House lawmakers filed bills last week that seek to roll back gun-control laws, apply stricter rules to abortions and allow government officials to refuse to perform gay marriages.
A block of legislators seemingly interested in passing conservative legislation on social issues sponsored the bills.
Rep. Bo Biteman (R, HD-51, Ranchester) brought two gun-control bills. Rep. Scott Clem (R, HD-31, Gillette) co-sponsored both Biteman’s bills, and filed his own bill establishing additional reporting requirements for abortions. Another gun bills cosponsor, Rep. Roy Edwards (R, HD-53, Gillette), has said he’s working on a bathroom privacy bill that would affect transgender people. Biteman cosponsored Clem’s abortion bill, as did Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R, HD-05, Lingle), Edwards and eleven other lawmakers.
Steinmetz also brought her own abortion bill, banning the sale of cells or tissue from abortions for experimentation, and changing the viability period for abortions to include language about the fetus being able to “feel pain.” Clem and Edwards cosponsored the bill.
Steinmetz also filed a “government nondiscrimination act” that would allow government officials to refuse to perform gay marriage if they had a religious objection.
One gun-control bill by Biteman was titled “campus-carry,” and would repeal gun-free zones on public college and university campuses. The other, a “repeal gun free zones act,” would repeal gun-free zones in government meetings. Under the proposed language, the only area where a person would be prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon would be on private property, if the owner has provided notice that carrying a concealed weapon is prohibited.
Biteman told WyoFile that the bills he is carrying had originally been drafted for Rep. Kendall Kroeker, who resigned from the Legislature in late December, citing business concerns. Biteman said that after he received the bills, many of the co-sponsors reached out to him. Some then recommended other lawmakers to call for support, he said.
In his primary campaign Biteman upset incumbent Rosie Berger, who had served 14 years in the Legislature and who many considered a likely choice to be the 2017 Speaker of the House. Describing himself to WyoFile as a constitutional conservative with libertarian tendencies, Biteman said gun rights was one of the issues on which voters in his district identified with him.
Of the campus carry bill, Biteman said he thought of his two daughters. When they reached university age, “I want them to be able to protect themselves,” he said, and carry a gun to class if they saw fit.
During the primary campaign, Rep. Biteman received the maximum allowable sum of campaign donations from Wilson residents Daniel and Carleen Brophy. Berger significantly outspent Biteman, but lost the race.
Brophy, who spread money throughout Republican primaries, believes that “gun free zones” attract murderers. In letters to the editor to Wyoming newspapers, he has wondered “whether any unarmed victims in San Bernardino or Paris, realizing their last breath was at hand as the gun barrel swung toward them and the bullets tore through their flesh, felt a flash of regret that they had no gun to fire at their assailant.”
Rep. Mark Jennings (R, HD-30, Sheridan) co-sponsored both of Biteman’s bills, and the two bills dealing with abortion. Like Biteman, Jennings also upset a more moderate Republican lawmaker, Kathy Coleman, in 2014. During that campaign, Jennings was the beneficiary of fliers attacking Coleman, paid for by a nonprofit called Republic Free Choice. Like the libertarian-leaning Wyoming Liberty Group, Republic Free Choice was founded by Susan Gore, the heiress to wealth derived from the inventing of Gore-Tex fabric, as has been laid out in previous WyoFile reporting. Jennings received money from Carleen Brophy in the 2016 election cycle.
Donations from the Brophys is something sponsors of the last week’s bills had in common. In addition to Biteman and Jennings, during the 2016 election cycle the Brophys gave money to Representatives Chuck Gray (R, HD-57, Casper), Clem, Carl Loucks (R, HD-59, Casper), Winters, Mark Baker (R, HD-48, Rock Springs), Lars Lone (R, HD-12, Cheyenne), Marti Halverson (R, HD-22, Etna), Garry Piiparinen (R, HD-49, Evanston) and Tim Salazar (R, HD-34, Dubois).