Local legislators recap session

Posted 3/24/11

That legislation would have refused to recognize the validity of gay marriages performed in other states. The legislation narrowly failed after the Senate and House could not agree on the bill’s specifics.

Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, and Rep. …

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Local legislators recap session


The Wyoming Legislature passed 204 bills during its 37-day session from Jan. 11 to March 3. But it’s one that didn’t pass — House Bill 74: Validity of Marriages — that continues to draw the most interest, Park County legislators said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Park County Republican Women in Cody, state Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said gay marriage bills consumed “an incredible amount of time” during the legislative session, that he received hundreds of daily emails on House Bill 74 and that he was still getting emails about it.

That legislation would have refused to recognize the validity of gay marriages performed in other states. The legislation narrowly failed after the Senate and House could not agree on the bill’s specifics.

Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, and Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who both voted against the bill, were asked during the GOP women’s meeting to explain their votes.

Childers said he believes the state needs to separate civil rights from marriage — leaving unions to the state and marriage to churches.

“We’re going to have to do that because, No. 1, this is an equality state and the use of marriage in our statutes, there’s at least 70 places in there where marriage gives them (spouses) a legal right,” Childers said.

As one example, he said gay individuals wouldn’t be allowed to visit their partner in the hospital or pick up their partner’s body if they died in a car crash in Wyoming.

“I refuse to discriminate. And I think that is discrimination, in my opinion,” Childers said.

Bonner said Wyoming’s law is already clear that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.

“What this bill would have done is attack laws in other states,” he said.

Bonner also said he saw the bill as a constitutional issue, noting the Wyoming Constitution guarantees residents an equal inherent right “to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

He said House Bill 74 does nothing for anti-discrimination, does nothing for equality, “it does nothing for love thy neighbor, it does nothing for judge not.”

Coe, who also voted against the legislation, said he had concerns with House Bill 74 barring access to Wyoming courts for gay couples married out of state. He cited particular concern with what would happen to any children in the custody of gay couples in the event of a split.

“I felt that, when the civil process went out of House Bill 74, it gutted the bill,” Coe said.

Echo Renner, who is the vice president of the Park County Republican Women, but who was speaking for herself, said she disagreed with the representatives’ votes on gay marriage legislation.

“I think a lot of people were disappointed in the way you voted on those,” Renner said, though she thanked the legislators for explaining their rationales.

Overall, the legislators described the session as a conservative one; Childers drew claps when he said the Wyoming Legislature had overtaken Idaho’s as the nation’s most conservative law-making body.

Also to applause from the GOP women, Coe noted that lawmakers left Cheyenne with more than $1 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.

Among other budget highlights, Coe noted an additional $45 million given to local governments — which will mean just more than $2 million in funding split among local governments in Park County — and $15 million set aside for cleaning up closing landfills around the state.

Bonner said legislators felt an obligation to assist local governments with cleaning up landfills, given that state water quality regulations are requiring upgrades, monitoring, landfill lining and closures of sites.

He said the sum is “just a good start” to a landfill clean-up account. Park County’s closure/post-closure costs alone in Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and Clark have been projected to total some $7 million in coming years.

Park County Republican Chairman Geri Hockhalter asked why the state wasn’t doing more to encourage composting and recycling.

“Why doesn’t the state have any compostable incentives? There’s barely anything that can’t be composted,” said Hockhalter.

Childers said the state lacks some recycling infrastructure where some items — such as glass — can be recycled; Bonner said the county landfill is encouraging recycling.

Two meeting attendees asked about what the Legislature did to ease restrictions on the sale of home-baked goods at church events and farmers’ markets.

Childers noted the Legislature did pass the “Wyoming Traditional Food Act” which exempts foods at events such as weddings, potlucks and non-profit bake sales from state food regulations — such as requirements that the food be prepared in a certified kitchen. One attendee said the kitchen requirement had been “a struggle” for her church.

Sellers at farmers’ markets remain under state regulations when selling meat, canned goods, dairy products and sauces after an effort to exempt all home-based food producers failed.

“I just think the state has more important things to be involved in,” said attendee Maryanne Schulz, saying no one had gotten sick or died from farmers’ markets.

“We have to support those people,” Schulz said of local sellers after the meeting. “That’s a job.”

Childers said there have been a lot of complaints from people who feel the state department of agriculture has gone overboard with food safety regulations. However, Bonner pointed to last year’s national outbreak of salmonella in eggs as an example of why care in food safety is needed.

During his portion of the more than hour-long discussion, Bonner sought to reassure any concerns over the Legislature’s passage of a law allowing citizens to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

He said the bill restores citizens’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

“When we (previously) passed a law that said you can carry concealed if you have a permit, we qualified that right,” Bonner said.

Bonner said he initially had concerns but was reassured when most law enforcement officials, including the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers, were OK with the bill.

Arguments Bonner said he found persuasive were that armed, law-abiding citizens are a partner in public safety, and that criminals might carry guns regardless of whether they’re allowed to or not. He also noted that open carry has always been legal, and he suggested concealed carrying would be less disruptive.

Bonner also noted that individuals who are mentally disturbed or incompetent, or who have been convicted of drug-related crimes or felonies remain barred from carrying concealed weapons. Further, people still cannot bring concealed weapons into places such as jails, police stations, government buildings, bars, churches, schools, college campuses or private businesses that ban them.

“It is not wide-open cowboy time. It is restoration of a right that was ours,” Bonner said.

Among other legislation, Childers also mentioned the passage of a bill allowing the Game and Fish Commission to work with other states on aquatic invasive species (“very important for this state, given that we’re a headwaters state,”) and noted separate financial incentives to encourage film crews, manufacturers and data centers to come and do business in Wyoming. Childers also discussed a $200,000 study on how best to build a new home for the state’s archives and extra museum pieces. He said current archival facilites are too small, and that saddles in one facility — thought to be a perfect warehouse — developed mildew.

Childers, who chaired the House revenue committee, also noted a bill that allows businesses to receive a percentage of sales taxes as compensation for their work in collecting them — up to $500 a month.

“It makes it a lot easier on you,” said Childers.

Bonner highlighted a lesser-known bill that will study the impacts of converting 40 state vehicles to operate on natural gas, which costs about half the price of gasoline and is Wyoming’s most abundant fuel.

Bonner said natural-gas conversion, at $10,000 per car or $20,000 per school bus, is “pretty expensive,” and the vehicles are limited by a lack of fueling stations and a 200-mile range. But Bonner said for a closed-circuit route, such as for a school bus, it could make sense.

He also noted the technology’s likely most attractive feature — natural gas’ current price of about $1.44 a gallon.

Pointing to lackluster national rankings for Wyoming’s students, Coe said that, even after a session filled with discussions of how to best get accountability from the state’s schools, the Legislature isn’t done with the issue.

“We aren’t getting the job done, and we are determined to proceed with accountability,” said Coe.