Lawmakers listen to opening remarks on the first day of the 2018 legislative session. Many bills did not make it through the first week, including legislation on heated social issues like political discourse on college campuses and sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Not all controversial legislation was killed off, however. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

Update Feb. 27: Senate File 85, which would have allowed women who suffer a miscarriage to request a nonviable birth certificate, failed 12-18 on its third and final vote in Senate.

The bill originally required doctors to offer the certificate. It became controversial after abortion-rights activists said it represented a government intrusion between women and their doctors and could be a step toward establishing “fetal personhood.” Before the vote, several senators said that over the recent three-day recess, medical providers in their communities expressed opposition to the measure.

Others, like Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said the bill was too divisive. “Our role is to unite Wyoming,” he said.

Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas), the sponsor, said the bill had been mischaracterized to the public. It was designed to enable women to leave the hospital with a record of their failed pregnancy, providing comfort at a difficult time, he said.

All three women in the Senate — Republicans Sens. Affie Ellis and Tara Nethercott of Cheyenne and Democrat Sen. Lisa Anselmi-Dalton of Rock Springs — voted against the bill. It is now dead for the session.  

Call them social issue bills, red meat for the base, or just controversial — the Legislature decided the fate of numerous head-turning bills in its first week.

By choosing not to introduce many of those bills, lawmakers gave themselves more time to focus on the budget and education funding. Still, not all the controversial bills died by Friday.

A bill banning municipalities from declaring “sanctuary” status for undocumented immigrants failed a vote for introduction. Bills banning gay marriage, labeling pornography a public health crisis and seeking to prevent University of Wyoming professors from expressing their political beliefs in the classroom died without being heard by the end of day Friday.

On the other hand, bills dealing with gun issues passed introductory votes with strong support. And women’s reproductive rights will be considered with the Senate introduction of a bill that requires doctors to inform women whose pregnancies end in a miscarriage that they can ask for a government “certificate of nonviable birth.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) said in a news release that the bill, SF-85, is intended to support families grieving a miscarriage by giving them what “ … may be the only tangible reminder a family has of a pregnancy.” In an email message with the release, Boner complained about “misinformation circulating regarding this legislation” but did not say who circulated the information nor how it mischaracterized the bill.

The state’s most prominent abortion rights group sharply criticized the measure, however.

“This bill could be a step toward establishing fetal personhood and outlawing abortion,” said Sharon Breitweiser, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming. The bill represents an intrusion on conversations between women and their doctors, she wrote in an action alert about the bill to her organization’s supporters.

Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas)

A bill to prominently display the national motto of “In God We Trust” in the state Capitol building, public libraries, in classrooms of public schools and the lobby of every government building also passed. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), received 44 votes in the House. The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development committee also passed it, without amendments.

Two “stand-your-ground” bills passed introduction, one sponsored by Rep. Tim Salazar (R-Dubois) in the House and one sponsored by longtime gun advocate Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) in the Senate. The sponsors say such bills take the “castle doctrine,” which provides wide legal latitude for someone to use deadly force to protect their home, and extend it to a person outside the home. Critics disagree.

“You do not have to retreat if you are in fear of your very life, the life of yourself or your family members,” Salazar said, according to a report in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. “This bill is needed in the state of Wyoming because we’re the only state in the entire West that does not have it.”

Critics of the legislation say that assertion is wrong. They point to Wyoming case law and contend that a 2013 Wyoming Supreme Court decision in fact gives Wyoming residents legal permission not to retreat in the face of a dire threat.

Both stand-your-ground bills passed with wide margins. Both are likely to generate lengthy debate in committee meetings and on the House and Senate floor.

On top of those, Rep. Bunky Loucks (R-Casper) sponsored a bill to allow concealed carry in houses of worship, which also passed the House with a wide margin of approval.

Strong support for gun bills represents a shift for the Wyoming Legislature, observers say, which in the past has treated gun-related legislation with caution.

Wyoming’s Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to even consider a non-budget bill during the shorter budget session. The requirement is designed to ensure that lawmakers attention stays focused on fiscal issues. But speaking with reporters Friday morning, Speaker of the House Steve Harshman (R-Casper) rejected the idea that other issues don’t have a place in a budget session.

“I think that’s used to kind of whack us with a stick a little bit,” he said, “saying, ‘Hey you’re down there for a budget session. You shouldn’t be doing this stuff.’” But, he said legislative committees will determine whether bills that passed introductory votes deserve to go forward in the process.

“Introduction doesn’t mean passing,” he said. Harshman voted for the House’s stand your ground bill. But he said it needs substantial improvement to move forward.

“When it gets out of committee, I don’t even think it’ll look the same,” he said.

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Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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