Wyoming Senate sends 'needy person' bill to House, would affect rights to a public defender - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Wyoming Senate sends ‘needy person’ bill to House, would affect rights to a public defender

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Senate unanimously voted to send a bill that could affect public defenders across the state to the House of Representatives on Monday, Feb. 17.

SF 13 is a bill that would modify the concept of of “indigency” under state statute, defining what would constitute a person who is in need of a court-appointed lawyer. The language on record currently states that a “needy person” is one who can’t provide for the full payment of an attorney and all other necessary expenses of representation.

This language would be modified to state that a needy person was someone who is unable to provide for the full payment and other expenses without prejudicing their financial ability to provide basic economic necessities for themselves or their families. A person will be presumed in need if they receive some type of public assistance (like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income); if they live in a mental health facility and have no available funds; or if they are serving in a state correctional facility and have no available funds.

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SF 13 has quickly moved through the Senate since the beginning of the budget session on Monday, Feb. 10. It was introduced the same day, receiving the same vote from the senators to send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was discussed by the committee on Feb. 12, and the five members voted to send it back to the Senate for a second reading, which took place the following day.

During a Senate floor session on Feb. 13, Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton explained that the bill was intended to help the public defender’s office, and she hoped it would help taking some work off of the attorneys’ desks.  Two senators questioned whether or not people with fluctuating incomes could be eligible for a public defender and Laramie County Sen. Tara Nethercott agreed to amend the language to better clarify this.

In the bill, the income standards used to determine if a person is needy are: a person whose annual gross income is less than 125% of the federally-established poverty level; a person whose annual gross income is between 125% and 218% of the poverty level; or a person whose annual gross income is greater than 218% of the poverty level.

The bill is sponsored by the Joint Judicial Interim Committee, whose members include Nethercott and Laramie County Rep. Sara Burlingame and Natrona County Reps. Chuck Gray and Art Washut.

If signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon, this bill would go into effect on July 1, 2020.

Concerned about this or other legislation? An online hotline system allows Wyomingites to have messages delivered to legislators on issues they are concerned with.