CASPER — The first week of July is often a slow one in state government, shortened by a federal holiday and marked by a light legislative schedule.
However, the first week of July also means something else in Wyoming – the time many of the laws passed by the Legislature this winter finally go into effect.
As the clock hit midnight on Monday, more than 200 laws passed during the 2019 legislative session went into effect, impacting the lives of Wyoming residents in some ways major, some ways not.
A common centerpiece in many homes around Wyoming is a handsome, mounted set of antlers from big game like elk or bighorn sheep. The sources of those antlers can sometimes be questionable or earned through the hunt. However until now, the collection of those horns was regulated only in public lands west of the Continental Divide.
A new law, however, extends the law’s jurisdiction to west of Interstate 25 and a portion of Interstate 90 between Buffalo and the Montana border. Additionally, while the law previously limited regulation to the dates between January 1 and May 1, the Game & Fish Commission can now institute the regulations at any time of year.
Hunting regulations are changing as well. A new law now restricts the selling of infrared devices or the sale of intel on the actual locations of wild game. At the same time, licensed Wyoming sportsmen are now permitted to use a single leashed hunting dog in their backcountry pursuits of big game they had wounded on the hunt.
Finally, the Game & Fish Commission can now grant lifetime fishing licenses to anyone with a “permanent physical or mental condition that prevents a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity.”
As part of a broad slate of criminal justice reform bills passed this year, the Wyoming Legislature passed a law allowing for the permanent erasure of a criminal record compiled prior to the age of 18.
The Legislature also passed a bill reforming the state’s parole system, including new incentives for parolees as well as changes to how the state’s Department of Corrections handles parole, such as implementing short-term punishments for parole violations.
Several parental rights provisions take effect on July 1 as well. Judges are now able to terminate the rights of a parent if a child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault and the parent was convicted of the sexual assault that produced the child. However, these provisions are waived if the parents lived together for two or more years immediately following the child’s birth.
A separate bill – House Bill 157 – also creates a pathway for biological or adoptive grandparents who care for a grandchild in place of their parents for a year or more to petition a court to terminate the parental rights of their grandchild’s parents.
Serving the court as a member of a jury is a fundamental tenet of our justice system – after all, the right to a jury of one’s peers is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. However, a new law passed this session allows for a greater number of people to be exempt from performing that duty.
Citizens eligible for an exemption under the new law include active members of a police or fire department, elected public officials, active duty members of the Wyoming National Guard and the United States Military, and anyone aged 72 years of age or older.
Jury duty reform is just one of a number of bills Wyomingites with impacts Wyoming might recognize immediately. Other laws to take effect on Monday include:
Animal cruelty penalties: House Bill 235, sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, removes a loophole in state law that one could only be charged with animal abuse if they intended to kill an animal or cause it injury leading to euthanization. The bill also has carve outs for animals used in agriculture, like livestock, or for sport – like rodeo.
Equal pay penalties: If employers are found to be willfully guilty of wage discrimination, they can now be fined up to $500 and potentially jailed for up to six months – significantly harsher penalties than the $200 and 180-day sentencing maximum under a previous version of the law.
Beer Freedom Act: Prior to July 1, microbreweries and wineries were prohibited from selling malt beverages at picnics, fairs, rodeos, and other events if they were also active holders of a 24-hour microbrewery permit. This bill repeals that prohibition, meaning this summer’s events will be filled with a much more flavorful selection of libations than ever before.
Reporting of abortions: Physicians who perform abortions in Wyoming will now need to report certain demographic information to the state for health monitoring purposes. While the bill includes provisions to try and mask the identity of the patients, several factors – including the infrequency of the number of abortions actually performed in the state as well as a lack of doctors willing to perform abortions – has caused critics of the bill to speculate it will be easy to identify the patient receiving the procedure, even if their name or address is not made public.
Hathaway Scholarship expansion: Residents of contiguous states like Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho, Utah and Colorado looking to enroll in a Wyoming institution of higher learning are now eligible for the state’s Hathaway Scholarship program. The provisions of the bill, however, require students who receive a degree through the program to work or attend graduate school in Wyoming for one year for every four semesters they received the scholarship.
Driver’s licenses: Wyoming residents now need to update their driver’s licenses every five years, rather than every four.