Domestic partnerships

Gay rights advocates demonatrate in front of the Wyoming Capitol

Civil rights take a step forward

Domestic partnerships bill approved by House panel

More action Tuesday on gun bills, voter ID, and campaign finance

Equal rights for all took a step forward Monday with passage by the House Corporations committee of a bill authorizing domestic partnerships in Wyoming. The measure offers people in domestic partnerships the same kinds of legal protections that married couples often take for granted. People in these partnerships can make medical treatment decisions and address other questions that the law currently reserves to next of kin if no marriage contract exists between two people, no matter what commitment they’ve made to a relationship. The domestic partnerships bill, HB 168, was paired with HB 169 Marriage definition, by House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee Chairman Rosie Berger, R-HD51, Big Horn. Berger, who at one point noted that it was a mistake to pair the two bills, took public comment for about 75 minutes from proponents and opponents of both bills. The prime sponsor of both bills was Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-HD13, Laramie. She and her co-sponsors declared that it’s time for Wyoming to “step up” on civil rights for the gay community. Public comments revolved around the religious understanding of homosexuality as interpreted by both fundamentalist churches and more liberal ones, and the importance of extending the protection of state law to same-sex couples equal to the protections and privileges the law grants married heterosexual couples. Rep. Lynn Hutchings, R-HD42, Cheyenne, who is African-American, told the committee that proponents of equality for people regardless of sexual orientation should not compare their struggle with the civil rights movement of the 20th century. She declared homosexuality “is a choice” unlike race. “Please stop carpet-bagging on our civil rights movement,” Hutchings said. That comment prompted a later a “push back” from Rep. James Byrd, D-HD44, Cheyenne, who likewise is African-American. “I find that comment distasteful,” Byrd said of Hutchings’ reference to carpet bagging. The lesbian, gay, and transgender community has experienced its own forms of injustice, he noted. Byrd said he asked himself how the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., might have addressed the question. “He would tell us that people are created equal,” Byrd said. In the end the committee voted down the marriage definition bill, which would have declared marriage a contract between two natural persons, rather than between a man and a woman. The vote was close, 4-5. But the committee voted 7-2 to send the domestic partnerships bill to the House floor for debate. It’s a major step forward for civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, especially given past years of struggle against legislation intended to bar both same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Here’s the committee vote:

Ayes:  Representative(s) Blikre, Byrd, Greene, Paxton, Petroff, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Berger Nays:  Representative(s) Gay, Kirkbride

Gun bills in House Judiciary

HB 103, Regulation of firearms-state preemption, sponsored by Rep Allen Jaggi, R-HD19, Mountain View, prohibits local governments from regulating gun use in any way (think about it.) HB 104, Firearm Protection Act, is a nullification bill sponsored by Rep. Kendall Kroeker, R-HD35, Casper. It prohibits federal agents from enforcing federal gun laws in Wyoming. The U.S. fought a long, bloody civil war over states’ rights. This bill will have no legal effect if passed but will send a chilling message to federal agents responsible for gun-law enforcement operating in Wyoming. Campaign finance – The House Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions will consider two campaign finance bills. The first, HB99 Campaign funds-personal use, prohibits a candidate from converting left-over campaign contributions for personal use. HB 187 Campaign finance, closes a loophole in state law by limiting contributions from a political action committee to any single candidate to $2,500 per election. It also raises the personal contribution limit in statewide races to $2,500. The ESPC supports both bills. Voting rights – The Senate Corporations, Elections, and Political Subdivisions Committee will resume discussion of SF134 Voter identification. According to committee Chairman Cale Case, R-SD25, Lander, technical problems with the bill will prevent it moving forward, but the committee may consider an interim study of questions around the residence of voters. Pooling tips – The Senate Revenue Committee will consider HD112 Tip distribution policies, engrossed, which would allow restaurants and other businesses to require tipped employees to participate in tip pooling. The ESPC opposes this bill.

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