The Wyoming House decided not to consider a bill this session that would’ve criminalized hazing of students at the University of Wyoming.
A half hour before Friday’s 6 p.m. deadline for bills to be introduced this session, members of the House voted 35-21 not to send the bill to a committee for consideration. Four legislators were absent for the vote.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, and had only two co-sponsors: Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, R-Rock Springs, and Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan.
Stith said the bill was largely intended to “send a message” in the wake of a few high profile hazing incidents in Wyoming high schools in recent years, but the bill would’ve applied to UW as well.
Under Stith’s bill, anyone “actively involved in the planning” of hazing would be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months imprisonment.
Any hazing activity that results in death or “serious bodily injury” could’ve led to a felony conviction punishable by up to five years imprisonment.
The bill would’ve also required UW and K-12 school districts to inform all student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, of the hazing law and receive commitments from the student groups not to allow hazing.
Stith’s bill defined hazing as “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, club, association, fraternity or sorority” that “willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.”
The explicitly named “whipping, beating, branding, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of the student or other person, or which subjects the student or other person to extreme mental distress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.”
Speaking against the bill, Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, said that hazing incidents that result in physical injury are already covered by existing statute.
“It seems really duplicative to me, and we’re adding an offense that already exists,” he said.
Only one of Albany County’s legislators voted against the bill: Rep. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie.
Laramie Democrats Charles Pelkey and Cathy Connolly, as well as Rep. Bill Haley, R-Centennial, voted to have the bill considered.
This week, the House leadership also refused to let its members consider a bill which would’ve prevented the University of Wyoming from regulating guns on campus.
That bill was sponsored by Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, and was co-sponsored by some of the Legislature’s staunchest gun advocates.
The legality of UW’s gun ban has been challenged in a court battle that’s been ongoing for almost two years.
Salazar’s bill would’ve negated the need for any continued litigation over the legality of UW’s gun regulations.
Wyoming statute decrees that only the state has authority to regulate guns and that “no city, town, county, political subdivision or any other entity shall authorize, regulate or prohibit … carrying or possession of firearms.”
The main legal question of the ongoing legal battle is whether UW is part of the state or if it is considered a “political subdivision or any other entity” for the purpose of regulating guns.
The House would make it clear that only the Legislature can regulate guns.
An identical bill was rejected by he Senate earlier this week.