CHEYENNE — Stalking penalties could be getting steeper in Wyoming.
A bill sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee passed the state Senate with amendments on Tuesday and was approved Wednesday by both chambers of the Legislature. As amended, the legislation will also expand the definition of harassment.
Currently, Wyoming statutes define the term as “a course of conduct” that would make a reasonable person “suffer substantial emotional distress, and which does in fact seriously alarm the person toward whom it is directed.” The legislation would expand that definition to include actions that would make a reasonable person fear for their safety, that of another person or for the safety of their property.
If signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead, the legislation will increase the maximum punishment for misdemeanor stalking from six months to one year and increase the maximum penalty for felony stalking from five years to 10. It will also give judges the ability to sentence a person convicted of misdemeanor stalking to up to three years of probation, rather than the maximum of one year.
Meanwhile, a loophole in Wyoming law that has induced judges to throw out marijuana convictions is one step closer to being closed.
Legislation to close the legal loophole passed the Wyoming Senate last week and on Monday a substitute bill was approved 7 to 1 by the House Judiciary Committee. The bill still requires the House’s approval and the Senate to OK the changes — or a legislative conference — before it can reach the governor’s desk.
Wyoming judges have on at least two occasions thrown out marijuana possession cases because state law identifies marijuana as a plant. The proposed legislation would also identify other forms of marijuana in state law, including extracts, edibles and liquids.
The committee’s substitute bill is identical to a House bill that aimed to rewrite Wyoming marijuana laws with less specificity than the original Senate version. That bill failed a February introductory vote 10 to 49.
Although the substitute bill would close a loophole, it wouldn’t as closely address the varying concentrations of THC in marijuana products.
A separate bill aimed at making it easier for wrongfully convicted people to present evidence in hopes of exoneration will need to earn another vote before it can go to the Governor’s desk. The bill was approved by the House last week and passed a second reading in the Senate on Wednesday.
In Wyoming, people convicted of crimes have a two-year window in which they can present non-DNA evidence in an effort to have their conviction overturned. After that time period, the only evidence they can introduce to fight their conviction is DNA evidence.
If the bill becomes law, that two-year window will be eliminated.
A similar bill that would have relaxed restrictions on how wrongly convicted people could seek to have their convictions overturned failed in the face of opposition from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office last spring.
The bill was supported by the attorney general this year, after representatives from his office and other interested parties helped rework the legislation.