April 25, 2017

Competition for 2017’s Worst of Wyoming was as stiff in the House this session as it was in the Senate, where bolo tie-wearing bloviator Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) took home the prize.

In the House, one lawmaker stood above the others in the mean-spiritedness and small-mindedness of the bills she sponsored, in her apparent unthinking disregard for the consequences of her legislative actions, and in her obsessive intrusion into people’s personal lives.

That recognition goes to Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), 2017’s Worst of Wyoming (House).

Steinmetz - worst

HB-135: Is she confused, or lying?

Few bills have titles so blatantly disingenuous as Steinmetz’s signature piece of legislation, the “Government Non-Discrimination Act,” a proposed law that aimed to do precisely the opposite of what its title suggests. Also known infamously as House Bill 135, it was the equivalent to naming a measure that kills every single tree in a forest “The Forest Preservation Act.”

With such a deceptive title, one must wonder what its author is trying to hide. In the case of Steinmetz and HB-135, that turned out to be a lot.

Under the mildest of scrutiny, people realized that the purpose of Steinmetz’s bill was to allow government and businesses to legally discriminate against gays and lesbians. It was similar to other anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bills that national right-wing think tanks hand down to compliant hyper-conservative lawmakers they can trust to wipe the drool from their chins and not do much else.

But HB-135 was a bit worse than your standard hateful fare: It not only protected private businesses from discriminating against gay folks, like restaurants who refuse service to a same-sex couple; it also would have allowed, for instance, county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and even EMTs to refuse treatment to trans people.

It also would have overturned the actual nondiscrimination ordinance passed two years ago in Laramie, and it would have forbidden other municipalities from adopting similar laws. The ACLU noted that, had it passed, HB-135 would have been the worst anti-LGBT law in the nation. Pretty impressive, Steinmetz!

Throughout the uproar that followed HB-135’s introduction, Steinmetz and her co-sponsors insisted that the bill would be harmless. It was unclear from the blathering responses she gave to reporters whether she was lying, didn’t understand the bill she had been given to introduce, or actually believed the Constitution gives people the right to discriminate.

“HB-135 aimed to protect the peaceful exercise of religious beliefs and adherence to moral convictions for people of all faiths,” Steinmetz said. “The religious freedoms guaranteed to each and every one of us are the bedrock on which our Constitution is founded. When these unalienable rights are threatened, so too is every other constitutional right we enjoy.”

At a town hall meeting in Lingle, Steinmetz’s home turf, two of her gay constituents and their friends and family peppered the representative with questions about why she was sponsoring the harmful legislation. According to Sara Burlingame, coordinator of education and community outreach for Wyoming Equality, when the people pointed out to Steinmetz that they were her neighbors and not strangers, Steinmetz responded by calling a bathroom break.

Save the poor fetuses, screw the poor women

Steinmetz ended up withdrawing HB-135, but she was back in the spotlight a short time later as sponsor of House Bill 116, a measure to stop abortion clinics from “selling baby parts.”

Of course, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that either of the two doctors who perform abortions in Wyoming “sell baby parts”—the bill, as you might have guessed, was premised on the debunked video that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood workers talking about such activities.

But solving the actual problems of Wyoming is not important to Steinmetz—ideological hysteria and policing people’s relationships and bodies is. If she can’t go after the gays, by golly, she’ll try following other reliable right-wing marching orders to victory!

Unfortunately, HB-116 passed, but not before a suite of amendments thankfully stripped most of its harmful provisions.

The whole point of anti-abortion bills like this, however, isn’t to accomplish specific aims—even Steinmetz probably understands no one in Wyoming is actually “selling baby parts.” The point is to chip away in whatever way possible at a woman’s ability to obtain a safe and legal abortion.

This chipping away affects poor women the most, so it’s commonsense that the more difficult it is to get an abortion in Wyoming, the more low-income women here will be having kids. When it came time for Steinmetz to show the same Christian benevolence toward these women and their children as she espoused for fetuses, she gave the bile-inducing performance that really shored up her spot as the Worst.

As lawmakers debated whether to strip funding for a program that sends nurses on home visits to expectant low-income mothers, providing them guidance on how to raise healthy babies and to detect pregnancy problems, Steinmetz said the program was “near and dear” to her heart.

But ultimately, she encouraged her colleagues to let God sort out the fates of these poor souls, and to cut the $200,000 with which the Health Department funds the program.

“We all have to give a little,” she said.