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Wyoming Freedom Caucus divided on benefits for fallen police officers’ families

The hard-line group of Republicans were split on a budget amendment responding to the recent killing of a Sheridan police sergeant.

The police vehicle of Sheridan Police Sgt. Nevada Krinkee, who was shot and killed while attempting to serve a trespass warning on a man Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, is parked at the department Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Clint Wood/The Sheridan Press)

An emotional debate broke out Thursday in the Wyoming House about what it means to be fiscally conservative when a budget amendment was brought to bolster benefits for families of fallen police officers. 

Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) brought the amendment after Sheridan Police Sgt. Nevada Krinkee was shot and killed Feb. 13 while attempting to serve a trespass warning on a man. Krinkee leaves behind a wife, who is also a Sheridan police officer, and an infant daughter.

Swift action by the Legislature was needed, Western said. 

“The timing of that message is of the utmost importance,” Western said. “It sends a message that in these times of greatest pain, of greatest suffering, that the government that they elect is there to help them.”

Ultimately, the House adopted the amendment, but it divided members of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who frequently vote as a bloc. 

“This issue is not about the compassion of this body. This amendment is about the role of government,” said caucus member Rep. Allen Slagle (R-Newcastle), who voted against it. 

Rep. Allen Slagle (R-Newcastle) during Wyoming’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/Wyofile)

Other caucus members urged an aye vote, including Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), who worked as a police officer in California before moving to Wyoming. 

“There’s a few of us in this room that have worn the badge and understand the impact that a death of a fellow officer can have not only within a department but within a community and the impact it has on the family,” Rodriguez-Williams said. 

The House voted 49-13 to adopt the amendment. 

Details 

Police officer deaths are rare in Wyoming. 

When they occur, the spouse of the deceased receives monthly payments that amount to 62.5% of the officer’s salary, which is paid for with police pension fund dollars. 

Western’s amendment would boost that monthly amount to 90%. 

“What this budget amendment does is, I think, it helps offer him, his family, the security that they deserve going forward,” Western said. 

The amendment originally sought to also move $450,000 from the general fund to the law enforcement retirement fund. However, lawmakers voted that section of the amendment down after Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) informed them the retirement fund was already at a “healthy” level with nearly $1 billion. 

But a budget bill isn’t the place for bolstering duty-related death benefits, Rep. Ken Pendergraft (R-Sheridan) said. 

“This is a policy discussion that should be hashed out, should be worked out in a bill and I would be glad to work on that bill with anybody that’s interested,” Pendergraft, who ultimately voted for it, said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper) said a bill down the line would be necessary anyway since the budget bill only covers the next two years. 

“[The Joint Judiciary Committee] could easily take up this as an interim topic to maybe put language like this into the green books,” said Washut, a retired police officer. 

Washut also pushed back on an argument made by Rep. Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan) that the amendment was taking money from some constituents to give it to other constituents. 

“These funds are coming out of the pension funds, which are supported by our [law enforcement] employees and their employers,” Washut said. 

Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) during Wyoming’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/Wyofile)

Other lawmakers took a different approach when discussing Sheridan’s fallen officer. 

Freedom Caucus member Rep. Clarence Styvar (R-Cheyenne) said both he and Krinkee were combat veterans, both having signed “on the dotted line.”

“That was his choice,” Styvar said. 

Rep. Jon Conrad (R-Mountain View), also a combat veteran, said the debate dismayed him and said it most likely dismayed Krinkee’s family too. 

“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is a family out there now mourning,” Conrad said.

Whether the amendment makes it to the final version of the budget will depend on what happens next week. A mirror amendment was not brought in the Senate, so the Joint Conference Committee will have to resolve the difference before bringing the budget back to both chambers for a vote.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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