The Wyoming legislature Feb. 3 killed all prospects of enacting the state's first-ever hate crimes law. Wyoming was the scene of the brutal and highly publicized murder of Matthew Shepard last October. The Wyoming legislature is still considering a measure to establish a governor's bias crimes task force. Activists in Wyoming oppose this measure, viewing it as an attempt to avoid substantive action on hate crimes.
"If not now, when?" stated National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel. "These statutes are not a panacea, but they are a crucial component in the battle to eradicate hate crimes. We are extremely disappointed that legislators in Wyoming refused an opportunity to take real leadership on this issue. Our community will continue to press for an enforceable hate crimes law in Wyoming, and we will not settle for legislative smoke and mirrors," added Lobel.
The Wyoming Senate Judiciary Committee voted down two bills today. One bill (SF 84) would have established enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. Another measure (SF 91) would have established enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes committed because of an individual's "membership in a group." Last week the full House voted against a bill similar to SF 84.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, hate crime bills have been introduced in at least fourteen states this year. In nine states (CO, ID, MT, MS, MO, NY, OK, VA, WY) bills have been introduced to add sexual orientation to existing hate crimes statutes. In addition to Wyoming, the Idaho and Montana bills were defeated. In three states (IN, NM, SC) the bills would establish first-time hate crimes laws in those states. In Texas, a measure has been proposed to strengthen the state's existing statute by enumerating groups that would be covered under the law. The California legislature is considering a bill to equalize penalties for anti-gay hate crimes with penalties for other types of bias crimes. Other states likely to see hate crimes legislation this year include Michigan and Hawaii.
"This is a tragedy for the citizens of the Equality State. How many more people will have to be attacked before the legislature will take a stand and say no to violence and hate?" stated Wende Barker, coordinator for the Wyoming Bias Crimes Task Force.