A Senate committee killed a bill Wednesday that would have strengthened Wyoming’s stalking protection law, opting instead to try to study the issue and come up with legislation during the interim.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision came after testimony from several people who either have or have known somebody that has experienced stalking firsthand – including some with violent endings.
One woman told the story of her sister, who was stalked for years before she was ultimately killed by her stalker, who then killed himself.
“She couldn’t go anywhere – even 30 miles away to the grocery store – he followed her there,” Vicki Kadlick, of Casper, said of her sister, who lived in Colorado.
Eventually, the stalker was arrested but bonded out of jail. A trial date was set for two weeks later, but it never happened.
“He shot her in her driveway,” Kadlick said. “She didn’t even have a chance.”
Natrona County Sheriff’s Office investigator Taylor Courtney also testified, telling a story of how a woman there had to move to another state to escape an abusive ex-husband from stalking her.
And Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, shared testimony of his own family’s dealing with a stalker with a history of being an abuser who was a former partner of his wife.
In Brown’s case, the stalking – and threats of violence – came from across state lines in Colorado, throwing another twist in the situation.
“I am fully in support of everything that is in this,” he said of the bill. “We’re putting an awful lot of burden on the person to bear witness to these crimes.
“I think this would’ve given us a few more teeth to bite with.”
Each of those who testified said Wyoming’s existing stalking law wasn’t enough to give many victims a legal means to protect themselves from stalkers, and many were disappointed with the committee’s decision.
But committee members expressed concerns with how Senate File 84’s language interacted with existing law and wanted to ensure consistency in order to avoid potential legal conflicts down the road.
“Today’s vote, I don’t feel, is a ‘no’ vote against this topic and this issue of improving the law,” said Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, the committee chairman. “This is not lightly taken.”
Had the committee approved the bill, it would have moved on to the full Senate for consideration before going to the House of Representatives.
Several people who spoke in favor of the bill felt any discrepancy found in the language could have been changed during the legislative process.
“I think we could have done both,” said Sheryl Foland, a Casper social worker who works with victims, as well as stalking offenders.
Courtney also expressed disappointment in Wednesday’s outcome.
“Anything worth doing in life is hard, so I think that’s where we’re at,” Courtney said. “(It’s) frustrating, but we may end up with a better wording in the end and a lot stronger statute to better protect our victims and deal with this on a proactive side, instead of a reactive side.”
Specifically, the bill would have added social media as a form of communication that could be considered when determining if a crime of stalking occurred – including communication coming from other states.
It also would have removed language from state law that requires a “substantial” emotional distress that “seriously alarm(s)” a person to meet the definition of harassment – subjective language that has held up stalking cases in court, according to witnesses at the meeting.
Further, the bill would have hiked the penalties for misdemeanor stalking and would have expanded potential probation requirements, which would have allowed more time for social workers or others to work with stalkers to modify behavior.
Finally, had the bill passed, those who stalk after having a domestic violence protection order against them could have been charged with felony stalking. Current law only allows that procedure for those who have stalking or sexual assault protective orders against them.
The bill was supported by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said she wanted to review how the bill would interact with other laws mentioned within the bill, saying she wants to make sure “good law gets made.”
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, also said he wanted to make sure the bill provides justice to both sides.
“Our challenge is to make sure justice is delivered and the scales are not tipped in one way or another,” he said.
Interim committees meet during the period in between legislative sessions and are made up of members from committees in each legislative body. For example, the Joint Judiciary Committee will be made up of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.
Topics the Joint Judiciary Committee will discuss during the interim will be officially decided later this session.
Supporters are hopeful legislation will eventually be enacted, noting that this year is the second time a bill has been introduced in the Legislature.
“I just thought it was a really good change, and hopefully we still get there at some point,” Courtney said.