THE BUZZ: No Weed for Wyoming

By on February 16, 2016

A third of the way through the legislative process has already left a graveyard of dead bills.

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JACKSON HOLE, WY – The Legislative Budget Session convened for a full day on President’s Day as state lawmakers slogged though another busy round of work. This week, the focus is expected to zoom in on difficult budget choices.

A few early bills have already been crushed in committee as lawmakers weed through 159 registered House Bills and more than a hundred Senate Files.

Up in smoke

The first week of session was tough on Rep. James Byrd. The Cheyenne Democrat brought four bills, three of which his peers had seen before. He had high hopes for two marijuana bills that were both burned down once they hit the floor.

With House Bill 3, which Byrd brought in previous years, the intent was to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of weed with a civil fine of no more than a Benjamin. Offenders would also not incur an arrest record for sparkin’ up. Currently, one joint can bring a misdemeanor charge with a possible year in prison and $1,000 fine. The House shot down the measure 20-39 despite support from all three Jackson Hole reps—Andy Schwartz, Ruth Ann Petroff, and Marti Halverson.

Byrd’s bid to protect out-of-state residents holding a valid medical marijuana license from being arrested over possession while in Wyoming was also a fail. The vote for the medical marijuana reciprocity bill (HB7) was closer at 21-37, with Petroff on the “nay” side that time.

Byrd was thought by some to have a decent chance at getting some traction with a minimum wage bill but once again his peers slammed the effort, defeating HB4 by a 49-9 margin. Schwartz was the lone area representative on the losing side. The bill would have raised the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $9.50 an hour.

A controversial bill that would allow mountain lion trapping received fierce pushback from wildlife activists especially in Teton County. The bill failed introduction in a very close vote, 34-24. Had the vote taken place in a general session, the bill would have passed, but requiring a two-thirds super-majority in a budget session, it narrowly failed. Halverson was for trapping. Petroff and Schwartz voted no.

Other fails

Petroff’s bid to tweak state statute for the restructuring of the Teton County Housing Authority was shot down. Teton County is unique in that it has only one municipality within the county—Jackson. Petroff was hoping to change state law that would allow for an all-commissioner housing board of five to run the Authority. House Bill 93 failed despite 33 voting for it and 19 nays. Schwartz, Petroff, and Halverson were all yeses.

Schwartz took a shot at protecting big game animals with a bill that would define and outlaw the harassment and disturbance of elk, moose or deer. Perhaps the loose definitions of harassment in the bill did not sit well with the majority on the floor. Definitions of harassment included “worries” and “annoys” among other nebulous descriptions. The bill failed 11-48, though Petroff did join Schwartz in the losing effort.

Did you know that Wyoming has provisions for a state militia? Should things hit the fan in Washington, or if zombies do indeed begin feeding on the population, Wyoming could, in an emergency, organize an “unorganized militia.” There’s only one problem. Those older than 70 would be disqualified.

That’s not fair, Halverson thought. She cosponsored House Joint Resolution 9 that would change the age requirement for Wyoming’s rag tag apocalypse brigade from the current 17 to 70 to anyone 17 or older. The measure stalled in committee.

Buzzy bills

Wyoming lawmakers continued their buzz kill on reefer with the committee approval of Senate File 96, which would toughen penalties on edible marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee moved the bill to the Senate floor Monday with a 4-1 vote. If passed, anyone caught with three or more ounces of brownies (down from one pound) could be charged with a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Sen. Leland Christensen was in favor.

Currently, a suspected drug runner can have his car seized and sold even without a conviction. Property or money believed to be associated with a crime is fair game and can be taken by law enforcement without a charge or conviction. Legislators attempted to change that law last session but after the bill passed both the Senate and House it was vetoed by the governor.

Lawmakers are trying again this session with similar asset forfeiture bills from both sides. HB14 and SF46 are flying through once again to the governor’s desk. HB14 was moved by the House Judiciary committee on a 6-3 vote with Halverson in favor. It passed first reading in the House, 52-6. The Senate has passed their version twice with 30-0 votes.

Up and coming?

Gov. Matt Mead had a change of heart a few years ago regarding Medicaid expansion but has yet to gather support from the Senate or the House. Though no stand-along bill has been introduced this session, Minority Floor Leader Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said she is confident there will be a vote on Medicaid expansion soon. Wyoming is one of 19 states that have so far rejected optional expansion.

A strongly worded letter to lawmakers from Alan Simpson (former Wyoming legislator and retired U.S. senator) and Mike Sullivan (two-term governor of Wyoming) called for compassion and new thinking.

“These old coots know the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion that have been debated for years,” the letter read. “The Legislature needs to remove politics from the discussion. Let’s stop talking about “what ifs” and talk about what really matters.”

Schwartz’s anticipated resort bill has yet to be filed. The Jackson Democrat introduced a bill last year that would allow resorts located within a municipality to assess and collect their own sales and property taxes. Currently, JHMR and Targhee both do so legally because they are not located within an incorporated town or city. Schwartz is hoping to level the playing field for Snow King Resort.

The effort failed last session but Schwartz said he would try again this year. No bill has been filed so far.

Only in Wyoming

A bill that would allow people to hang on to their guns (up to three) and ammo (1,000 rounds) in the event they declared bankruptcy flew through the Senate Judiciary Committee. SF10 would make exempt up to $3,000 worth of firearms and bullets from bankruptcy lawyers trying to liquidate assets in order to pay creditors.

The bill that would allow people to scoop up the elk they ran over and throw it in the back of the truck died once again in committee. HB143 never made it across the road or to the House floor before it was struck down and killed. PJH

Caption: Despite the support of local reps, a bill to decriminalize weed in Wyoming was shot down in the House last week 20-39.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

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