Four bills individually sponsored by Albany County legislators have passed out of the House. Two more have a chance to pass on a third reading Monday, which happens to be the last chance to keep alive any of the three bills sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, that are awaiting a Committee of the Whole vote, or the two bills sponsored by Rep. Dan Furphy, D-Laramie, that have passed a committee review.
The House has approved two bills sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, including one which could have enormous implications for the final stages of felony prosecutions.
Currently, Wyoming statutes require a “pre-sentence investigation” report to be produced for all felony convictions. That report is provided to judges before sentencing and provides comprehensive information about a convict’s background. Occasionally, a judge will, at the request of the defendant, have such an investigation completed after sentencing.
“Those take about 2-3 months,” Pelkey told his fellow legislators when the bill first came up for a vote. “They take up a lot of time for the probation and parole department.”
Pelkey’s bill would allow judges to decide which cases will have a pre-sentence investigation conducted for.
After committee work, an amendment was added to only apply the new freedoms for “victimless” crimes. However, the Committee of the Whole later reverted the bill to its original language after Connolly noted there’s not a definition of what constitutes a “victimless” crime in Wyoming’s statutes.
The bill passed the house without a single no vote.
Another bill, the Wyoming Beer Freedom Act, easily passed the House after a 55-4 vote.
The bill would allow local brewers to serve their beer at events by seeking a 24-hour local permit.
Only Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, argued against the bill’s passage, noting alcohol’s propensity to “destroy families and individuals.”
“We have an idea in our culture today that you can’t have fun without alcohol,” the Baptist pastor said. “Alcohol is dangerous.”
Pelkey’s bill to ban marriage among minors drew significant attention at the beginning of the session but narrowly failed a third reading vote 26-31.
When the House first took up House Bill 60, Pelkey described child marriage as “one of the easiest ways to sexually exploit a minor.”
In pushing the bill, he noted child marriage is associated with high rates of high school dropout, disease, domestic violence and childbirth complications.
Arguing against the bill, Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, noted emancipated minors are allowed to sign contracts, and it would be inappropriate to add a single contract they can’t sign.
Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said he felt the bill impeded on parental rights. He also said it would be unfair to force a pregnant minor to give birth outside of wedlock is she preferred to marry.
The bill passed 28-26 on first reading. Hoping to get the bill to pass on the final vote, Pelkey added an amendment he acknowledged he wasn’t “100 percent comfortable” with. The amendment would’ve allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to still get married with a court order and parental consent. All Albany County legislators voted in favor of Pelkey’s marriage bill.
Rep. Bill Haley, R-Centennial, might have a perfect record this year in getting his bills to pass the house. The retired game warden sponsored two bills related to his retired profession.
House Bill 28 would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department more power to regulate antler and big-game horn collection. Currently, Game and Fish can only regulate antler collect west of the Continental Divide, and only during winter. Haley’s bill would allow Game and Fish to regulate antler collection anywhere in the state during any season.
Haley said out-of-staters are increasingly flocking to mountains in Wyoming, like the Snowy Range, to collect antlers.
“We’ve had a tremendous increase in the interest for antler hunting,” he said. “More people are coming from surrounding states to our state to engage in this activity. This runs the elk and deer off their winter range, which is fairly limited, and it’s during a time when their using up what limited at reserves they have and they don’t need this added stress.”
The bill spurred significant discussion when first introduced in the House. Many representatives noted that, like Haley, they’ve noticed antler collection becoming increasingly problematic.
“I know people who spend half the winter pursuing moose and seeing where they’re going to drop their antlers off,” said Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo.
Other legislators expressed concern about penalizing people who pick up antlers they stumble across while on a hike.
“I think we’re, inch by inch, taking away our freedoms,” said Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis.
The bill passed the House on Jan. 17 after 41-18 vote. No Albany County legislators opposed the bill. The House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources committee earlier voted to advance the bill on a 6-3 vote.
Another bill sponsored by Haley, House Bill 169, is scheduled for a final vote by the House on Monday.
That bill would allow Wyoming Game and Fish to give free lifetime fishing licenses to people who are “permanently disabled.”
Both committees that have vetted the bill voted unanimously to advance it. However, some legislators expressed concern that people who don’t meet the layman’s idea of “disabled” would be able to qualify for a free license.
Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said that “permanently disabled” is a term used by the Department of Workforce Services to simply refer to someone forced out of the job market by a physical ailment. The bill only passed first reading with 31 aye votes.
Haley will attempt to appease those concerns Monday before the final vote by proposing an amendment that would define “permanently and totally disabled” as meaning “the presence of a permanent physical or mental condition that prevents a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity.”
Connolly has sponsored eight bills this session, but only one has passed out of the House.
That bill, House Bill 163, merely cleaned up what Connolly called “confusing and erroneous” language in Wyoming’s child labor statutes.
A second bill, House Bill 170, awaits third reading approval on Monday. The bill merely updates statute to require that the state’s child protective service workers are trained on the terms of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in 2018.
She has three other bills which, in order to survive, will need to be brought for vote Monday by House Majority Leader Eric Barlow, R-Gillette. The bills would die if if the House adjourns for the day without getting to Connolly’s bills.
One would establish a “statewide 911 coordinator” position to ensure compliance with federal grants. Connolly’s bill to create penalties for female genital mutilation is also awaiting a vote by the Committee of the Whole.
Another bill awaiting a Monday vote is one that would increase Wyoming’s minimum wage to $8.50, with annual increases taking place in coming years. The bill passed out of committee on a 6-3 vote.
Rep. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, has sponsored two bills this session. Both passed out of committee this week and will need to be brought up for a vote Monday if they’re to stay alive.
One bill, a joint resolution, would bestow the title “Medal of Honor City or Community” upon the communities in Wyoming that have been home to 17 Medal of Honor recipients.
Furphy’s other bill would provide tax credits to property owners who make improvements to abandoned buildings. The House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee passed the bill out of committee on a 7-2 vote.
Albany County’s two senators didn’t have any individually-sponsored legislation pass this year.
All three bills sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, passed a committee review, but none earned the approval of the full Senate.
His bill to replace Wyoming’s party-based primary system with an open-ranked election earned statewide press coverage but failed a Senate vote 5-24.
A bill to have the Department of Health creating a “medical assistance buy in” program never reached a vote.
He also introduced a bill that would allow local governments to offer Wyoming’s state insurance to their employees. That bill failed on a 8-21 vote.
Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, described the bill as a Pandora’s Box that could eventually lead to the private sector being allowed to join in the state plan.
“That’s really bad idea,” he said.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said he was concerned that only communities with high rates would join the statewide plan, increasing overall costs in the pool.
While name of Sen. Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, appears on 18 bills as a co-sponsor, Moniz himself did not sponsor any legislation this year.