This list of bills relating to “women’s issues” considered during the 2016 Wyoming Legislature’s budget session is quite subjective. We doubt that any observers of the 63rd Legislature would come up with exactly the same list given the wide interpretation one may have about which bills and issues are of particular concern to Wyoming women.
In compiling this list we were expansive in our consideration of what should be included; if we were to err we decided it would be on the side of inclusion rather than omitting possibly significant legislation.
Our list includes bills about wages, healthcare, education, abortion, crimes, religious freedom, welfare, food preparation and sales, discrimination and many other topics. We hope we didn’t miss any.
We divided this list into House and Senate sections, and each entry includes the bill number, sponsor, a summary of what the bill proposes, quotes (when available) and further explanation about the action legislators took, and the vote totals. In listing the votes, we have tried to avoid confusion by consistently listing each one in this order: yes, no and excused. Thus a vote written 26-33-1 would be a failed bill that had 26 yes votes, 33 no votes and one member excused.
HOUSE VOTES 2016
A significant change the Wyoming Legislature could make to benefit women workers affected by the gender pay gap is to raise the state’s minimum wage.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, women account for nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers and two-thirds of tipped workers.
House Bill 4, sponsored by Rep. James Byrd (D-Cheyenne) for the third session, would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $9.50 per hour. Currently the federal minimum wage is $7.25. Wyoming and Georgia are the only two states in the nation where the minimum wage is set below the federal rate.
Byrd’s bill would have also raised the minimum wage for tipped employees from the current minuscule $2.13 per hour to $5.50 per hour. Employers are required to make up the difference between the state tipped employee minimum and the federal rate of $7.25, but because they fear being let go if they request the money they are entitled to under the law, tipped employees in the state don’t ask for it.
Tipped employees who may work profitable shifts at popular restaurants might make considerably more than the state minimum on average, but those who work at far less frequented mom and pop restaurants may be forced to live on their paltry tips and without any health insurance or other benefits. Since many waitresses are single mothers living in poverty who also may have ex-spouses who don’t pay child support, they might not have any money available for child care so they can work or go to college.
President Barack Obama has been a steady supporter of an increased federal minimum wage, and in fact signed an executive order that says federal contractors must pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton favor hourly minimum wages of $15 and $12, respectively. Donald Trump, the GOP presumptive presidential nominee, tries to present himself as a populist on many issues but on the way to the nomination actually stated he believes American workers make too much. On May 5, 2016, he flip-flopped on that position and now says there should be a minimum wage hike of some kind.
Many of the nation’s largest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have already raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour. These hikes, especially since wages have remained stagnant for so long, are enormously popular. One of the Democrats’ top priorities in the upcoming general election should be to make certain Wyoming voters know that Democratic candidates are united for a minimum wage hike while not a single state GOP House member voted for HB 4 in 2016. Republican candidates must be called out on this issue as often as possible.
After his bill was rejected, Byrd said, “It’s not going away. We’ve got to do it. It’s the right thing to do.”
House Bill 111, a wage transparency bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne) would have allowed public and private workers to discuss their wages without the fear of being punished by their employers. The bill failed its vote for introduction (which required two-thirds support during a budget session) when the House voted 20-38-2. Next year in the general session bills will only require a simple majority to be considered, but it still faces an uphill battle if the old Republican guard is re-elected.
For more details about this important bill, please see the separate article, “Wage transparency first step to close Wyoming’s gender pay gap.”
HB 69, sponsored by Rep. Ken Esquibel (D-Cheyenne), would have made the nonconsensual dissemination of an intimate image of someone 18 years or older a crime in Wyoming. A first offense would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, and any subsequent offenses would be a felony subject to two years in jail and a $2,500 fine.
“As with domestic violence and sexual assault, victims from revenge porn suffer negative consequences and speaking out can cause increased harm,” Esquibel said.
Since 2013, 24 other states have enacted laws to make revenge porn a criminal offense, Esquibel said, and 11 other states are introducing legislation this year.
“Unfortunately, after a friendship or a romantic relationship ends, individuals sometimes get back at their ex-lovers by publishing intimate or embarrassing items online,” Esquibel said. “Such an act can be personally disturbing and professionally compromising.”
The bill received initial overwhelming support in the House, winning introduction 55-5. The House Judiciary favored it 5-4, and the entire House supported HB 69 by a 32-28 vote. The Senate, however, did not act on the bill and it died.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Evansville) wrote this on his campaign Facebook page: “I find this bill scary because of the precedence it establishes. This bill is not about someone hiding in the bushes and taking a picture of someone without their consent, there are already laws against that.”
“Here is the scenario this bill covers: Joe and Mary are dating. Mary takes a nude picture of herself and gives it to Joe,” the Republican lawmaker continued. “Mary breaks up with Joe. Joe is upset so he posts the nude picture she gave him. Joe has now committed a felony.
“I find what Joe did in this example to be disgusting and despicable. But I’m not sure he should be put in jail for it,” Kroeker wrote. “I think there is some personal responsibility here. You have to be careful to whom you give nude pictures of yourself. If you don’t want nude pictures of yourself posted somewhere, don’t give them to people. I think making this illegal crosses a line and it scares me. … And please, no jokes on the bill number .”
Like many members of the GOP on various offenses, Kroeker blames the victim of what should be a crime and says she should have “some personal responsibility here.”
Michelle Haggensen scolded Kroeker and tried to get him to change his mind, but he still voted against HB 69. She wrote on Facebook, “What if the tables were turned and your ex shared a compromising picture of you? Is it still your fault if you’re a man? Men like you are the reason we need these laws, she didn’t have it coming because her top was low cut or her skirt was short. Stop blaming the victim and punish the wrong doer. Shame on you sir.”
Yes, shame on Rep. Kroeker for not wanting to protect women from what should be labeled a criminal act. He may find this bill scary, but what’s really offensive is that he believes someone who may have used bad judgment and trusted sleazy people deserves to be publicly humiliated.
House Bill 70 would have circumvented the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling by changing the legal definition of the “viability” of a fetus to feel pain. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) responded to false attacks on Planned Parenthood for selling cells or tissues from an aborted fetus for experimentation.
Another anti-abortion measure, HB 121, sponsored by Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) would have established additional requirements for abortion reporting, including a public report of abortion statistics, and it also outlined penalties for the failure to report an abortion to authorities.
Fortunately the House did not even vote on either bill, but they could return in another session. For more details on these anti-abortion legislative attempts by representatives on the extreme right, please see our separate article, “Pro-choice interests need to keep close watch on Wyoming anti-abortion bills.”
Not all bills related to female victims went down in defeat. House Bill 58 provides for the forfeiture and seizure of specified property of persons convicted of a violation of the human trafficking laws. HB 58, sponsored by the Joint Interim Judiciary Committee, also:
— Provides notice to a lienholder or innocent third party with an interest in the property so the lienholder may protect his interest in the property and contest the forfeiture.
— Provides that an interest in property shall not be forfeited so long as a third party has a perfected lien or perfected security interest in the property or proves he is an innocent owner.
— Specifies maintenance for property taken or detained and the distribution of proceeds from forfeited property.
HB 58 passed the House by a unanimous 60-0 vote and made it through the Senate, 22-8. It was signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead.
House Bill 98 was a thing of beauty, if you like bills whose titles represent the exact opposite of what their supporters claim it does.
Sponsored by a Baptist preacher, Rep. Nathan Winters (R-Thermopolis), HB 98 was dubbed the “Government Nondiscrimination Act.” Winters said the bill would have expanded protections for religious freedom in the state for those who believe marriage is an institution between one man and one woman.
He said it was designed to prevent state and local governments from penalizing people with sincerely held religious beliefs regarding natural marriage. “This bill simply acknowledges our First Amendment right and preserves the right to a free conscience,” Winters said.
But House Minority Leader Mary Throne said the First Amendment already protects freedom of religion. “This is not a First Amendment bill,” she said. “This is a discrimination bill. It will harm our tourism industry in the state at a time when we are doing our utmost to enhance all of our economic opportunities.”
“This bill is not a discrimination bill,” Winters weakly countered. “It is an anti-discrimination bill. This protects the religious liberty of people that have sincerely held religious beliefs.”
HB 98 wound up one vote short of being introduced. It needed 40 votes to move on, but the House vote was 39-20. Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper) was excused from the session when the vote occurred.
Winters also sponsored the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2015. It allowed discrimination against LGBT people by allowing others to not employ, house or serve gays, lesbians and the transgendered. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate.
Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Casper) sponsored HB 110, which would have allowed the supervised use of cannabidiol medicine, which does not contain THC, the active ingredient of marijuana.
Cannabidiol has proven effective in treating people who suffer from seizures, especially children. Gay’s bill would have exempted from prosecution for possession or use of the drug as specified by HB 110.
The House killed this compassionate health care measure during its vote for introduction, 28-30-2.
Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan) sponsored HB 135, which would make public benefits only available to U.S. citizens or visitors who are in the country legally. In other words, Wyoming would make sure that only people entitled to certain public benefits [i.e. welfare] would get them, and that any violations that allowed illegal aliens to obtain benefits at the expense of legal residents of Wyoming would be reported to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
HB 135 also required reporting to the federal department if the “systematic alien verification of entitlement program[s]” is unnecessarily delayed.
The House apparently didn’t think it was worth even talking any more about Jennings’ attempt to protect legal Wyoming residents from losing benefits because illegal aliens got them instead. HB 135 failed its introduction vote, 26-33, with 1 excused.
House Bill 136, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie) was titled “Lauren’s Law.” The name was chosen to honor Lauren Regnell, a Laramie high school student who has autism. The condition makes it difficult for Lauren to do well at activities that are new to her, so she will participate in a transition program at her high school under her Individualized Education Program (IEP) after her class graduates.
Lauren’s parents wanted her to be able to participate with her friends in graduation activities, but some school district trustees didn’t think she qualified under the rules to do so. Pelkey said he sympathized with Lauren’s situation because he thinks high school graduation is about more than academic achievement.
“It’s really important they feel like they are a part of a social structure,” Pelkey related. “High school is important to young people for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there are academic benefits, but you also become a part of a social group. At the very moment that journey ends, it seems inappropriate to exclude some of those kids who have IEPs.”
Lauren’s school district decides such questions on a case-by-case basis, and will let her walk with her class at graduation. Lauren’s Law would have required school board trustees to adopt a policy so other students staying in high school in an IEP would automatically have the right to participate in graduation ceremonies with members of their class.
A majority of House members agreed, but with a 33-26-1 vote Pelkey’s bill fell seven votes short of meeting the two-thirds support requirement for introduction.
Another proposal sponsored by Pelkey, House Bill 132, would have expanded the definition of a violent felony to include the strangulation of a household member. Currently a suspected offender can only be charged under a non-violent felony statute, which is punishable by up to five years. A violent felony can draw up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.
This was an important bill designed to help reduce the number of domestic violence crimes by increasing the penalties to establish a more appropriate punishment and act as a deterrent.
“I can think of a no more violent act than taking your hands and trying to squeeze the life out of an individual,” said Pelkey, who is an attorney. He recalled a former client who was strangled. “The whites of her eyes were no longer white. They were red. And the reason is because the pressure built up in those eyes and caused the capillaries to burst.”
“It’s a frightening sight in and of itself, until you realize the same thing is happening inside her brain,” Pelkey said.
But Rep. Bob Nicholas (R-Cheyenne), also a lawyer, maintained the state’s violent felony laws are subjective and very difficult to apply.
“If you’ve got two brothers arm wrestling or wrestling on the floor and one has bruises around his neck there’s a question whether or not that’s strangulation. … If you’ve got a kid up against the wall who’s very upset, you’re going to leave bruise marks on his neck. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to do, but are you committing a violent felony?” Nicholas asked.
“Frankly there’s no such thing as friendly strangulation,” the Laramie Democrat shot back.
But the House apparently didn’t see the truth in Pelkey’s argument. HB 132 failed its introduction vote, 24-36.
Sponsoring a third bill was not the charm for Pelkey. His HB 109 provided sentencing enhancement for bias-motivated crimes.
Democrats have been trying to pass a bias-crimes bill since 1998, when gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten by two men who tied him to a fence and left him for dead near Laramie. Shepard was found but died five days later at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital. His two killers received life sentences.
The proposed legislation would have allowed prosecutors to seek a 25 percent sentence enhancement for violent felonies if the victim was targeted because of their membership in a protected group. Hate crimes, Pelkey maintained, are in essence an assault against a community.
Pelkey said the bill came about as a result of a Riverton shooting last year, when Roy Clyde shot two male members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.
HB 109 failed to be introduced by a 10-49 vote, which was not unexpected, but still disappointing.
Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper), who is not running for re-election to Wyoming House District 56 but instead trying to succeed Republican Cynthia Lummis as the state’s lone representative in the U.S. House, sponsored HB 73.
The bill called for the suspension or dismissal of teachers if they were charged with a felony. Stubson, a lawyer, apparently has some problems with due process, since his bill wouldn’t have required a conviction to get a teacher tossed out of his or her school, just an accusation.
Most of Stubson’s fellow Republicans loved the bill and voted 45-13-2 to introduce it. It was assigned to the House Education Committee, which killed it by not reporting it out with a recommendation before the cut-off for bills to be considered by the Committee of the Whole.
Rep. Lloyd Larson (R-Lander) sponsored HB 82, which would have required employers to pay workers who quit or were discharged by the next regularly scheduled pay day. The House passed it 60-0, but the Senate did not consider it so HB 82 died.
Another Larson-sponsored bill suffered a similar fate. HB 138 would have amended the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to repel provisions related to the qualification of parents and guardians for program benefits, and the state benefits were amended to conform to the requirements of minimum essential health insurance coverage.
The House passed the bill 60-0 but the measure died when the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee didn’t bring it out to the Committee of the Whole.
House Bill 61 would have created the small business innovation research matching funds program. The economic development bill was sponsored by the Joint Minerals, Business & Economic Development Interim Committee.
The program provided for matching federal funds for approved technology-based companies. The account would have been managed by the Wyoming Business Council in consultation with the University of Wyoming’s research office.
The bill failed its vote for introduction, 24-35-1.
Bills related to food didn’t fare well in the 63rd Legislature.
Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) sponsored House Bill 104, a “food freedom” bill that would have allowed the sale of prepared food products containing meat, if the meat was sold or provided by a commercial food establishment as defined by Wyoming law.
HB 104 passed the House 58-1-1 and was sent to the Senate, where it was assigned to the Agriculture Committee, where it died because the panel didn’t act on it before the cut-off for the Committee of the Whole’s consideration.
Another Lindholm bill, HB 131, would have made an exception to the exemption for sales tax on food for domestic home consumption. It would allow a county to impose an excise tax on food for domestic home consumption if the tax was approved by voters.
This proposal was exceedingly unpopular and failed its vote for introduction 15-44-1.
Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) sponsored HB 149, which created a categorical grant program for public school fund service operations. The proposal was meant to augment resources within the education resource block grant model to assist school districts to cover the costs of food service programs.
HB 149 failed introduction 21-38-1.
HB 105 created “A Better Life Experience” (ABLE) program for individuals with disabilities, sponsored by House Minority Leader Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne). If it passed, the state would assist individuals and families to save money to support people with disabilities to maintain health, independence and quality of life.”
Voting for this bill would be akin to supporting motherhood and apple pie. The House’s final vote was 59-1.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved HB 105 by a 4-1 vote, and the Senate Appropriations Committee stamped its seal of approval, 4-0. But then the bill ran into an unexpected buzzsaw in the Committee of the Whole when the entire Senate killed HB 105 by a vote of 12-18. All four Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the bill.
The next two bills, both sponsored by Democrats, passed and were signed into law. HB 114, offered by Rep. Cathy Connolly of Laramie, amended the reporting requirements for the Personal Opportunity With Employment Responsibilities (POWER). Recipients of public assistance and social services had to notify the Department of Family Services immediately if they gained any property, income or other assets.
HB 114 also increased the number of vehicles the state could exempt in making POWER eligibility determinations, and the amount of assets recipients could possess was raised from $2,500 to $5,000.
It sailed through both chambers, 55-3-2 in the House and 28-2 in the Senate.
Minority Leader Throne sponsored House Bill 118 about foster care and permanency. The bill added additional requirements to permanency hearings and reviews, as required by new federal law amendments.
It was probably difficult for some House members to pass anything related to federal requirements, but nevertheless it went through 44-14-2. The Senate passed the bill unanimously.
Two Labor House Labor Committee bills that allow nurses to practice in other states that have joined a compact were approved by both chambers. HB 55 (Nurse Licensure Compact) passed 57-0-3 in the House 28-0-2 in the Senate, and HB 56 (Advanced Practice Licensure Compact) was approved 57-0-3 in the House and 23-5-2 in the Senate.
SENATE VOTES 2016
Freshman Sen. Brad Boner (R-Douglas) sponsored SF 50, which would have expanded the definition of people considered in a position of authority over a victim of a sexual assault at a public, charter or private school in Wyoming.
Teachers and other district staff can now face charges for sexual assault if the student they victimize is under age 18. But there appears to be a loophole for legal-adult students, even though district employees would still be abusing a position of authority and trust.
Boner said the bill would close a loophole in the state’s existing law. The victim must be a student over 18 years old, and the perpetrator must be more than four years older than the victim.
“We don’t want someone using their school district employment to engage in this sort of predatory behavior,” Boner said.
To be convicted of sexual assault in the third degree under the bill, the person would have to have actual conduct or interaction with the victim by virtue of the person’s employment or service in the school or district. The crime itself would be inflicting sexual intrusion on the victim or subjecting the victim to sexual contact.
Third-degree sexual assault is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. SF 50 had strong support in the Senate, where it passed 27-3. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously recommended it for approval, 9-0, but the bill died when the full House didn’t consider it in Committee of the Whole.
SF 73, welfare fraud prevention, was sponsored by Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta). The bill will require people receiving government assistance to undergo quarterly reviews. If deemed necessary, the Department of Family Services can also contract with a third party to perform more rigorous reviews of welfare applications.
Advocates of the bill said it will streamline the state’s welfare screening, with the only significant change being the option to hire a third party fraud investigator.
“We’ve heard this is going above and beyond, this is going to be unmanageable,” said Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance). “Clearly it’s already manageable, and it provides another option to do this certification process.”
But opponents argued the law will waste time and money trying to fix something that isn’t broken. “The Legislature should be using fiscal prudence, not exploiting non-existing issues for political gain,” said Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson).
Brenda Lyttle, senior administrator of the Department of Family Services, said the state already aggressively monitors welfare fraud.
“We have prosecuted, I would say, eight cases in the last year for fraud big enough for us to take to prosecution,” Lyttle related.
DFS Director Steve Corsi said in 2015 the department authorized 120 claims that were later declared suspect, resulting in prosecution referrals for 12 people. They used more than $275,000 in benefits, he said.
The Senate passed the measure 30-0 and the House by a vote of 33-25-2.
The Joint Education Interim Committee’s effort to extend supplemental at-risk financial assistance to early childhood education programs, summer school, and extended-day intervention and remediation programs contained in Senate File 24 had no trouble making it out of the Senate, 25-5.
But after the House Education Committee recommended it 9-0, the entire House killed the bill in Committee of the Whole, 21-35-4.
Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie), who announced after the budget session that he is not seeking re-election, sponsored SF 85, which would have created a state medical education advisory council. The bill would also have limited budget reductions and reallocations of funds appropriated for medical education programs implemented by the University of Wyoming.
After being introduced 30-0, SF 85 never made it out of the Senate Health, Labor and Services Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper).
SF 60, sponsored by the Joint Labor, Health & Social Services Interim Committee, specified options for public health nursing cooperation between the state and the counties. The bill repeals temporary statutes enacted to implement a trial system where counties could enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health for the provision of public health nursing services. It makes minor amendments to the system and recodifies it in a new section.
Consistent with prior practices, the bill outlines three options by which a county and the state can enter into public health nursing agreements. The three options include 1) a partnership memorandum of understanding, 2) a state administered public health nursing system with a county contribution, and 3) a system under which the state contracts with a county for the provision of all or a portion of necessary public health nursing services. Option 3 is available only to counties which maintain a city, county or district board of health.
SF 60 passed the Senate 30-0 and the House 59-0-1.
SF 42 amended the Occupational Therapy Practice Act, including defining unprofessional conduct, the scope of practice, and licensure and temporary licensure standards. It also amended the standards for re-entry to the profession.
The bill was sponsored by the Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Interim Committee. SF 42 passed unanimous[y in the Senate, 30-0, and won approval in the House, 35-23-2.
SF 104, sponsored by Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta), would have authorized the Department of Health to contract for volunteer health care services, provided immunity to medical professionals and health care providers who provide volunteer health care under contract as agents of the state. It also would have authorized licensing boards to provide continuing education credit, and amended definitions for the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act.
While the bill was introduced 29-1, the Senate Appropriations Committee failed to report on SF 104, killing the measure.
SF 84 related to long-acting reversible contraception. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), it stated providing that contraception information and services that the Department of Health offers shall include long-acting reversible contraception including injections, intrauterine devices and implants.
The bill failed to be introduced by a 12-18 vote.
Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan) sponsored SF 62, which allowed the sale of homemade beer, mead, wine and fermented fruit juices to holders of various liquor licenses to conduct organized tastings, exhibitions, contests and competitions.
The bill specified that its provisions apply only to homemade beers, meads, wines or fermented fruit juices provided without “financial consideration,” which does not include an event admission charge, cover charge or dues.
SF 62 only drew one no vote. The Senate passed it 30-0 and the Senate approved it 57-1-2.
SF 98, which related to the applicability of the Food Freedom Act to the marketing and sale of homemade foods in Wyoming, was sponsored by Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton). The bill was introduced by a 26-3 vote, but it died when the Committee of the Whole in the Senate never considered it.