Freshman Rep. Harlan Edmonds (R-Wyoming Liberty Group) managed to do something Friday afternoon that even long-time observers of the Wyoming Legislature had never seen before.
He got kicked out of a committee meeting.
Edmonds, a legislator for less than two months, got the old heave-ho from Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell), chairman of the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. It came right before the panel was to vote on Senate File 115, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against gays and transgendered people.
Currently employees in Wyoming can be fired solely because of their sexual orientation.
The Cheyenne lawmaker committed two breaches of the House rules for conduct. First, he tried to amend the bill so private businesses and owners could discriminate as much as they wanted to against the people SF 115 was designed to protect.
Puzzled legislators on the committee asked him about the impact of such action. Wasn’t it directly contrary to the purpose of the bill?
Edmonds smiled and said he was trying to put a “poison pill” into the legislation, which is something so objectionable it would keep people — even supporters — from voting for it. Other lawmakers occasionally try to do the same thing, but they show enough respect for the sponsor and those who favor the legislation that they don’t gleefully announce their intention to kill it.
Especially when the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), was sitting only a few feet away.
Harvey let that indiscretion go, even though she was obviously perturbed that Edmonds wasted the members’ time when they were trying to finish their work and go back to the House. But Edmonds was on a roll, and he tried to push things as far as he could. A few minutes later, as the committee neared the end of amendments, he said he had another change he would like to make.
Edmonds said he wanted to amend the effective date from July 1, 2015 to “when hell freezes over.”
The chairman immediately ordered him out of the room for breaching the House’s civility rules.
Edmonds seemed to not think Harvey was serious, so he stayed in his seat. But he got up and began walking out when it became clear that he had indeed been kicked out.
The panel’s secretary began the roll call, and Edmonds said “no” as he was walking out. “He’s absent,” Harvey said, declaring his vote would not count. The committee passed SF 115 by a vote of 6-2.
After the meeting, Edmonds tried to brush off what happened as a joke gone awry. “Things were pretty tense, and I was trying to lighten up the mood,” he said. “But nobody laughed.”
And nobody bought that weasely explanation, either. Edmonds eventually told reporters he would apologize to the chairman. If he wants to play the class clown, fine, but not at the expense of belittling the legislative process everyone else follows.
The Edmonds ejection overshadowed the rest of the meeting, which had been strange enough. Harvey let those who wanted to testify against the bill speak first.
So much fear filled the room, it’s amazing it didn’t blow out all the windows in Room 302. Opponents created many terrible scenarios about what would happen if businesses were forced to treat homosexual and transgendered people as human beings, and not be able to discriminate against them and fire them for their “chosen lifestyle.”
Some of the most ludicrous testimony focused on perceived threats about how protecting the rights of people based on their sexual orientation would lead to heterosexuals not being able to use public restrooms out of fear of being molested or seeing something that offended them and was contrary to their religious beliefs.
Former Attorney General Pat Crank, a supporter of the bill, had a good answer to that claim. He said gay, lesbian and transgendered people obviously use public restrooms now, and there’s no problems like the opponents described.
“The Alliance of the Catholic Church has put out a legal memorandum attempting to try to spread fear that if this bill passes we’re going to have gays, lesbians and transgendered people in our bathrooms,” Crank said. “The bottom line is they’re there now. I’ve traveled all over Wyoming and I use public restrooms all the time, and I’ve never been accosted, flashed or sexually assaulted … The fear is just that, it’s crazy.”
Representatives of the Wyoming Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Wyoming Alliance of Churches, the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming Highways Association all testified in favor of the bill.
Jason Marsden, director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, said emails the organization receives from people who have been fired because of their sexual orientation “are truly shocking, they’re depressing, they’re saddening and they’re unjust. We’re better than that.”
“I’m probably the least likely person a year ago to be here to advocate for LGBT rights,” said Kasey Jones of Gillette. “I’m a life-long conservative and member of the LDS Church. I’m here because our son recently came out to us.
“He does not feel safe here,” she related. “He is not sure he can stay. If you say ‘no’ [to this bill] you’re saying no to my son. … You’re saying it to real people. You’re saying, ‘You’re not worth our protection.'”
Earlier the bill passed the Senate 24-6. SF 115 now moves on to the House, where it will be placed on general file and should be debated by the entire chamber.