CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense bill was sent to Gov. Matt Mead on Saturday, who must now decide whether to veto it.
The legislation is meant to strengthen and clarify Wyoming’s self-defense laws, something advocates say is necessary to empower law-abiding state residents to protect themselves. But critics have expressed a variety of concerns, ranging from the restrictions that the bill would place on law enforcement to novel legal mechanisms that would be introduced to state statute.
In an interview last week, Mead expressed concern about an earlier version of the bill that would have initially granted suspects in assault or murder cases immunity from arrest or prosecution if they claimed to have acted in self-defense.
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“I thought you were creating almost a super-class there,” Mead said. “I don’t think that is good law.”
But the two “stand your ground bills” being considered by the Legislature, which became largely identical after several major amendments, eventually removed the criminal immunity provision, which also would have required a judge to find a defendant claiming self-defense guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” before a trial would be allowed to proceed.
Mead praised that change, spearheaded by Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, despite warnings against the change from the National Rifle Association and Wyoming Gun Owners.
Chris Mickey, the governor’s spokesman, said Monday that Mead had received the bill but would take the full three days allotted to decide whether or not to veto it.
“He hasn’t decided yet,” Mickey said.
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The House will convene briefly Wednesday afternoon to receive veto messages from Mead and both chambers will be in session Thursday to consider veto override votes and solve remaining state budget items that were not resolved on Saturday, when the Legislature’s 2018 session was scheduled to conclude.
To override a veto, two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers must vote against the governor’s position. The bill sent to Mead, House Bill 168, passed the House 49-11 and the Senate 26-4, both well over the two-thirds that would be required for an override.
The two “stand your ground” bills being considered by the Legislature this year went through something of a tortured legislative process. House Bill 168 was introduced by Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, while Senate File 71, another self-defense bill, was introduced by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne.
Early in the session, Salazar requested that the language of his bill be entirely deleted and replaced with the text of Bouchard’s legislation. Bouchard’s bill was then heavily amended by the Senate over his objections to remove the criminal immunity provision, which was opposed by both the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association.
Salazar then requested that his bill be changed once again to match Bouchard’s now-amended Senate bill.
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The House then passed a further amendment to Bouchard’s legislation that would have granted immunity from civil liability — basically being sued for damages — to anyone who used force in self-defense. Rep. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, noted that the civil immunity clause would bar innocent bystanders from suing someone who shot them so long as that person was intending to shoot an attacker. For example, if someone was being chased by a knife-wielding man and shot a gun attempting to hit the man with the knife but accidentally striking someone else standing nearby, the victim would be barred from suing.
Gierau’s amendment, which passed the House, clarified that only an attacker would be barred from suing someone who used force against him or her.
But the Senate decided not to take a final vote on Bouchard’s bill, instead approving Salazar’s measure — which lacks Gierau’s amendment — and sending it to Mead.