CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House is divided on a bill that expands the state’s ability to wiretap suspected criminals.
The chamber killed the bill on third reading Monday morning, but revised its decision in the afternoon with a seldom-used practice known as a motion for reconsideration. The move gave the bill one more House floor vote today.
The use of a wiretap is limited in Wyoming. Judges can only order them in cases of drug trafficking. If sexual assaults, murders and kidnappings do not involve drug trafficking, law enforcement cannot use wiretaps.
The bill would allow the state attorney general to contact judges for an order that authorizes wiretaps in situations other than drug trafficking. The additions could be used to aid investigations or prevent cases of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, blackmail and escape.
The bill’s opponents say the legislation increases the power of government. Advocates say the bill will help police catch more murderers, kidnappers and other criminals evading law enforcement. The legislation puts Wyoming in line with much of the federal law.
In many instances, wiretaps would help Wyoming law enforcement get the job done quicker, said Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody.
“Any time you talk about an intrusive topic like wiretapping, it’s going to bring out a lot of emotions,” he said. “I really tried to emphasize that this stuff is pretty much going on already by the federal government for serious crimes like murder and sexual assault and robbery.”
The bill easily passed the Senate. But after doing their weekend reading, many House members changed their minds. Some lawmakers feared the expanding eye of government.
“It gives fairly expansive powers to law enforcement that go beyond the powers of what our law and constitution set out for fair and reasonable search and seizure,” said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne.
Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, worries the bill could allow the attorney general to contact the federal government to perform wiretaps. Miller said he wouldn’t vote to invite the federal government into state statute.
“They listen to everything we do already,” he said. “I am not sure this is necessary.”
Gov. Matt Mead and others disagree. They see the bill as a way to get criminals off the street.
“Governor Mead wanted to make the tools that are currently in use by law enforcement to investigate drug cases available to investigate murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes,” said Renny MacKay, the governor’s spokesman.
The difference in ideology from the Senate to the House is what has the bill in jeopardy.
“Particularly in the House, there is a strong distrust in law enforcement,” said Rep. Keith Gingrey, R-Jackson. “And that particularly comes through with these types of bills. I don’t think the bill was expanding very much.”
Gingrey spent the afternoon trying to convince House members of the bill’s value.
“If a group of kidnappers are talking amongst themselves, you’d like to be able to key into that conversation,” Gingrey said.
Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, voted no Monday, saying the bill could lead to mischief. He said he didn’t like using procedures to revive legislation that had already been killed.
“Once it’s dead, it’s dead,” he said.