Committee tables work on ‘emergency hold’ bill

SHERIDAN — After three interim meetings and hours of deliberation, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee decided to table its current Title 25 reform bill in a meeting Dec. 17. The bill will not move forward for consideration in the upcoming legislative session. 

Title 25 enables law enforcement or medical personnel to place an individual who is a threat to themselves or others on an emergency hold. 

Committee Chair Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, began the meeting by disclosing many committee members, after consultation with constituents and stakeholders, decided the bill would not be ready to proceed. 

“I know a number of you on the committee have…come to a consensus that, even with devoted work today, that the bill is not going to be ready for prime time,” Nethercott said, “and [it] likely might be prudent to table the bill.”

Representatives raised several concerns about the bill, including it had veered away from its initial purpose and it did not do enough to reform emergency detention processes in Wyoming. 

After amendment by the committee at previous meetings, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, said the bill did not fulfill its initial purpose. The bill was originally drafted and supported by county and prosecuting attorneys from across Wyoming, Crago said, but legislative amendments have made prosecutors far more wary of the bill. As a result, Crago recommended the committee table the bill.  

“I don’t think we’re accomplishing the goal we set out to accomplish,” Crago said.  

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, argued the bill was insufficient and did not meaningfully reform the “systemic error” of Wyoming’s involuntary commitment system. She asked the committee to table the current bill and instead commit to more sweeping changes, including the construction of additional emergency mental health facilities using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

“We’re not going to fix [the system] by taking little pieces and changing them,” Oakley said.

Sen. John Kolb, R-Green River, and Nethercott agreed. It would be impossible to solve the myriad problems Title 25 creates within the limited scope of the judiciary committee, Kolb said. Either the committee must narrow the scope of its proposed alterations to the law or create a task force, with representatives from the judiciary committee, the Joint Committee on Labor, Health and Social Services and other stakeholders to tackle the issue. 

Title 25 is so broad, Nethercott explained, and the judiciary committee does not have the authority to order the construction of new facilities, hire new mental health professionals or make other substantive changes to counties’ abilities to involuntarily commit community members. 

As a result, Nethercott said, “Our ability to help was a drop in the bucket.”

Stakeholders present at the committee meeting, including Sheridan County Sheriff and President of Wyoming Sheriffs’ Association Allen Thompson and Deputy Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney Clint Beaver, said they were in favor of tabling the bill but willing to continue working with legislators to find adequate Title 25 reforms. 

Thompson explained Title 25 poses particular challenges for sheriffs’ offices, which are often responsible for transporting and housing people held involuntarily. Nonetheless, Thompson said he shared the legislators’ concerns about the current bill and desire to “do this right.”

Beaver said he and other county attorneys across the state will continue to provide feedback to the Legislature and judiciary committee. 

“I know it’s a slow painful process in many situations…but I’m not deterred,” Beaver said.  

Other commenters — including representatives from the Wyoming Department of Health, the Department of Family Services and the Wyoming Hospitals Association, among others — issued similar statements: Although tabling the current bill seemed to be the best option, their agencies were willing to assist the Legislature in improving Wyoming’s involuntary commitment program.