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March 05, 2013 9:28 am

EDITORIAL: Buffaloed by bison bill

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Lawmakers should follow state’s constitution

Wyoming lawmakers buffaloed us when a controversial gun measure found itself in a bill about bison last week.

State legislators have drawn national spotlight in recent weeks as they looked to block any federal laws that could threaten gun rights. The unique proposal thrust Wyoming in the middle of the heated national debate.

National news organizations weighed in, social media sites were abuzz and Cowboy State lawmakers found themselves bombarded with messages.

At no point in the gun debate did we hear anything about bison.

Until last week, that is.

The Wyoming State Senate shoehorned $250,000 to fight any possible federal gun ban into a bill about bison hunting licenses.

The sponsor of the bison bill, Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, said it was a last piece of legislation that senators could tack the gun rights amendment to during the session’s dwindling days.

“One of them must have figured out that you shoot bison with things called guns,” Gingery told the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

In the final hours before the Legislature adjourned Wednesday, the Wyoming House voted to agree on the gun amendment in the bison bill. The language was watered down from original firearms protection legislation, lacking a provision that would have made it a misdemeanor for a federal official to enforce a federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines in Wyoming. At press time Monday, Gov. Matt Mead hadn’t signed the bison bill.

The firearm amendment on the bison bill drew criticism inside and outside of the State Capitol.

“This is the kind of thing where we try to hoodwink the constituents,” said Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, in a Casper Star-Tribune article, saying the gun amendment “makes this bill a sham.”

The amendment goes against Wyoming’s Constitution.

State law explicitly outlaws so-called riders, stating that no bill shall be passed containing more than one subject. It also says the subject “shall be clearly expressed in its title.” The last time we checked, the title of the bill — “Wild bison licenses” — said nothing about firearms.

Wyoming prides itself on not following the politics we see all too often in Washington, D.C. In this case, however, state lawmakers folded to crafty politics rather than following our Constitution.

If Wyoming wanted to protect itself from federal gun legislation, then the bill should have passed on its own merit.

We’re aware that procedural hijinks stood in the way of gun rights legislation.

After clearing the House, the legislation died when Senate Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, did not bring up the gun bills for debate by the deadline. He cited a pro-gun organization’s rude pressure tactics and said, “sooner or later, you have to say that outrageous conduct, mean conduct, has no place in Wyoming politics.”

We agree. But questionable politics also should have no place in the Wyoming Legislature. The gun legislation should have been debated on the Senate floor, where it belonged, rather than riding a bison bill.

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