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Bias Crimes Bill Nixed in Wyoming

February 3, 1999

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ Four months after gay college student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death, a move to pass hate crimes legislation in Wyoming was scuttled Wednesday by a committee.

Supporters said that ended their hopes for the year.

Wyoming is one nine states without bias crimes laws, and lawmakers have rejected similar measures four times since 1995.

After Shepard’s death in October, calls for a bias crimes law increased _ Republican Gov. Jim Geringer for the first time supported it.

Geringer said Wednesday that he was disappointed the legislation did not reach the Senate floor for debate, but he added that no law can change how people think about each other.

``What I call on the people of Wyoming to do is to recognize that there are 480,000 of us that have unique capabilities, limitations whatever they might be and let’s not hold that against each other,″ the governor said. ``Let’s find a way to build the community of Wyoming.″

Two measures died in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both would have increased the maximum fine for a felony by up to $5,000 and raised the maximum prison sentence by up to five years if prosecutors could prove the crime was motivated by bias.

State Sen. John Schiffer, the Judiciary chairman, said he hoped supporters of bias crime legislation would come back in future sessions with legislation that would have broader support.

Opponents said they objected to listing motivating factors, such as race, religion and sexual orientation, saying the bills offered special protection to certain groups. Others said no new laws are needed, just strict enforcement of existing measures.

Wende Barker, state coordinator for the Wyoming Bias Crimes Coalition, said she was disappointed but not surprised and planned to try to push for such laws again next year.

The only other bias crime-related bill before the Legislature is one that would set up a task force to examine how many bias crimes are committed in Wyoming. It has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

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