CHEYENNE — State Rep. Keith Gingery usually sponsors a fairly large number of bills each legislative session.
This coming session will be no different. Gingery will toss at least nine bills into the House hopper.
The Teton County deputy attorney gets ideas for legislation from fellow county attorneys and prosecutors and from his own observations.
Sometimes Wyoming Supreme Court formal opinions will contain statements from the justices about an awkward statute that could use some polish.
Gingery picks up on those, too.
Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, an attorney, pointed out there is no limit in the House on the number of bills an individual can sponsor this session.
“Certainly someone with Representative Gingery’s experience and expertise, if he thinks he can handle them, more power to him,” Throne said Friday.
Natrona County Attorney Mike Blonigen said Gingery is always open to making things practical.
All too often what happens is there are so many statutes that the legislators will pass something that conflicts with an existing law.
“I’m amazed when I talk to legislators, not Gingery, who are not aware of what the statutes already say, so when they enact something it creates a problem when there are other statutes that read differently,” Blonigen said.
A lot of statutes just need to be tweaked a little bit, and Gingery takes it upon himself to tackle the job.
There are also many statutes on the books that never get enforced.
Blonigen said his favorite is a law making it a crime to alter a plate on a mining car.
He said he has yet to run across that crime.
House Bill 36 is one piece of legislation Gingery is sponsoring as the result of a Wyoming Supreme Court opinion that noted the statute on larceny wasn’t well-written. Gingery’s bill attempts to clean up the language.
He also gets suggestions from Wyoming County Attorneys Association meetings. He’s sponsoring House Bill 22 at the request of the county prosecutors. It deals with the penalty for crimes that cause serious bodily injury.
“The prosecutors thought it odd that in order to get to the higher penalty for the crime, the victim had to suffer permanent damage,” Gingery said. “If the victim healed, it was a lesser crime.”
His bill changes the law to include cases in which the victim loses consciousness or suffers a fractured bone as aggregated bodily injury, with a higher penalty.
And then there is House Bill 39, all 164 pages of it.
Gingery said this is really a one-page bill; it changes the current misdemeanor structure into classes, to provide consistency.
A misdemeanor crime against a person is ranked as a Class A misdemeanor. Other crimes are in lower classes.
Gingery said an example of why this is a good idea is the presence of two competing traffic statutes on the books.
The goal of the law, for example, is to discourage drivers from going around a sign that says no trailers on Teton Pass. If an average citizen in a passenger car goes around the sign and gets caught, the fine is $750. If it’s a commercial vehicle, the fine is only $100.
Gingery said someone probably wrote one statute without knowing about the other one.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol brought the problem to him because some troopers were citing offenders under one statute and some under the other one.
While researching the misdemeanor bill, Gingery found out many things the Legislature has criminalized, including some silly ones.
One law deals with motion picture operators.
“Turns out that law dated from the 1920s and the little guy who had to turn the crank to make the projector go wanted a bathroom,” he said.
The law was passed to require that the operator be provided a bathroom under penalty of a $100 criminal fine.
That law is no longer needed and will be repealed.
Legislators often want to make a crime a felony, Gingery said, and in some case have to be persuaded to instead make it a misdemeanor, which can mean up to one year in jail. A felony carries a prison sentence.
“That’s why I’m concentrating on misdemeanors and trying to get those straightened out,” he said.
Gingery said many people can be effectively punished, or helped, in a county jail.
“I always bring a lot of bills, but this time I have some fun ones,” Gingery said.
One is on land-use planning, which Teton County recently went through.
The state law requires all local land-use plans to be submitted to the state land-use commission.
Gingery said he called the state to inquire about the commission.
“There hasn’t been a state land-use commission for years,” he said.