- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union said it will close its Wyoming office and most of its employees in the state will be laid off because of funding issues.

ACLU staff members learned Monday that the office in Cheyenne will close April 10, said Linda Burt, executive director of ACLU of Wyoming.

Three people will be laid off and another staff member who works on gay and transgender rights issues under a grant will stay with the organization, although it’s unclear where she will work, Burt said.

“I think Wyoming will be the only state without an office,” she said. “I’m not aware of any other cuts in offices.”

The Wyoming office had a $360,000 budget for the fiscal year that ended in March.

It was not able to raise the money needed to be self-sustaining and needed help from the national office in New York, said Marsha Zeesman, deputy communications director for the national ACLU.

Burt told the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1F7dlYR ) that it’s difficult to support an organization such as the ACLU in a small state like Wyoming.

Zeesman said in a statement that the ACLU will still have a presence in the state with restructured staffing.

A Wyoming-based ACLU staff member will continue ongoing advocacy work, supported by staff at the national headquarters, she said.

Zeesman did not say whether people from the national headquarters would lobby for issues before the Wyoming Legislature, as the staff in Wyoming did.

Burt said she’s proud of the work of the Wyoming ACLU, particularly in juvenile justice reform and helping prisoners practice their religion and obtain medical treatment.

“We were also some of the first people in the state to work on LGBT rights,” she said.

The Wyoming ACLU didn’t file as many splashy lawsuits as other ACLU chapters, Burt said.

Its legal work has been mostly advocacy, answering thousands of phone calls and letters from people about civil rights issues.

Steve Klein of the Wyoming Liberty Group, a libertarian group, said he frequently disagreed with the Wyoming ACLU, but he acknowledged that local staff members had high standards, integrity and zeal for their work.

“This is a guy who allegedly works in an extreme right-wing organization saying this about an extreme left-wing organization,” Klein said. “I think this is a big loss for Wyoming.”

With the closing of the ACLU office, a voice will be missing from policy discussions at the state Capitol, said Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance.

“I personally don’t agree with them 100 percent of the time, probably not even 50 percent of the time,” Lindholm said. “The fact of the matter is when you’re making these policy decisions, any type of voice, any type of testimony is wanted and needed.”

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said she got to know ACLU positions during the six years she served on a judiciary panel.

“Like all national organizations, it had Wyoming people there, Wyoming people speaking,” she said. “We won’t have that Wyoming ACLU perspective anymore, particularly on issues like juvenile justice. They were really valued.”

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