Guns, Gays and Porn: Wyoming Legislature opens by proposing legal “remedies” for just about everything

By on March 1, 2018

The Wyoming Legislature opened its session last week, and as is to be expected, the good old boys in Cheyenne spent much time pondering the sorts of legislative remedies needed by residents of the Cowboy State to address some of the more pertinacious problems plaguing the state.
Among the issues the legislature spent time addressing last week was how terribly inconvenient it is to shoot people in Wyoming under the state’s already generous so-called “castle doctrine,” as well as making sure every classroom in the state prominently displays the phrase “In God We Trust.” The perennial problems with pornography addiction were also brought to the attention this year’s legislative session. And, the lower chamber of the state legislature actually passed two criminal justice reform bills, one that would give judges more leeway in sentencing and another that would allow non-DNA exculpatory evidence to be considered in overturning a criminal conviction.

GOD
House Bill 133, the quaintly-named “Display of National Motto” bill, says “the national motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” shall be displayed prominently in the state capitol building, the library and each classroom of each public elementary and secondary school of the state, the lobby of each public building or facility owned by the state and within the leased space of any building or facility leased by the state.”
It would also be required that schools or other buildings would be required to display the U.S. and Wyoming flags whenever “In God We Trust” is prominently displayed.
The good news for Wyoming taxpayers and school districts that are facing severe budget cuts at the hands of the state legislature is that according to the bill, such displays would be funded by donations to the state or local school boards, not taxes.
The bill does not make it clear where the funding for the display — which is required by the statute — would come from were donated monies not made available for the purpose.
The bill sailed through its first test in the legislature — the introductory vote — with a 44-16 margin. The bill was assigned to the minerals committee who may decide to pass the bill on to the entire legislature.

GUNS
During a week marred by what is only tied for the fourth worst school shooting in the United States, the Wyoming Legislature was scheduled to take up proposed legislation designed to address how inconvenient it is to shoot people in the state. The bill, House Bill 168, is what is commonly referred to as a “Stand Your Ground” bill.
The bill would expand the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” a tenet of common law that allows a person to avoid civil or criminal liability for defending him or herself within the home. Under the Castle Doctrine, a person in their home has the right to defend themselves without a duty to retreat from the attacker.
Wyoming’s proposed HB 168 would, in essence, expand that doctrine out to cover a person who is not in their home. The bill would essentially codify the idea that a person is not required to retreat, even in public, and is entitled to stand their ground.
Across the nation, many states have adopted such legislation. One of the most notable cases involving “stand your ground” laws was the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. In that case, Zimmerman followed Martin — who had not committed any crime — telling police the boy was acting suspiciously. Despite being asked by 911 dispatchers not to confront Martin, Zimmerman did anyway and wound up fatally shooting Martin in the ensuing confrontation.
Zimmerman was acquitted of Martin’s murder under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws.
The proposed Wyoming “Stand Your Ground” bill takes the state’s existing self-defense laws — which do not require retreat — and muddies the water significantly. Under the proposed law, a person may use defensive force to protect injury or loss to himself or another, and anyone who does so will be immune from being arrested or detained by police during their investigation.

According to the law, “A peace officer may use standard procedures for investigating the use of defensive force, but shall not arrest a person for using defensive force unless the peace officer determines that there is probable cause that the person did not believe the defensive force was necessary to prevent an injury or loss to himself or another person before taking defensive action.”
The law goes on to say that even if a person kills someone in self-defense wrongly, that person will not held liable as long as there was a “good faith” belief on the part of the shooter that they were acting in self-defense. Shooters who have “good faith” belief they are justified in taking the life of another are also protected from being sued in civil court for damages by the families of victims, even if the shooter acted incorrectly.
The bill cleared its introduction in the house last week, and now will be taken up by the Judiciary Committee for review.

GAYS (AND PORN, TOO!)
Of course, no legislative session would be complete without yet another bill intended to save marriage from people who just want to get married.
HB-167, the so-called “Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act,” would have prohibited the state or any state agency from recognizing any marriage “not between a man and woman.”
In the text of the bill, same-sex marriages are referred to throughout as “parody marriages,” and part of the “religion of secular humanism.” As such marriages are essentially religious and the state cannot recognize the religious over the “secular” non-religious construct of heterosexual marriage, same-sex marriages cannot be recognized, the bill states.
In the United States, same-sex marriage has been recognized as a right since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. In that landmark case, the court declared the fundamental right to marry — whether as part of a religious ceremony or a civil union — is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The bill, however, will not be taking its arguments to the supreme court, as the bill failed to make it past the introductory phase in the legislature. There, it joined the 2018 legislative scrapheap along with another proposal for a joint resolution declaring pornography a “Public Health Crisis.”
A joint resolution, if adopted, would not make any chances in the law but instead declares a position on an issue taken by the legislature.
The problem, according to the proposed resolution, is that pornography has become more ubiquitous due to the internet, and ready access to porn has contributed to a “sexually toxic environment” of porn addiction, “hypersexualization” of children, the morphing of “hardcore” porn into “mainstream pornography” as well as body image disorders among young people.
Porn, the resolution said, also treats women as objects and teaches boys and men to continue that objectification and contributes to the problems of sex trafficking.
If passed, the resolution would have recognized pornography as a public health crisis, and the state would have recognized, “the need for education, prevention, research and policy change at the community and societal level to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation.”
Like the gay marriage bill, the porn bill failed its introduction to the legislature and, for the year at least, shunts off a back corner of history. In the legislature right now, however, the show goes on and the legislative session continues, working its way through a few important and much-needed bills, as well as all the rest. PJH


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