Bill raising marital age passes House
A bill that raises the state’s minimum marriage age passed the third reading of the House Friday afternoon.
The bill, which will be transferred to the Senate after passing by 11 votes in the 62-member House, would forbid people younger than 16 from marrying and would require a guardian’s permission for minors ages 16 and 17.
Debate centered on to what degree the state government, which is charged with setting rules around marriage instead of the federal government, should be involved in regulating the institution of marriage.
Rep. Scott Smith, a Goshen County Republican, testified that he was the “product of teenage pregnancy.” His 16-year-old mother and 21-year-old father married after learning of the pregnancy.
“I understand a lot of people wanting to solve the crisis of abuse or human trafficking,” Smith said, “but I don’t think not allowing people to get married, or get married, is ever going solve abuse.”
The bill would allow minors who are 16 to get married with a guardian’s consent.
Despite opposition, the House adopted an amendment Friday to make the bill effective immediately upon becoming law instead of on July 1, 2023.
Rep. Martha Lawley, a Worland Republican, warned of people targeting Wyoming without the increased protection for minors.
She cried when she recalled sitting with girls who had been rescued out of human trafficking in Florida.
“One in particular told me it was her father who was addicted to drugs who sold her into human trafficking to an older man,” she said.
Citing strong beliefs for “parental rights,” “child protection,” and “religious freedom,” Lawley said the bill would balance the abuses and broken families.
Rep. Liz Storer, a Teton County Democrat, said the bill would close a dangerous legal loophole.
“Currently in Wyoming you can be married younger than you can legally consent to sex,” Storer said. “If a man rapes a child, is the man charged with rape? Not if the child is forced to marry him, which is often the case.”
— Sophia Boyd-Fliegel
Medicaid expansion clears House committee
A bill that would extend Medicaid coverage to more people for the next two years was given its first approval Thursday morning in the House Revenue Committee, but not without stipulations.
House Bill 80, which is titled “Medical treatment opportunity act — Medicaid reform,” was passed out of the committee by a 6-3 vote after nearly two hours of testimony.
It authorizes the Wyoming Department of Health Director, Insurance Commissioner and Governor to enter into negotiations to obtain either a state plan amendment or other federal authorization for the expansion of Medicaid coverage.
Under the bill, the Medicaid expansion can’t be administered during any time period in which the increased federal medical assistance percentage is less than 90%, nor when the regular federal medical assistance percentage is less than 55%.
WDH Director Stefan Johansson informed committee members that the 55% match is the result of a 5% match increase incentive through the American Rescue Plan Act, and is only applicable for two years. If the incentive were to end, the expansion would be at risk as the bill is currently written, because the match would be 50%.
This section of the bill was not amended, but there were three separate changes before the vote. Although Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, was one of the three state representatives who ultimately voted against the bill, two of his amendments passed.
The Wyoming Freedom Caucus Chairman successfully added language banning the use of Medicaid expansion funds for “puberty blocking, neutering or chemical drugs, or surgery for the treatment of gender dysphoria,” as well as an appropriation of $3 million in federal funds to market the cancellation of the program to those affected, in the case it did end.
The third amendment was brought forward by House Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, which would follow along the lines of the Hyde Amendment. It has prevented federal Medicaid funding from being used for abortion services, except in cases where the pregnancy endangered the patient’s life, or was the result or rape or incest.
HB 80 is the latest of several attempts to expand the health care program for low-income residents in the past decade. It has continually been voted down by state representatives and senators.
— Jasmine Hall, Wyoming Tribune Eagle