When you’re trapped for two months in an office building that’s masquerading as a state capitol, watching legislators slowly grind away at making law, one day often seems just like another.

But occasionally some legislators raise the oratorical bar for their colleagues and help keep observers not only awake, but genuinely interested. To me, five mini-speeches were highlights of the session that deserve to be remembered. They were extemporaneous, so sentences often ran on or suddenly stopped, but they were clearly heartfelt. I’d take that over perfect grammar any day.

This brief list of exceptional remarks is subjective, of course, because no one can see and hear all of the legislative action when the House and Senate are working simultaneously and half a dozen committees may be reviewing pending bills at the same time. These thoughts captured my attention not only because of the high quality of the arguments but the fact I agreed with them. All but one fought for losing causes.

I made no attempt to select an equal number of senators and representatives, men and women, or Republicans and Democrats, so my choices were not balanced at all. I selected four senators and a representative, all males, and four Republicans and one Democrat. It doesn’t represent all of Wyoming’s population, but it’s my list, my rules.

H- Zwonitzer, Dan
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, (R, HD-43, Cheyenne) chairman of the House Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee

My apologies to the Republicans who are being singled out by a progressive in this public way. I hope I don’t ruin your re-election chances. If it would help, I’ll tell everyone that I usually disagree with you. It’s the truth.Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R, HD-43, Cheyenne) objected to the House caving in to the Senate’s demand that the state cut funding for construction of a new Carey Junior High School in Cheyenne. Zwonitzer voted against a compromise and exercised a rarely used House rule to explain his decision.

“I fundamentally believe the attack on my school district is unfair and actually, I feel quite honestly that it was malicious. I truly believe that it would be different if I and most of you thought that it was truly needed for the health of the budget of the state, but I’ve been around long enough to know better. …

“I just think we’re better than this. … I voted no because this was a dangerous precedent that we just set in this body. This is the first time since 2002, for 15 years, this Legislature has ever taken a school off this list that we agreed to; it’s a non-political list, it always has been. And never once have we cut a school until now. I just think that today will go down as a black mark on our process.”

The House voted 36-22 to concur with the Senate’s version of House Bill 58, the school capital construction bill, one of the last to be considered on the session’s final day.

Bruce Burns (R, SD-21, Sheridan), objected to House Bill 182, which requires physicians to offer pregnant women an ultrasound and information about options to abortion.

“The abortion issue … was a court decision and it was yanked out of the area of politics, so it could not be politically resolved. I really do understand people who are pro-life and their great frustration. On the other hand, though, I don’t think that this bill resolves anything other than for the government to start interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. We’re suddenly telling a doctor what he has to say to the patient.

Sen. Bruce Burns (R, SD-21, Sheridan), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
Sen. Bruce Burns (R, SD-21, Sheridan), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee

“To me and in my little small-government thinking, this is a horrifying turn of events. I know people hate abortion and try to do everything they can to postpone it or put it off, and that’s exactly what this [bill] is. But, A) I think it’s a futile gesture; and B) I think it’s a bad precedent to set.”

Burns made his comments on first reading, along with several senators. But on third and final reading no one discussed the bill at all, and it was approved by a 20-10 vote.

Sen. James L. Anderson (R, SD-28, Casper) on House Bill 137, Repeal of Gun-Free Zones, which would allow concealed carry of firearms at governmental meetings.

“I am a concealed carry permit holder. My wife is also, and a lot of our friends are. That doesn’t mean we’re proficient and are able to save your life at a meeting. Most of the people that I know who have a concealed carry permit have it because they might have a shotgun in the back seat of their pickup; they’re going bird hunting and they put a coat on it, that’s a concealed weapon.

“A concealed weapon [without a permit] is a felony; they can lose their doctor’s license, dentist’s license, those kind of things. So a lot of them have [the permit] because of that. They don’t have it to protect you in a public meeting. And probably they couldn’t.

“Last year you heard people talk about the ‘freeze.’ The military trains you for it. I’m sure the highway patrol does. You pull your weapon out and you shoot somebody. The problem you’d have with everybody protecting you is they’d pull their weapon and they wouldn’t know who to shoot because you have that freeze moment where you’re afraid to pull the trigger on a human being. So this is not going to protect you in a public meeting.”

S- Anderson, James Lee
Sen. James L. Anderson (R, SD-28, Casper)

House Bill 137 was ultimately approved by the Senate, 20-10.

Sen. Cale Case (R, SD-25, Lander) spoke in favor of House Bill 75, which would automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons instead of making them wait for five years. Case co-sponsored the bill.

“[House Bill 75] just takes the procedure we use now and makes it automatic. They could apply now, but it is a bureaucratic procedure, there are snaggles in paperwork. They may not know [if they can vote] and we make them wait five years. Think about a person who would have been able to vote if they had waited five years and followed all of the process, but they stumble in and vote after three years because they think they can vote. That’s a five-year felony. …

“Haven’t you all had some things change in your life? Well, if I were to guess I’d bet prison changes people’s lives, fulfilling their debt to society and serving all of their term, probation and restitution and sitting in a cell. I think that changes people. Let’s give them a handshake. Let’s say, ‘welcome back.'”

Unlike the other bills I’ve highlighted, Case was on the winning side of this argument. House Bill 75 was approved, 22-8.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D, SD-9, Laramie) spoke on House Bill 197, which would regulate edible marijuana for the first time in Wyoming. Similar bills were defeated the past two sessions.

“As it stands now this bill does not make things simpler, it does not solve a problem, it creates a lot of confusion … and leaves wide open the discussion we had previously about the idea of how much THC is in the brownie. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is how much brownie you’ve got. …

“If I like my brownie rich and I add a lot of extra volume of water and cream, and maybe a little additional flour, I become a felon. And if I like some dry, plain and less tasty THC brownies then I can be a misdemeanor. I can have four times the concentration. Those can be some potent brownies.

“But at the end of the day I can select whether these are misdemeanor brownies or felony brownies based on my recipe, and that’s not the intent. That’s not good legislation…. let’s get back to the drawing board, let’s make it scientifically based, and let’s do it right.”

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The Senate voted 20-10 to approve HB197, but it deservedly died when the House and Senate couldn’t agree on changes to the proposal.

As usual, many of the positions I took on major legislation this year found me on the losing side. But unlike many sessions, at least I felt my views were actually voiced.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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