Wyoming Legislature heads into its last week still facing budget, gun bills

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The Wyoming Legislature is heading into its last week still facing action on the budget bill and a contentious measure that would allow people who hold concealed carry permits to pack guns on school grounds and public buildings.

House Speaker Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, and Senate President Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, say they expect to wind up the session late this week.

Brown and Nicholas say they expect final action on the budget bill early this week so lawmakers have time to override any gubernatorial vetoes.

"We're expecting that we're going to get the budget to the governor on Monday, and then he's got three days," Brown said. "But sometimes he does us a favor and gets his work done early, and signs the thing, or does his line-item veto."

Lawmakers are working on a supplemental budget bill this year. They passed a $3.5-billion, two-year general funds budget last year.

The proposed budget calls for interception of nearly $200 million that had been on track for deposit into the state's "rainy day fund" this summer to cover a revenue shortfall caused by lower energy prices since last fall.

In addition, the budget calls for contingent spending of roughly $280 million over the next two years of investment income the state hasn't booked yet. The pending budget bill calls for allocating that to capital projects on priority lists for this year and next.

The full Senate on Monday is set to consider for the first time a gun bill that would allow people who hold concealed carry gun permits to carry them on school grounds and government buildings.

As already approved by the House, the bill would have few restrictions. But a Senate committee already has amended it to require approval from school boards and local governments before permit holders could carry in areas under their control.

Bill sponsor Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, has said that given Wyoming's sparse population and thin police presence, the bill is the state's best approach to combatting school violence and other mass shootings that have killed scores of innocent people around the country. He points to Utah, which has allowed teachers to carry concealed guns for years, as proof the system would work in Wyoming.

Jaggi has said he opposes the Senate amendment, saying it would create a "hodgepodge" in Wyoming, where one school district might allow concealed carry on its schools while a neighboring district wouldn't.

Nicholas said he believes almost all Wyoming lawmakers support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. However, he said some senators are increasingly focusing on the training required to get a state concealed carry permit, and whether that should qualify someone to carry a gun in a school and purport to defend the public.

"Parents of some children may say they only want their children protected by law enforcement officers," Nicholas said. "And that's their right, and they certainly have the right to choose whether their children are going to be protected by somebody whose only training is the acquisition of a concealed carry permit. So in this area, there are competing rights.

"Nobody challenges your right to protect your family on your property, that doesn't mean that you're invited to come to my property and defend my family," Nicholas said.

Brown also said the issue brings up the question of private protection that an individual may undertake with their own concealed carry permit, versus public protection.

"They're not protecting themselves anymore," Brown said. "So, if they're going to self-invest themselves with the right to protect the public, then the public certainly has the right to determine what their minimum training and qualifications are going to be."

Brown said he suspects the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill may be irreconcilable.

"They're an awful long ways apart, and thinking that there's a middle ground in there, it's hard to imagine," he said. "It would be hard for me to predict success."

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