Every year the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault gives out what they call PEACE awards ("promoting excellence in advocacy for change and empowerment"). Back in November, they gave one out for best leadership in policymaking. It went to six Wyoming lawmakers who worked to pass six news laws to better protect victims of violence.
Tara Muir is the director of the Coalition and says she nominated the six representatives because of their spirit of bipartisanship. Three were Democrats: Charles Pelkey, Cathy Connoly, and Debbie Bovee. And Three Republicans: Bo Biteman, Dan Kirkbride, and Eric Barlow. Muir called them the Gang of Six.
"You sit back there in what we call the fishbowl and watch and you're shaking your head going, ah, this is magic," Muir recalled. "This was a magical year. All those chips just kept falling our way and it was great to see their heart in it every day."
Muir said she saw the group come together while serving on the Joint Judiciary Committee together. One day, they heard a survivor's testimony about how hard it was to re-tell her painful story every year so she could renew her protection order.
"And it was that meeting, it was a cold November day, and several of the representatives came up to this survivor afterwards and said, 'We're going to do all we can to make this happen.' And they did."
They passed a bill so now survivors only have to renew those protection orders every three years.
For our series, "I Respectfully Disagree," Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards spoke with the two members of the gang perhaps most on the opposite ends of the political spectrum: Charles Pelkey and Bo Biteman. Biteman (who is now a senator) introduced a bill to make sure that survivors couldn't be stalked by their perpetrators through their cellphones. Pelkey worked on a bill to make strangulation a serious crime.
Pelkey said he had very personal reasons for working on this issue.