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EDITORIAL: New laws take effect

Next session, legislators must focus on budget — not other bills

The start of July is often filled with Independence Day festivities, as it should be. But something else happened July 1: Dozens of new laws took effect in Wyoming.

Here’s a quick look at several state laws that started Saturday:

• School districts can allow employees to carry concealed firearms on school property. An employee must have a valid concealed carry permit and receive approval from the district.

We’re glad state lawmakers are letting local school boards make that decision, rather than requiring all campuses to allow or prohibit guns. A rural district in an isolated area may want employees to carry firearms, but others may choose to keep their campuses entirely gun-free.

• It is now against the law to collect antlers or horns on private property without permission. Of course, that remains true for hunting, fishing or trapping on private land.

• It is now a misdemeanor if you knowingly misrepresent a dog as a service animal. Unfortunately, people have taken pets into businesses or public facilities by pretending they’re service or assistance animals.

“This bill was made in an effort to try to protect those that truly do need protection, and try to deter those who don’t,” said Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, in a Wyoming Tribune-Eagle article.

• People convicted of violent felony crimes can now own and use antique, muzzle-loading firearms. Previously, anyone convicted of a violent felony — such as murder, rape, aggravated assault or robbery — could not possess or use “any firearm.” Under the new law, felons can own and shoot muzzle-loading rifles, shotguns or pistols that are designed to use black powder and are unable to use fixed ammunition.

• August is now Agent Orange Health Awareness Month in Wyoming. The goal is for communities, schools and organizations to host programs to encourage Vietnam War veterans and their children to seek health screenings.

• Doctors who perform abortions must inform the patients of the opportunity to view an active ultrasound image and hear the fetal heartbeat. There are some exceptions, such as in cases of medical emergencies.

• All school districts are required to have property insurance for buildings they own or maintain. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we have heard of at least one school district in Wyoming — not locally — that did not insure all of its facilities.

Those are just a few of the new laws that took effect this week. Of course, Wyoming lawmakers considered many more bills that never made it out of the 2017 legislative session. At the start of the general session in January, 485 bills and resolutions were numbered for introduction. Considering the session only lasted 37 days, that put legislators on pace for 13 bills per day, if all of them were debated.

While the Legislature’s 2018 session is still months away, we hope lawmakers truly focus on the budget and consider how to fund K-12 education and other crucial services in Wyoming. Since it is a budget session, it only makes sense for that to be the overriding concern.

However, the last time legislators tackled the overall budget, wide-ranging bills were considered. At the start of the 2016 budget session, lawmakers introduced 279 bills and resolutions. Yes, that’s fewer than a general session, but some had nothing to do with the budget — fireworks, homemade beverages and a state shrub, to name a few. (If you’re wondering, the Wyoming Big Sagebrush is the official state shrub.)

Lawmakers will only meet for about 20 days for the budget session, which begins in February. With shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars, lawmakers must pack a lot of serious budget discussions in that brief time frame.

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