CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Starting today, suspected drunk drivers can no longer legally refuse an alcohol test in Wyoming.
The state can no longer use one of its primary ways of putting land off-limits to most surface mining.
And don’t even think about letting your livestock run loose.
Those are just some of the 105 new state laws passed earlier this year that go into effect today.
One of the most significant — and controversial — new laws requires that motorists pulled over for suspected drug or alcohol use submit to a breath, blood or urine test. Previously, DUI suspects could refuse a test, which brought an automatic suspension of their driver’s license but made it harder to convict them at trial.
Instant search warrant
The new law also provides that if a suspect refuses to be tested, the officer can contact a judge from the scene to instantly obtain a search warrant requiring a test. Right now, it can take several hours for an officer to write an affidavit stating the facts of the case and present it to a judge, who then decides whether to issue a warrant.
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Legislators passed the tougher law particularly to target repeat offenders with high blood alcohol levels who know how to use the law to avoid punishment.
In Teton County, the testing refusal rate among people who are stopped for a second or subsequent DUI is about 75 percent, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson. In Albany County, he said, the refusal rate is more than 60 percent.
But numerous legislative opponents voiced concern about whether requiring a drug test would violate suspects’ civil liberties. Some wondered aloud whether suspects who refuse to be tested would be strapped down and tested by force.
A number of Wyoming judges have also questioned the constitutionality of a key provision in a new anti-drunken-driving law allowing police officers to request search warrants by telephone.
In addition, several Wyoming judges questioned whether allowing officers to request a warrant by phone, without a written affidavit, would violate the Wyoming Constitution.
Also beginning today, the state of Wyoming will lose one of its primary tools for preserving lands: designating them as “very rare or uncommon.”
Since 1973, the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council has put the label on 10 sites around the state, placing them off-limits to all noncoal surface mining. The new law preserves those existing protections but prevents the EQC from making new designations.
Conservationists say the “very rare or uncommon” designation is the state’s flagship option for preserving important natural and historic landmarks in Wyoming, and offers only modest environmental protections.
But opponents say that in recent years, environmentalists have tried to exploit the designation by marking off huge swaths of land for state protection on a scale that creators of the law never intended. Particularly, they point to the EQC’s controversial decision in 2007 to give “very rare or uncommon” status to 180,000 acres of mostly federal land in the Adobe Town area of the Red Desert.
One new law that passed the Legislature by a near-unanimous vote expands where people in Wyoming are allowed to use deadly force in self-defense.
Under Wyoming’s “castle doctrine” law, first passed in 2008, a person is presumed to act in self defense when using deadly force against someone who illegally forces his or her way into the defender’s home.
The modifications passed this year expand that presumption to include “any structure designed for overnight accomodation,” such as buildings, trailers, campers and tents.
One new law that drew laughs during the legislative session seeks to address a serious issue: holding owners accountable for livestock that they turn loose.
Under the new feral livestock law, ranchers and farmers who repeatedly refuse to take possession of their livestock must pay for the costs of rounding up the animals, feeding them, providing veterinary service and transporting them back. They’re also liable for any damage their animals cause.
The law came out of concerns about increasing numbers of Wyoming residents turning horses loose in the wild, as well as a controversy last year about a Johnson County rancher who repeatedly let his herd of yaks wander onto the land of neighboring ranchers.
Another new law that easily passed the Legislature this year requires school districts to come up with new regulations protecting students who suffer concussions while playing school sports.
Starting today, school districts have to train coaches and athletic trainers to recognize the symptoms of concussions. They also have to establish rules about restricting students who suffer concussions from participating in school athletic events.
Starting today, the media, along with most of the general public, will no longer have access to many types of county coroners’ records, including toxicology reports, coroner photographs and recordings.
Under the new law, only immediate family members can access those records; anyone else will have to get a judge’s permission.
Supporters of the law said they don’t want embarrassing or distasteful material from coroners’ records published online. They also claimed that because the law will give coroners clarity about what they can or can’t release, coroners will actually release more information than they did until now.