Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Oct. 15

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on a potential special state legislative session, Gabby Petito’s autopsy results and Wyoming’s pink tax on cars.
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Wyoming women pay the largest “pink tax” on car purchases, repairs and insurance in the U.S., according to a new study. (Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock)

by | Oct 15, 2021 | Crime, Politics & Policy

 

Coroner Announces Petito Autopsy Results

The autopsy results for Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito indicate that she was strangled to death and that it was a homicide. Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced the findings in a press conference Tuesday, as well as the conclusion that Petito’s body was likely in the wilderness for three to four weeks before it was discovered near Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 19. It took Blue and his team several weeks to finish the report, though he was not able to disclose most details other than the cause and manner of death due to Wyoming state statute. 

“We had a report done by our anthropologist, and we had toxicology studies that were done in addition to the report from radiologic studies,” Blue said. “All these came together, and that’s where it took time for us to complete this investigation.”

The intense media coverage of the young woman’s disappearance and death during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend also drew criticism from Blue, who said similar cases of domestic violence don’t receive enough attention. 

“I’m assuming that because the deceased was a blogger, that this received more coverage than others,” he said. “But there are a lot of both men and women who have lost their lives that aren’t covered with this kind of media attention.” 

Blue did not connect his findings with the search for Brian Laundrie, the Florida man who had been traveling with Petito. Laundrie has not been seen since Sept. 14,  when he left his family’s home for a hike in a Florida nature preserve. He is considered a person of interest in the case.

State Lawmakers Debate Potential Session Over Vaccine Mandates

Some state lawmakers are drafting legislation to combat President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for private employers and are trying to call a special legislative session to work on the potential bills. The effort follows a Wednesday announcement from Gov. Mark Gordon that the Wyoming Attorney General is looking for ways to combat the requirements, which could potentially affect all businesses with over 100 employees.

The Democratic coalition of the state legislature, including Rep. Mike Yin of Jackson, has already come out against any calls for a special session. 

“It’s kind of a general topic because it’s not very specific on whether it’s for federal mandates, [or] for state mandates,” Yin said. “Without that specificity—and in the Democratic caucus I don’t really think it’s the type of emergency that requires the legislature to come into session—we came out pretty fully opposed to it.” 

Yin said each day the legislature is in session costs Wyoming taxpayers $25,000. Plus, any laws drafted by state lawmakers will likely contradict federal rules, putting businesses in a bind where they’re constantly breaking some sort of law. Yin added that he thinks local control of healthcare measures is best for controlling this pandemic, but he isn’t 100% opposed to mandates given how long the pandemic has lasted. 

“I think ultimately my interests lie in what’s best for the welfare of the state, and the best for the welfare of the state is getting this pandemic over with as quickly as possible,” he said.

If approved, a special session is proposed to start Oct. 26. Bills being drafted include a ban on vaccine passports as well as prohibiting firing someone based on their inoculation status. 

Meanwhile, four Cowboy State hospitals have enacted crisis standards of care due to both staffing shortages and an influx of COVID-19 patients. That means healthcare systems are now rationing who gets certain treatments–and when–because of scarce resources. 

Fundraising Heats up in 2022 Wyoming GOP Primary

Congresswoman Liz Cheney raised $1.7 million in the third quarter of this year for her 2022 primary campaign. That comes on the heels of an all-time fundraising record for her earlier announced this year. Cheney will also hold a fundraiser with former President George W. Bush in Dallas next week, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The field to unseat Cheney remains crowded, but the presumed frontrunner among her challengers is attorney Harriet Hageman, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Hageman visited Jackson to address local Republicans last week. She also raised $300,000 within the first three weeks of announcing her campaign, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. 

Town Officials Focus on Conduct

The Jackson Town Council focused on long-term planning efforts during meetings held on Monday’s federal holiday, including the future of local government funding and the council’s strategy regarding a real estate transfer tax this coming legislative session in Cheyenne. Electeds also discussed how they conduct themselves during their own meetings and how many consecutive sessions a council member can be absent for. Council Member Jessica Sell Chambers led the charge on the debate, after raising concerns about how many meetings fellow Council Member Jim Rooks missed this summer.

“At a certain point, we can’t survive if we’re doing other things that are taking us away from office for extended periods of time,” Sell Chambers said. “We need somebody that’s going to be in the seat that can do the job.”

The tense conversation followed public disclosure of a feud between Sell Chambers and Rooks in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Rooks missed several meetings over the summer while he was receiving medical care in Maryland, including treatment for chronic pain and alcohol abuse. Sell Chambers implied via e-mail that he wasn’t necessarily fit to continue his position if those personal issues continue.

Council procedure will continue to be discussed next week regardless of the rift, but health emergencies such as Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen’s recent hip surgery or Rooks’ treatment will continue to be reviewed on a case by case basis.

Cowboy State Women Pay More than Men for Cars

The phenomenon of so-called “pink taxes” on products marketed to women has been well-documented when it comes to goods like toiletries and clothing. Discriminatory pricing means that women pay more than men for essentially the same products. That includes cars, according to a new study, and the state with the worst vehicle pink tax? Wyoming.

“Wyoming women actually have the largest yearly difference in what women are paying compared to men,” said Lakshmi Iyengar, the data lead at Jerry, the car app and licensed insurance broker that conducted the new study. “And that was $183 per year, on average.” 

Iyengar said her team looked at three data points in their research: the costs of car purchases, repairs and insurance. They also found that Wyoming’s worst-in-the-nation disparities don’t affect all women equally.

“The Gen X, which are women that are ages 39-54, we found that they’re paying almost $4,000 more over the lifetime of car ownership.”

The study doesn’t definitively answer the question of why this is happening, but Iyengar said one possible explanation is that women often have lower credit scores than men because of the gender wage gap. She also encourages women to do their research on how much cars and repairs should cost before agreeing to a price, and to shop around when it comes to insurance.

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