protections postponed

Wyoming postpones hate crime law, 23 years after Matthew Shepard’s murder

Wyoming sign
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Lawmakers in Wyoming have shelved hate-crime legislation, at least the rest of the 2021 session.

Wyoming is one of only three states that does not have hate crime protections. This is despite it being the location of one of the most notorious hate crimes in recent history: The brutal murder of gay student, Matthew Shepard, in 1998.

SB 218 was sponsored by Republican Rep. Pat Sweeney.

The legislation would apply to offenders who target a victim or their property, “in whole or in part because of the actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, or physical, intellectual or developmental disability of the person affected regardless of whether the belief or perception of the person committing the crime was correct.”

It would also require Wyoming law enforcement officers to undergo training to identify and respond to bias-motivated crimes, and the Wyoming Attorney General’s office would have to compile an annual report on hate crimes in the state.

Related: The Washington National Cathedral will feature Matthew Shepard memorial

The legislation came up for discussion last Thursday in Wyoming House Judiciary Committee in Cheyenne, with several members of the public voicing support for the bill. Others said it didn’t go far enough or went too far.

You can watch a video of the debate below. Rep. Sweeney introduces the legislation at the 3-minute mark. He mentions the fact that Wyoming promotes itself as “the Equality State” because of its history in being the first to grant women the vote. However, with a lack of hate-crime legislation, he questioned whether this is truly the case: “Why is Wyoming one of three states not to have passed hate crime legislation?”

After hearing opinions from members of the public, lawmakers voted to support a motion to postpone the legislation. The committee chairman, Republican Rep. Jared Olsen said it was a complex issue and the bill needed further work before being brought before the House. The committee has seven Republicans and two Democrats.

It’s not the first time hate-crime legislation has been shelved in the state.

However, Rep. Sweeney told Queerty that he and others who had worked on the bill did not see the decision to postpone as a negative. Instead, it merely allow them more time to work on the legislation to ensure that it is passed by the House.

“Our hope is for the next session, in January/February 2022, that we’ll hopefully be able to move something forward.”

Mike Yin, a Democratic Rep. for Jackson, WY, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, expressed a similar sentiment, telling Queerty, “My hope is that we will be able to work on this topic over the next year so we have a bill that the Wyoming legislature would be willing to pass.”

Wyoming, Arkansas and South Carolina are the only three states not to have their own hate crime laws. Both the latter two states are debating similar bills, although South Carolina last week amended its pending hate-crime bill to remove protections on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.

Related: GOP lawmakers remove LGBTQ people from hate crimes bill with worst possible excuse