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A bill that would have kept local governments from restricting ownership of working animals fails

Cheyenne Frontier Days.jpg
Larry Jacobsen
Flickr via CC BY 2.0
A rodeo participant prepares to rope a calf at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2007. A bill in the Wyoming House of Representatives that would have prohibited local and county governments from having ordinances against working animals in their jurisdictions failed, even as supports said it would protect rodeo and other agriculturally-related animal activities in the state.

A bill that would have prohibited municipal and county governments from enacting or enforcing policies or ordinances against working animals, such as those used in rodeo, within their jurisdictions failed to pass the House on its third reading. The 30-32 vote came after concerns about overreach of local governments by the state. The necessity of legislation on the issue for these governments and the ability to make their own decisions was also called into question. Supporters touted it as a way to protect the state from outside efforts to harm the state’s heritage of the rodeo, especially with regard to animal rights groups targeting local and county governments over rodeos or other agriculturally-related activities.

The bill was sponsored by Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), Chip Neiman (R-Hulett), Sarah Penn (R-Lander) and Sens. Tim French (R-Powell) and Dan Laursen (R-Powell).

“This bill was brought in designed to strengthen [the] positions of cities and counties because they can take a beating from national organizations and can be swayed in ways that probably aren't good for the state of Wyoming,” said Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne). “They interfere with the culture, and the traditions of Wyoming and I do think we should protect that. As far as local control, we interfere all the time.”

The bill would have superseded any municipal ordinance or policy that came into conflict with the bill. It wouldn’t have superseded municipal ordinances or policies that related to what the bill was intended to impose at the local level or those that were related to public health or safety.

“Essentially what this does is it protects animal enterprise,” said Rodriguez-Williams. “In the state of Wyoming we value our rodeos that reside or that are within city limits and within our county's jurisdiction, we value buck and horsetails. So, essentially what this bill does is it protects agritourism in the state of Wyoming, which we value so much.”

Working animals are defined in the bill as “a nonhuman animal used primarily for the purpose of performing a specific duty or function in commerce or an animal enterprise including human service, level hunting, agriculture, ranching, husbandry, transportation, education, competition, tourism, entertainment or exhibition.” This doesn’t include rabbits, llamas, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, poultry or other animals commonly used for food production purposes.

Opponents of the bill questioned what it would take away from local governments and the people who reside in them.

“I'm just trying to get in my mind how we want to take the control closest to the people away,” said Rep. Lloyd Larson (R-Lander). “I can just envision this city trying to take away that great event [Cheyenne Frontier Days] that we have here every summer, but that decision should be local…I think that those municipalities should have the right to determine how they want to enact ordinances or other things relating to. I don't know why we would take that away from [them] so, I just find it a little interesting that we would want to snatch that away and impose big government on the local people.”

Other concerns expressed questions about the suitability and necessity for the bill.

“Is this happening in a city in Wyoming? That's what I want to know,” said Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper). “I mean, maybe this is kind of an out of state issue, [like for] California, Utah, Texas [or] somewhere else. But I haven't heard of anybody in Wyoming banning rodeo or something…I'm just wondering what problem we're trying to solve.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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