Editorial:

The 2019 legislative session is underway — pay attention

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While the federal government shutdown drags on, the state government is rolling onward as the Wyoming Legislature convenes today (Tuesday).

As the 2019 General Session continues over the next two months, legislators will consider a wide variety of bills, from salamanders to more serious matters.

Here’s a small sampling from the dozens of proposals introduced so far:

• House Bill 10 would create additional criminal penalties for people who impede “critical infrastructure” in Wyoming, such as an oil pipeline, cell tower or petroleum refinery. A previous version of the controversial bill died in the Legislature last year.

“Brought in various states following the Standing Rock pipeline protests in North Dakota, the legislation seeks to protect industry from protest that could stop progress on construction projects and block or damage infrastructure,” explained WyoFile, a nonprofit news service.

• Under Senate File 32, voters would no longer be able to change their party affiliation on Election Day. The proposal comes after concerns were raised about “crossover” voting following a contentious GOP gubernatorial primary in August.

If Senate File 32 is approved, voters would be prohibited from changing their party affiliation between May — when candidates begin filing for the primaries — through the primary election in August.

In Park County, crossover voters made up less than 5 percent of the GOP vote in the 2018 primary.

• Senate File 33 proposes to increase fines for animal cruelty. Under the bill, maximum fines for a first-time misdemeanor would increase from $750 to $2,500; the maximum for a repeat misdemeanor or felony charge would double to $10,000.

“Owning a pet or livestock is a responsibility,” Rep. JoAnn Dayton-Selman, D-Rock Springs, told the Rocket-Miner. “The issue is irresponsible owners. Will increasing fines and prison time change human behavior? I would like to see an education component included in the bill.”

• No one under the age of 18 could get married in Wyoming if House Bill 60 becomes law. Currently, the legal age for marriage is 18, but teens 16 or 17 years old can get married if they receive approval from their parent/guardian. A judge’s court order is required for anyone 15 or younger to get married in Wyoming. House Bill 60 would eliminate any exceptions.

“Frankly, there are a lot of things people cannot do until they’re 18 or 21. And I think getting married is one of the most important and life-altering decisions you can make,” said Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, the bill’s sponsor, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “You ought to be an adult to make that decision.”

• Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, is once again leading the charge to stop changing the clocks in Wyoming. Under House Bill 14, Wyoming residents wouldn’t change clocks back an hour in the fall or forward in the spring, but would keep daylight saving time all year long. As Laursen has noted in the past, the time change is tough on a lot of people, including the elderly and students.

• The blotched tiger salamander would be declared the state amphibian if Senate File 50 passes. The salamander would join other animals serving as state symbols in Wyoming, including the bison (state mammal), cutthroat trout (state fish), horned toad (state reptile) and triceratops (state dinosaur).

Legislators will consider hundreds of other measures in the coming weeks and whether the topic’s serious or frivolous, it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in Cheyenne. Even though Powell is on the other side of the state, don’t let those hundreds of miles keep you from staying engaged during the legislative session.

Bills can be easily tracked online at www.wyoleg.gov. You can read bills in their entirety and follow votes and amendments. On the legislative website, you also can listen to live or on-demand audio of the daily House and Senate proceedings.

In addition, you can stay in touch with local legislators by emailing them throughout the session. Their email addresses are included on the legislative website under “Find my Legislator.”

To send written mail, address it to Attn: Legislator Name, 200 W. 24th Street, Cheyenne, WY 82002. To leave a phone message for a senator, call 307-777-7711, or for a house representative, call 307-777-7852.

Wyoming is fortunate to have a citizen Legislature, and in general, we have found state lawmakers to be accessible and engaged with the public. If you’re following a specific bill and feel strongly about it, reach out to your senator or representative.

The decisions legislators make in coming weeks will have lasting impact on our state. We appreciate lawmakers’ hard work and long hours — and we’re also thankful for the citizens who keep them on their toes.

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