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Wyoming Digest

Sep 10, 2017 From wire reports

'Ag-gag' case returned to lower court

CHEYENNE (AP) -- Two Wyoming laws that seek to discourage environmental activists from trespassing in the process of gathering data about wildlife, streams and other natural resources on ranchland could run afoul of free-speech protections, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that just because somebody is violating the usual laws against trespassing doesn't mean free-speech rights aren't protected. The three-judge panel returned the case to a lower court to decide if the laws indeed violate freedom of speech protection under the First Amendment.

The Wyoming Legislature passed the two similar laws in 2015 and amended them last year to clarify that they apply to trespassing on "private lands" rather than simply "open lands." One law imposes criminal penalties and the other civil penalties for trespassing specifically for gathering natural-resource data.

Several states have passed similar "ag-gag" laws, some of which seek to discourage activists from documenting animal abuse with undercover videos.

Groups including the Western Watersheds Project, Natural Resource Defense Council and National Press Photographers Association sued over Wyoming's laws, saying they blocked people from telling government regulators about water pollution and animal mistreatment.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Casper ruled against the groups, saying there's no constitutional right to trespass on private land.

Natural Resource Defense Council attorney Michael Wall praised the appeals court ruling that sends the case back to Skavdahl, saying the laws succeeded in keeping environmentalists and their contractors out of the field amid concern they could be prosecuted under the laws for accidentally trespassing.

While the appeals court didn't rule the laws unconstitutional, the lower court has no room to do anything else, Wall said.

"There's no plausible way it can do that," he said. "It's pretty clearly unconstitutional."

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael is reviewing the ruling and preparing for the next phase in the litigation, said Gov. Matt Mead spokesman David Bush.

Carny sentenced for sexually abusing boy

CASPER (AP) -- A former carnival worker convicted of luring a 5-year-old boy away from a Wyoming bowling alley and sexually assaulting him has been sentenced to 80 to 115 years in prison.

State District Court Judge Thomas Sullins ordered the sentence for 34-year-old Joshua Winters on Friday.

Winters maintained his innocence, saying he wouldn't harm a child and did not entirely remember the day in July 2016 when police say he kidnapped and molested the child.

Prosecutors say Winters approached the child and offered him money to pay for video games. They say the boy followed Winters outside to a river, where the assault occurred.

Last May, a jury convicted Winters of aggravated kidnapping, first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Coal company eyes new acreage near plant

CHEYENNE -- Bridger Coal Co. has submitted a coal exploration license to obtain coal structural and quality information on approximately 1,560 acres of public land northwest of the Jim Bridger Power Plant and underground coal mine.

No coal is being developed or proposed for development. The primary purpose of this Notice is to provide developers the opportunity to share costs related to an exploration license.

Before issuing an exploration license, the BLM must complete an appropriate environmental document analyzing the exploration plan submitted by the proponent. The public will be notified of opportunities to engage in that review at the appropriate time. An exploration license is for a term of two years.

No coal is being developed or proposed for development. The notice provides developers the opportunity to share costs related to an exploration license. Before issuing an exploration license, the BLM must complete an appropriate environmental document analyzing the exploration plan submitted by the proponent. The public will be notified of opportunities to engage in that review.

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2017-09-24