2018 Legislative Session Review

The 2018 Budget session of the Wyoming Legislature saw significant battles over the state’s deficit. There were 340 proposed bills heard over the 20-day period. Following the session, several media outlets lamented the fact that “social issue” bills were included when there were so many “more important” things to consider.

Of course, framing bills as “social” is a political strategy often used to undermine the importance of legislation one doesn’t support. It would be unfair to suggest this was the intent of the authors of those articles. Nevertheless, the media should be careful how it portrays what is, or is not, important regarding the role of government. After all, what part of politics is not “social” in nature?

Obviously, during a budget session, the legislature should focus on the budget. However, even during a budget session, the government must have a clear understanding of who it is called to serve, or it will not be able to appropriate funds in a just manner. Our belief in the dignity of every human person is predicated on another belief; that all people are created in the image and likeness of God. For that reason, a just government merely enacts laws that recognize and protect human dignity. It does not have the power to grant dignity, nor can it take dignity away.

While the Diocese of Cheyenne followed a multitude of bills last session, I would like to highlight two particular bills concerning the dignity of human persons: SF 85 Certificate of non-viable birth, and HB 189 Death penalty repeal.

SF 85 Certificate of non-viable birth

SF 85 sought to allow parents who experience a miscarriage between 10 and 20 weeks of pregnancy to be notified by their healthcare provider that they could request a certificate of a non-viable birth from the vital records office. The certificate would indicate the age and sex of the child, if known, as well as a name of the child, if given.

The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship but immediately faced opposition by the abortion supporting group NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League).

Testimony at committee was given by several women who were against the bill. The most troubling testimony was given by a Cheyenne OB-GYN physician. She testified against pro-life bills last year, including the ultrasound bill and the bill prohibiting the sale of fetal body parts.

Regarding SF 85, she said that miscarriage is one of the most difficult experiences a woman can have and as that patient’s doctor, it is up to her to provide the needed compassion and care to help in the grieving process. She stated the legislature has no business interfering with the doctor-patient relationship.

Unfortunately, she went on to say that at 10 weeks in the womb, the fetus is “just tissue, like an appendix.” She asked the committee, “Do you think we should offer a certificate for people who have their appendix removed too?”

SF 85 passed out of the Senate Labor/Health Committee but eventually failed 3rd reading in the Senate by a vote of 12-18.

The impact this particular bill might have had is debatable. While this was not necessarily considered a pro-life bill, the testimony given against it was a powerful reminder that even our healthcare providers are not immune to political ideologies that dehumanize the most vulnerable.

HB 189 Death Penalty Repeal

HB 189, the death penalty repeal bill, also had broad bi-partisan sponsorship.

First, it is important to acknowledge the immense pain suffered by the families of victims of violence. Our faith calls us to accompany them and offer them the comfort and healing found only in Christ Jesus. We empathize with their desire for justice.

Still, we have to acknowledge that our ability to implement justice is limited. We are incapable of restoring lives taken from us. One might even sympathize with the person who desires revenge. However, just as we expect more from our healthcare providers, so should we also hold our government to a higher standard.

I wrote a newspaper article supporting the bill and received one thoughtful (even polite) response. The main objection in the response letter was that extremely dangerous prisoners can remain a threat to the public even when they are in prison. This was true of Wyoming’s most recently executed prisoner who orchestrated (from prison) the murder of a witness who was set to testify against him. This is an important point. The safety of the citizens of Wyoming must remain a top priority.

However, this does not necessarily justify the death penalty; rather, it raises procedural questions about how to ensure that dangerous prisoners cannot harm the public after incarceration. Is it possible to enact reasonable policies that limit or even prohibit external communications from prisoners on a case by case basis? Can prison officials monitor communications from certain inmates?  Given that Wyoming has not executed anyone since 1992, how have our correctional facilities protected the public from those extremely dangerous inmates since then?

The answers to these considerations are important for any dangerous prisoner, not just those who would potentially qualify as capital cases.

Most people agree that all murder is wrong. However, the law reserves it severest condemnation for conspirators who plan to murder in advance. Yet, this is precisely the act that is rationalized by supporters of capital punishment.

Furthermore, it is peculiar that legislators who distrust government in the smallest of matters should so eagerly grant the state authority in such a large and irreversible matter as administering death.

As we seek to rebuild a culture of life, we must remember that the values enshrined in our laws have an instructive, moral element to them. We can go on preaching to our young people about the sacredness of life until the cows come home. However, if we rationalize the destruction of human persons in one situation, we leave the door open for others to do the same in other situations. The message our young people ultimately receive is this: The sacredness of any human life is in the eye of the beholder, and therefore relative.

During the first week of the session, our country suffered another horrific school shooting. Once again, people of good will wondered how this could happen. While the solution is not a simple one, I think the most important step Catholics on both sides of the political aisle can take is to stop rationalizing the destruction of human persons from conception to natural death.

HB 189 failed introduction in the House with a vote of 25-34 with one excused. I anticipate it will be brought again in the 2019 General Session, along with several other important pro-life bills.

For a review of all of the bills drafted last session and to see how your legislators voted, check out the Legislature’s new website at http://www.wyoleg.gov/Legislation/2018.  Also, remember to visit the Legislative Liaison webpage at legislative.dioceseofcheyenne.org and like us on Facebook and Twitter.