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March 08, 2011 8:22 am

EDITORIAL: Legislature ends

Written by Tessa Schweigert

The Wyoming Legislature adjourned late last week, finishing a general session marked largely by education reform. Over the past couple of months, statewide media coverage zeroed in on education measures — from the failed teacher tenure bill to the state’s investment in public schools — and socially conservative bills — namely those regarding same-sex marriage, abortion and concealed weapons.

While those issues rightfully deserve attention and discussion, it’s also important to look at other recent developments of the Legislature that haven’t been in the limelight.

Several developments worth noting:

• Drivers in Wyoming will now face stiffer DUI laws. Previously, motorists could refuse to take chemical tests to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in their body.

Under a measure approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Matt Mead, drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence must take a breathalyzer or other test.

It’s a crucial step in helping reduce drunken drivers on Wyoming roads. When it comes to DUI laws, there’s much at stake — last year, alcohol was a factor in 41 percent of fatalities on Wyoming’s roadways. Of the 116 fatal crashes in 2009, alcohol played a role in 55 of those deaths.

• The 23-mile stretch of U.S. 14-A between Powell and Cody is now the “Wyoming Veterans Memorial Highway,” becoming the first highway in the state named by the Legislature. The renamed roadway honors veterans in the Powell and Cody area who led efforts to construct the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Park in Cody. Powell’s veterans memorial sits at the beginning of the stretch, and the highway runs through the Heart Mountain farming district, where homesteads were awarded to veterans returning from World War II in the 1940s. The highway also passes the former Heart Mountain Relocation Center, where thousands of Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII.

Renaming the highway recognizes decades of veteran history and the continuing legacy in Park County, while honoring veterans statewide who faithfully served our nation.

• Protestors will face fines or jail time for picketing or causing a breach of peace within 900 feet of a cemetery, church or facility where a funeral is being conducted. The measure, signed last week by Gov. Mead, is aimed at hate-mongers who protest at veterans’ funerals in Wyoming.

• Legislators agreed to provide $45 million for highways and $45 million for local governments in the supplemental budget — funding that’s necessary for two areas that have struggled in recent years.

Some of the state’s roadways are in such poor condition that the Wyoming Department of Transportation had to partially close sections for emergency repairs last year. Local governments also are struggling throughout the state, prompting hiring freezes in Powell and Cody.

Unfortunately, the 2011 Legislature failed to provide a needed revenue stream that Mead had proposed, but the supplemental funding is welcome. We hope that, in future sessions, a consistent funding stream for local governments and the state’s roadways will be established.

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