use requirements to any K-12 student who requests one. This bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, Biteman.

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Wyoming Legislators Reviewing Ten Bills During Special Session

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Nine bills aimed at reducing the impact of the federal coronavirus vaccination mandate on Wyoming residents and businesses have been selected for further review during the Legislature’s special session.

Lawmakers on Tuesday referred 10 of the 20 bills filed for consideration during the session to committees for review. The original schedule for the special session called for all of those bills to be reviewed by committees Tuesday and returned to the floor of each chamber for final action on Wednesday.

However, the special rules drafted to allow a faster legislative process were killed Tuesday and only a few of the bills referred to committees for review were sent back to the floor for action Wednesday.

Nine of the 10 bills introduced referenced the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

The tenth bill would correct an error in legislation approved in 2020 that prevented Wyoming Gaming Commission law enforcement officers from participating in the state’s retirement system.

The vaccine mandate, which has not yet taken effect, would require federal employees, health care workers and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 to receive the coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing for the illness.

The nine bills related to the mandate propose different approaches to limiting its effectiveness, from prohibiting its enforcement to specifying that employees who quit or are fired from a private sector job because they are unwilling or unable to get a vaccine are eligible for severance benefits.

Here is a list and brief explanation of the bills relating to the proposed vaccination mandate that are being examined:

HB1001 — Prohibiting employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment and requiring a severance package for employees who are fired or quit because of vaccine mandates.

HB1002 — Prohibiting the enforcement of the vaccine mandate and setting aside $1 million for legal action against the mandate.

HB1005 — Requiring employers to grant exemptions from the vaccine mandate requested by employees and making employers who fail to grant exemptions liable for damages of up to $5,000.

HB1006 — Requiring health care facilities, government entities and providers of essential services to offer reasonable options for those unwilling or unable to get the vaccination as a condition of obtaining essential products or services or visiting certain areas. The bill would also require employers who require their employees to get the vaccine to prove that any employee not getting the vaccine would create a hardship for or pose a threat to others in the business.

HB1009 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

HB1013 — Specifies that anyone who quits a job because their employer is not complying with the vaccine mandate is eligible for unemployment benefits.

SF1003 — Prohibiting discrimination against any person because he or she has not received the coronavirus vaccine or does not have a COVID “immunity passport.” Any acts of discrimination, such as keeping a person from obtaining servies or good or entering a public space, could be punished by a fine of up to $750 and six months in jail.

SF1004 — Making it a crime (blackmail) to threaten a person’s livelihood, employment or educational opportunities to compel that person to get the COVID vaccination.

SF9 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

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Wyoming Legislators Continue With Anti-Vaccine Mandate Special Session, Kill Special Rules

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By Ellen Fike and Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The special session of Wyoming’s Legislature dealing with the proposed federal coronavirus mandate will proceed, but without special rules drafted to speed up the process, lawmakers decided Tuesday.

Members of both the House and Senate rejected the special rules, but also voted against adjourning the session, expressing a preference to stay and work out a state response to the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“We fought to get out from under British rule because we said ‘You can’t make me do that, I want representation,’” said Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett. “I want to be able to hear all the information. We have a right to our health care choices. Freedom is choices.”

Biden has issued a mandate that all health care workers, all federal employees and all workers for companies that employ 100 or more either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

The federal rules needed to put the mandate in place have not yet been issued.

The session, originally scheduled to run three days, was called to let legislators adopt measures spelling out how the state will respond to the mandate.

Twenty pieces of legislation were filed for consideration during the session and special rules were proposed to speed up the process.

Under the proposed rules, the state House and Senate would have reviewed legislation at the same time and then resolved any differences in bills members of both approved in joint conference committees. Usually, a bill begins in one chamber, is reviewed and sent to the second on approval, where the review begins again.

But the rules were opposed by a number of legislators who said they would improperly limit debate and public input on the bills to be considered.

“The whole deliberative process is gone,” said House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie. “The steps that are cut out are really, really important. We’re not listening to the people well enough.”

“The problem I have here is we are compressing what would normally take us a couple of weeks into three days,” said. Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander. “I don’t want to be here, but if I am going to be here, I think we ought to do it right.”

The rules were rejected despite arguments they would allow the Legislature to work more efficiently.

“I think these rules provide us an opportunity to do the people’s work,” said Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs. “These rules, while they are not perfect, afford us the opportunity to have a debate and some limited public participation.”

Votes in both chambers fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve the change, with the House voting 37-20 to adopt the special rules and the Senate voting 18-11 to do so.

Legislative leaders had promised lawmakers that if they rejected the special rules, they would offer legislators a chance to adjourn the special session.

Both chambers voted against adjourning the session, the Senate by a vote of 6-23 and the House by 21-35.There was no debate over the motion in the Senate, but House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette gave representatives a chance to express their opinions on the session.

Several legislators expressed concern because if the mandate takes effect, it could mean a loss of jobs for anyone who chooses not to get a vaccine.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, noted that one private employer, Banner Health, has already imposed a vaccine mandate on its employees effective Nov. 1. Several of the bills awaiting review by the Legislature would prohibit private companies from discriminating against those who have not received the vaccine.

Others argued legislators need to protect the rights of the state’s residents by at least reviewing the proposed solutions to the mandate.

“I don’t know what the result’s going to be,” said Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. “Let’s look at these bills and look at these people. I don’t know if we strike back at the (federal) overreach or not. I do know we were elected to stand between the federal government and the businesses and people of Wyoming.

Opponents to the session unsuccessfully argued the federal mandate can only be stopped in court, not in the Legislature, and added the session’s schedule of three days would not allow a thorough review of all the issues.

“We have to figure out a way to do this and do it right and I would have to respectfully submit we can’t do it in two days,” said Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne. “Let’s do this right with the right data and the right information.”

Without the special rules, bills introduced for consideration will be reviewed by one chamber of the Legislature and, if approved, sent to the other chamber for review. Any differences between the two chambers will be settled in a joint conference committee.

Committees began their reviews of bills on Tuesday afternoon and both chambers were scheduled to return to the floor for debate on Wednesday.

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Gordon: No Special Session This Summer

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There will be no special legislative session this summer for the Wyoming Legislature to decide how to spend federal coronavirus funds, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday.

Gordon and legislative leaders announced that instead, they will work with a special “strike team” formed by Gordon to develop a plan on how to best spend the fund. Gordon will then present that plan to the Legislature later this month.

The state has received $534 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to date, but another $534 million is anticipated to come sometime next year. The state also has until Dec. 31, 2024 to obligate the ARPA money and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend it.

Gordon said he wants to develop a thoughtful, purposeful, transparent and strategic approach to handling ARPA funds. 

“These are dollars borrowed by Congress from many generations yet to come, and if we are going to use them, in my mind, those future generations that will be paying for them must also benefit from them,” Gordon said.  “ARPA funds, if we are to use them, must be for the greater benefit of Wyoming citizens, not for a few shiny distractions.” 

Gordon has assembled a team to better identify what the state needs to do to survive and what can be done to better drive to a future where all of Wyoming can thrive. 

Gordon anticipated directing a fraction of the federal funds already provided to the state to address emergency funding needs this year. 

For the use of the remainder of the federal funds, Gordon identified the following enduring funding criteria:

  •   Have a long-term impact or a return on investment 
  •   Not replenish budget cuts unless the replenishment can be sustained 
  •   Be sustainable and not add to the State’s ongoing financial responsibilities 
  •   Support stimulus over relief 
  •   Where possible, leverage the dollars through matching or buy-in programs  
  •   Create capacity for the future 
  •   Benefit a wide group of citizens 

To make sure that the criteria are met, Gordon and the Legislature’s presiding officers said a collaboration among legislators and the public will be important going forward. 

“The federal law provides ample time to be methodical in determining our priorities,”  said House Speaker Eric Barlow R-Gillette. “We can use this time to take public testimony, have robust discussions among the legislative membership to develop legislative priorities fully and thoughtfully, and to collaborate with the executive and judicial branches to determine the best and highest uses of ARPA funds.” 

“A product developed with months of deliberation will be significantly better than any legislation compiled in a few days of hearings and a week-long special session,” said Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. “We can utilize our standard budget hearing and standing committee processes to allocate these funds in a conservative manner during the 2022 Budget Session.” 

Gordon, Barlow and Dockstader said the federal money will not be used this year to reduce the state’s spending on schools and local governments. However, the state’s share of those costs in the 2022-24 biennium may be reduced because of the infusion of ARPA funds.

Gordon will present the initial recommendations for emergency uses of ARPA funds developed by his team to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee on June 15.

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Wyo Legislator: Wyoming Legislative Special Session Will Start July 12

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative told a Cheyenne radio station over the weekend that the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will likely take place in mid-July.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, spoke with KGAB over the weekend and told host Doug Randall that he expected the latest legislative special session to convene July 12 and run for one week. Zwonitzer said all of the state’s legislators have been contacted and told to block out that particular week.

The Legislature is to use the session to discuss the appropriation and distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds.

“It’s about $1.3 billion coming in for municipalities, education, rental assistance, all types of things,” Zwonitzer said during his interview.

Legislative Service Office spokesman Ryan Frost could not confirm the dates of the ses to Cowboy State Daily on Monday, but said the week was being eyed as a possibility for the special session.

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon announced a program for rental assistance in the state that would use $200 million in federal funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

His office also announced last month that the state was expected to receive around $1.2 billion in federal funding, close to Zwonitzer’s own estimate for the special session.

Gordon wanted to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the COVID funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” he said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments.

Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued sometime this month, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

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Wyoming Gun Owners Praises Passage of Concealed Carry Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Gun Owners organization is celebrating the recent signing of a bill to let visitors to the state carry concealed weapons without a permit.

House Bill 116 was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday. The bill removes extends to all law-abiding American citizens Wyoming’s privilege to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

WYGO posted about the bill’s signing on Tuesday, praising two particular legislators for their work on it.

“BOOOM!!! Moments ago, House Bill 116 was signed into law meaning that Wyoming’s Constitutional Carry laws (one of the oldest in the country) now applies to ALL law abiding gun owners!!!” the organization wrote on its Facebook page. “MAJOR SHOUT OUT to Rep. Bob Wharff and Senator Anthony Bouchard for leading this fight on the inside and a massive shout out to the members of WYGO for hammering this bill into law!!!!! WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wharff, R-Evanston, was the sponsor of the bill. Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, along with six other Wyoming senators (including Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne) co-sponsored the legislation.

More than a dozen state representatives co-sponsored the bill, including Bouchard’s primary election opponent in his effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

Bouchard is the founder of WYGO, although he is no longer involved in any management positions due to his work as a senator.

The group posted a second time on Tuesday about Wharff and Bouchard, praising their work in the Legislature.

“HUGE SHOUT OUT TO Rep. Bob Wharf and Sen. Anthony Bouchard, the House and Senate sponsors of HB 116, which passed today!!!” WYGO wrote. “No one fights harder for you on the inside!”

This was not the only firearm-related legislation Bouchard worked on this legislative session. He originally sponsored Senate File 81, which would give the state the authority to find certain federal gun regulations invalid.

However, he ultimately voted against the bill after it was amended, saying it no longer had the intent of the original legislation.

As originally written, the bill said the state could declare as invalid any federal law that infringed on Second Amendment rights, including taxes on firearms and ammunition, registration of firearms and laws forbidding the ownership, use or possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.

The bill would also have forbidden law enforcement officers from seizing weapons in response to federal laws and would have allowed officers and their local governments to be sued over such seizures.

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Wyoming To Vote In 2022 To Allow Local Governments To Invest In Stocks And Equities

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By Jackie Mitchell, Ballotpedia via The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would allow the legislature to provide by law for local governments (county, city, township, town, school district, or other political subdivision) to invest funds in stocks and equities.

Legislation establishing or increasing the percentage of funds a local government could invest would require a two-thirds supermajority vote of the state legislature. Currently, the state constitution allows the state legislature to authorize certain state funds to be invested in stocks.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Wyoming State Senate and the Wyoming House of Representatives.

The measure was introduced as House Joint Resolution 9 on March 4, 2021. It was approved in the House on March 23, 2021, by a vote of 43-16. The Senate approved an amended version of the measure on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 25-5, which was sent to the House for concurrence. The House concurred with the Senate’s amendments on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 46-13.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Wyoming State Legislature referred 20 constitutional amendments to the ballot, of which, 12 were approved (60%) and eight (40%) were defeated.

The legislature was set to adjourn the 2021 legislative session on April 7, 2021. The legislature can also refer measures to the 2022 ballot during the 2022 legislative session.

As of April 2, 2021, 15 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2022 ballot in 10 states.

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Gordon Lets Ag-Related COVID Bill Become Law Without Signature

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is warning Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers to think carefully before taking advantage of a new law that would let them collect coronavirus relief funds.

Gordon, in a letter to state Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, explained why he allowed Senate File 50 to become law with out his signature, saying he is worried agriculture producers might be forced to repay the grants they receive under the law.

“I understand that some producers might want to get a chance at the federal one-armed bandit, and therefore will let the bill pass into law without my signature,” he wrote. “In my view, caveat emptor should be the watchword of the program: if producers are willing to take advantage of this program, they should be prepared to possibly have to pay back the grants — a decision that could cripple additional Wyoming industries.”

The bill would allow ranchers and farmers to seek federal coronavirus relief grants given to the state if they claim a loss incurred due to COVID-19.However, Gordon said he is not sure the program will meet federal requirements for the money to be used to compensate businesses for losses caused by COVID-19 or restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness.“

Rather than reimburse individuals or businesses for impacts related to an emergency, the program created in this legislation seems to seek some way to give money to agricultural producers simply because they are producers,” he wrote. “I remain concerned about what an unfriendly administration that appears to be preparing for war could do to Wyoming’s key industries, including agriculture.”

Gordon urged legislators to clarify and strengthen the program in the future and to investigate whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to offer a coronavirus relief program.

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Bill To Create Airport Districts In Wyoming Counties Dies On Tie Vote

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would allow the creation of airport districts within counties to help pay for the operations of local airports was killed in Wyoming’s House on Thursday on a tie vote.

Representatives voted 30-30 against Senate File 4 and then rejected an effort to reconsider the vote. A bill must receive a majority of votes cast to be approved in the Legislature.

The bill would have allowed the creation a special district to support local airports, with residents inside the district charged an extra property tax to finance the airports’ operations and maintenance. The districts would have taken over all operations of the airports.

The bill died with no debate after Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, questioned using property taxes to finance the districts.

“I’m concerned this bill may have unintentionally created an extremely regressive way to create revenue for airports,” he said.

Andrew offered an amendment, which he later withdrew, that would have imposed a landing fee on aircraft using the airports.

He said the extra property tax would hurt someone who may live on a limited income, while the person actually using the airport would not have to pay anything for its use unless they lived within the airport district.

“SF4 would allow the voters to impose an extra tax on (a low-income resident) for the purpose of paying for the millionaire (flying into an airport), who will pay nothing more,” he said.

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Bill Preventing Selective Abortions Passes Through Wyoming Senate Committee

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill preventing abortions for selective reasons such as the sex or race of the unborn baby is heading to the Wyoming Senate for debates this week.

House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, would ban abortions performed because the unborn child diagnosed with a disability or for the reasons of race, sex, color, national origin or ancestry.

The Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee tackled the bill first in its meeting on Tuesday, ultimately unanimously voting to pass it out of the committee.

“A woman goes to a genetic test done and the test shows the child has Down syndrome or it’s mixed race or something, and for that reason only, they choose to have their unborn child killed,” Romero-Martinez said during his testimony. “This bill prevents that.”

In the bill, disabilities are defined as any disease, defect or disorder that is genetically inherited, including physical, mental and intellectual disabilities, physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, down syndrome, albinism, amelia, meromelia or a physical or mental disease.

An amendment was made to the bill to make an exception for women who terminate a pregnancy in the event their fetus is diagnosed with a fatal anomaly that would result in the child dying within three months of its birth.

Sen. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, asked if there was any disability, besides a fatal one, that would be considered reasonable for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

“You’re making it clear in this bill there is no disability that could not be purposive of an abortion,” Furphy said.

Romero-Martinez said there might be some “gray area” situations where a child might be born, but not have any brain capacity. He said this would likely fall under a lethal fetal anomaly.

“I don’t know, I would imagine…that’s covered under that amendment,” he said. “But it’s a tricky situation.”

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, commented there are some countries that have increased genetic testing, but also have increased abortion rates in fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Mike Leman, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, spoke in support of the bill on Tuesday.

“Enforcement will be a challenge, but at least it will allow for retroactive action and that could save lives, if it prevents even one provider from encouraging an abortion, it will have been worth it,” Leman said.

Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, also testified in support of the bill.

“Life is precious and I struggle with the idea we even have to have this legislation and come to a point as a society where we say ‘You know what? This is worth saving and this is not worth saving,'” Neiman said.

Additionally, Wyoming Right to Life supported the bill.

Cheyenne physician and former legislator Larry Meuli spoke in opposition to the bill, however.

“I’m opposed to this bill…because of the unintended consequences of it,” Meuli said. “It bothers me the Wyoming Legislature feels like they can tell people what they can believe and how they can practice.”

Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, questioned the difference between “killing” a fetus while in the womb and killing a child at the age of 2.

Meuli countered there were many definitions of when life begins, and that he didn’t necessarily believe a fetus in the womb was a person.

Cheyenne realtor Wendy Volk also spoke in opposition of the bill, noting she had genetic testing done on a pregnancy, but added it wasn’t to decide whether or not she would terminate the pregnancy.

“I had a pregnancy at 42-years-old and there were some unusual things happenings in my pregnancy,” she said. “It was for the health and well-being of me and my pregnancy.”

With committee approval, the bill will now be sent to the Senate for a review by all senators.

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Revenge Porn Bill Passes Wyoming Senate, Headed Back to House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill banning the distribution of intimate pictures or videos of a person without that person’s knowledge, also known as “revenge porn,” won final approval from the Wyoming Senate on Monday.

The Wyoming Senate passed House Bill 85 on its third reading Monday, with 29 senators voting to approve it (the other senator was excused). The bill will now be sent back to the House for its review of any Senate changes to the bill and if approved there, it will be sent to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will decide whether to sign the bill into law.

The bill would create a law making the act of distributing intimate images (sending out videos/photos depicting people in a sexual act) of another person without that person’s knowledge a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill on March 19, sponsor Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, told committee members that the bill would add an important element to Wyoming’s criminal laws.

“What is commonly known as ‘revenge porn’ is not a crime in Wyoming and there are only a handful of states where this isn’t a crime,” Stith said.

Stith, an attorney, said he became aware of this issue because he had a client who engaged in “revenge porn,” but the local prosecutor was in a challenging situation because the act was not illegal.

“He either had to charge nothing or he had to try and shoehorn the conduct into some other category,” Stith said. “Your typical case is where you’ve got a jilted boyfriend who then has an intimate image that he initially got consensually from his ex.”

Stith explained the ex-boyfriend will be upset and post the image to social media or find another way to use it to humiliate a woman.

He added that the charges against his client were eventually dropped.

“From a lawyer’s point of view that sounds like a victory, but it didn’t really feel like justice, frankly,” Stith said.

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Bill Limiting Public Health Orders Headed For Wyoming Senate Debate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill limiting the duration of public health orders to just 10 days without renewal by top elected officials is one step closer to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.

House Bill 127 would limit public health orders issued by public health officers at the state and local level to 10 days in length. Any extensions could be approved only by local elected officials or the governor.

“I don’t think I need to explain the reasoning for this bill,” bill sponsor and House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told his Senate colleagues on Monday during a committee hearing. “This bill…tries to segregate the diseased or exposed population from the orders they may be under from a healthy population.”

Barlow said that after the first 10 days of a statewide or county-wide health order being enacted, the decision to keep healthy people under lockdown in addition to those who are sick becomes a political one.

People who are actually sick with an illness can individually be placed under health orders, such as quarantines, that should be issued by health officers, Barlow said.

However he added that since Wyoming’s county and state health officers are appointed, not elected, their powers should be limited when it comes to restricting the movement of healthy people.

“My belief, I took it back to the governing bodies participating in that health district,” Barlow said.

The bill was 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.

Wyoming Department of Health Deputy Director Stefan Johansson told the committee that his department didn’t have an official stance on the bill, but did have a few questions about certain situations that would or would not apply, although he did not get the opportunity to ask during the meeting.

Ultimately, three of the committee members chose to send the bill back to the Senate floor this week.

The Appropriations Committee review followed House approval of the bill last week. After being approved by the House, the bill was originally referred to the Senate Corporations Committee for review, but was then redirected to the Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee usually only reviews bills that contain an expense. HB127 carries no expense.

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Bill Banning ‘Revenge Porn’ Moves Forward In Wyoming Senate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill making it a crime for intimate pictures or videos of a person to be distributed without the person’s knowledge, an act commonly known as “revenge porn,” is one step closer to becoming a law.

House Bill 85 would create a law making the unlawful dissemination of intimate images (sending out videos/photos depicting people in a sexual act) a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

The bill was approved in its second reading in the Senate on Friday.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill on March 19, sponsor Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, told committee members that the bill would be an important addition to Wyoming’s criminal laws.

“What is commonly known as ‘revenge porn’ is not a crime in Wyoming and there are only a handful of states where this isn’t a crime,” Stith said.

Stith, an attorney, added he became aware of this issue because he had a client who engaged in “revenge porn,” but the local prosecutor was in a challenging situation because the act was not illegal.

“He either had to charge nothing or he had to try and shoehorn the conduct into some other category,” Stith said. “Your typical case is where you’ve got a jilted boyfriend who then has an intimate image that he initially got consensually from his ex.”

Stith explained the ex-boyfriend will be upset and post the image to social media or find another way to use it to humiliate a woman.

He added that the charges were eventually dropped against his client.

“From a lawyer’s point of view that sounds like a victory, but it didn’t really feel like justice, frankly,” Stith said.

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Bill Proposing New Sales Tax For Schools Moves to Wyoming Senate

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

One down, one to go.

A pair of bills proposing increases in the statewide sales tax being debated in the Wyoming House of Representatives saw divided fortunes Tuesday.

Each proposed a statewide sales tax, one to benefit schools and the other to benefit local governments.

But the bill that backers said would have provided a stable funding source for cities and counties through a new sales tax died on a vote of 10-50, while the bill that would help fund schools around Wyoming lives on.

House Bill 173, which lays out a formula for funding the state’s schools, would allow a one-half cent sales tax to be imposed statewide that would help reduce the $300 million deficit currently facing Wyoming schools – but only if the state’s reserve account falls below $650 million.

Brian Farmer, executive director for the Wyoming School Boards Association, said the tax included in the education bill seeks to offset the downturn in the mineral industry revenues that have historically funded education in the state.

“We know that for the last 12 to 15 years we’ve been incredibly heavily reliant on the mineral industry,” he pointed out. “But as the landscape changes, as the mineral economy is changing, the state is probably in need of reviewing its revenue sources. Our traditional revenue sources are not what they used to be; our expenditures maintain, and they do grow because of inflation.”

But the bill doesn’t just propose an increase in taxes. 

“It involves cuts,” he said. “Looking at where might we be able to make reductions that would have the least impact to classrooms and school districts.”

But he said, make no mistake about it, cuts mean job losses.

“When 85% of (a school’s) budget is tied up in people, there really just is nowhere to keep that entirely away from impacting people,” Farmer said. “If you have cuts that are in the neighborhood of 10%, you will be seeing job losses within school districts.”

Farmer pointed out that in every community, school districts are among the top three employers – and if teachers lose their jobs, they are likely to move out of those communities rather than find a job in another field. That means fewer dollars circulating in Wyoming communities.

He added that revenue transfers are also addressed in the bill – diverting some income for the state’s savings accounts to current education needs.

Farmer explained that if imposed, the sales tax could generate around $80 million each biennium. 

“So, that new revenue, combined with some cuts, combined with some revenue transfers, really goes a long way to plugging that $300 million hole,” he said.

He added he is hopeful that Wyoming’s historic high regard for education will sway legislators to support additional funding for schools.

“From the beginning of our territorial days, Gov. Campbell, the very first Governor of Wyoming, called education ‘the cornerstone of the new state,’” he said. “So from the very beginning, we’ve gone forward and built an education system that’s an envy of the nation.”

“And if we lose that, we threaten the quality of education, we threaten the very economy of Wyoming,” he added.

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Bestiality Bill Passes Wyoming Senate Committee of the Whole

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill criminalizing the act of bestiality was approved in its first Senate reading this week, making it more likely the bill will become a law by the summer.

House Bill 46 was passed by the “Committee of the Whole” during the Senate’s floor session on Tuesday afternoon. The “Committee of the Whole” refers to a chamber’s first review of a bill after it has been approved by a committee.

The bill, which won final approval from the House earlier this week, would make bestiality a misdemeanor in the state with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the bill, told her colleagues the bill was inspired by an act of bestiality that occurred last summer in Sweetwater County.

“The action did occur in our state recently, drawing the issue to attention and needing to codify this law and make sure there are consequences to that in this state,” she said.

Wyoming is only one of four states that does not have a bestiality law on its books.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, questioned whether or not the bill would criminalize artificial insemination and other husbandry acts, but Nethercott noted there was an exception to those situations in the bill.

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, wondered if it would be better to make bestiality a felony in the state, rather than a misdemeanor.

“These cases are really unpleasant to do, especially just for a misdemeanor,” he said.

Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, agreed with Perkins, saying that in many bestiality cases, someone is being forced into the act. He suggested amending the bill on second reading and looking into the situations that precede the bestiality.

“I would say we definitely need to pass this bill,” Kost said.

This incident that spurred the bill occurred last summer when a man in Sweetwater County was found to have trespassed onto private property to engage in sexual activity with horses.

“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.

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Cody Legislator: Disability-Related Abortions Step Toward Eugenics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban abortions conducted for “discriminatory” reasons is headed for its final review in the Wyoming House of Representatives.

House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, would ban abortions performed because the unborn child diagnosed with a disability or for the reasons of race, sex, color, national origin or ancestry.

In the bill, disabilities is defined as any disease, defect or disorder that is genetically inherited, including physical, mental and intellectual disabilities, physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, down syndrome, albinism, amelia, meromelia or a physical or mental disease.

The bill passed through its second reading in the House on Tuesday, meaning it is likely to be up for a third reading later this week.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, on Tuesday offered an amendment that would require the state to reimburse pregnant women who were forced into carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.

The program Connolly suggested in her amendment would cover all medical costs associated with the pregnancy, birth and additional educations and therapies related to a child being born with disabilities.

Her amendment, which would also require genetic testing for pregnant women, was defeated as the bill itself was approved in its second reading.

“I am confused about this bill and how it could honestly be implemented,” Connolly said during the House floor debate. “What this amendment does, it clarifies that we as a state…do not want the results of genetic testing to be used for abortion, but if a woman is obligated to carry a pregnancy to term, that we will take care of that child. That is our obligation.”

Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, a co-sponsor of the bill, spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying it didn’t align with the bill’s intention.

“The reality is that sex-selection abortions are occurring in the United States,” she said. “Recent studies have showed that more than 90% of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. Clearly, this is the chilling side to eugenics and it must be confronted there.”

Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, also spoke in opposition of the amendment.

“We’re not mandating that the woman has to take care of the child for the rest of its life, if she feels unable to care for the child after it is born,” she said. “We do have an existing program [like this that] Medicaid pays for.”

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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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Gordon, Legislators Outline Plan for March Session During Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming State Legislature will abide by a hybrid in-person and remote session schedule when it convenes next month.

To ensure the safest possible experience for those who must participate, Gov. Mark Gordon, President of the Senate Dan Dockstader and Speaker of the House Eric Barlow have committed to a joint plan to ensure increased safety for the session.  

“Our priority is keeping people safe and preventing COVID-19 infections while fulfilling the constitutional functions of the Wyoming Legislature,” the three said in a joint statement.

The approach for the March session will still allow remote participation by lawmakers, the public and the executive branch.

To allow for public access and to keep people safe during the March hybrid session, there will be requirements to social distance and to wear masks in public spaces.

“The virtual session format has served us well through the initial work of this Legislature as we completed our constitutional requirements and considered well-vetted interim committee bills,” Dockstader said. “We are now entering a phase where the general appropriations bill and individually sponsored bills will be considered.  Limited in-person interaction between legislators and staff members is critical to working these bills and optimizing the legislative response to the difficult issues facing the State of Wyoming.”

Legislators, the legislative service staff, Capitol building custodial staff and certain credentialed journalists will also be eligible to be vaccinated. 

In addition, because they will not have access to the vaccine as part of this strategy, the governor has worked with the legislature and directed all executive branch staff, including the governor’s office, to participate in the March session remotely. This is an effort to keep them safe, reduce the risk of spread and exposure and ensure the continuity of government services. 

The three leaders agreed that a legislative session this spring is necessary to define the state’s budget and work together on Wyoming’s path to recovery.

“In order for this session to proceed safely and successfully, it is important that all Wyoming legislators are able to fully and completely attend to their legislative responsibilities. Wyoming citizens expect nothing less,” Gordon said. “Committing these resources to this purpose is an important step to preserving equal representation for our citizens. I want to acknowledge the work of the Speaker and the President in accommodating virtual access for all citizens and their respect for the executive branch by allowing remote participation. I am thankful for the thoughtful work of our legislature and look forward to working with them on the significant challenges facing Wyoming. ” 

While details could change, the steps agreed to by the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House will include:

  • The governor will direct all executive branch employees to participate in the legislative process virtually.
  • Both branches agree to continue the preference of virtual meetings between branches. If an in-person meeting must be held, COVID-19 safety protocols will be followed.
  • Legislative bodies will limit the number of non-legislator presentations on the floors of the House and Senate.
  • The Legislature will take precautions in its physical environment. These precautions will include the following direction:
  1. Do not attend in-person if you are feeling ill, or believe you have had recent COVID exposure.
  2. Mask usage by legislative members is required in legislative spaces unless the member is seated at their desk or when proper social distancing can be maintained.
  3. Masks are required in other parts of the Capitol per state health orders.
  4. Mask usage is required for the public in legislative spaces. 
  5. Social distancing will be required in all committee rooms, galleries and hallways. 
  6. Hand sanitizer, masks and temperature scanners will be placed throughout the Capitol Complex. 
  • The public participating in-person during the session will be required to comply with public health orders in place at the time of the session.
  • The Legislature and the Governor will make every effort to ensure robust public engagement be allowed by virtual means. All legislative meetings will be broadcast online and include a feature allowing public comment remotely.
  • Legislative staff members who are not able to perform their work responsibilities virtually will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Members of the Wyoming Legislature will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure equal representation for all citizens of Wyoming.
  • Capitol building custodians, who are unable to perform their work responsibilities without their physical presence in the Capitol Building, will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. No other Executive Branch employee will receive the vaccine through this plan, as their participation will be accommodated through virtual means.
  • A limited number of frontline journalists who cover the state Capitol in-person on a regular basis will have the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • This strategy requires fewer than 100 vaccines.

“We appreciate Governor Gordon’s willingness to work with us to further our common goal of conducting a safe legislative session,” Barlow said. “Vaccination of legislators and legislative staff against the virus which causes COVID-19, in conjunction with other health and safety measures and continued virtual participation, is vital to maintaining a safe session.”

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