Gov. Mark Gordon vetoed a controversial piece of anti-abortion legislation passed by the Wyoming Legislature earlier this month, arguing the bill could have unintended consequences for parents seeking to have a child but who have been told the pregnancies are not viable.
“Laws already in place protect children from being denied lifesaving care simply because they were born as a result of an abortion,” the governor, who is pro-life, wrote in a statement. “This bill will not do anything to improve on those laws which already exist. Instead, this bill will harm people it never intended to harm—parents who want a child, but have received the devastating news that their pregnancy is not viable. The State should not seek to make that moment for parents any more tragic than it already is. For this reason, I am vetoing this bill.”
Sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, Senate File 97 was a hotly debated — albeit well-supported — piece of legislation that, if signed into law, would have required doctors to provide lifesaving care to infants who had survived abortion procedures.
Critics argued the legislation would have created additional red tape for parents and physicians who, in an unviable infant’s last moments, would be unable to make their own decisions, leaving physicians to choose between inducing additional trauma on parents or facing years in prison for refusing to comply.
Gordon seemed to reflect this line of thinking in a message accompanying the veto, saying that it presented an undue insertion of the government into a family’s personal medical decisions.
“This bill would eliminate the opportunity for a child to pass away in the loving arms of parents,” he wrote. “Rather it would require that a child be removed from those loving parents and placed in a situation where the child might still pass away in the midst of stressful, painful and futile efforts to resuscitate.”
Gordon announced he would veto several other bills as well, including:
Medicaid billing for school-based services: Currently, Wyoming is one of few states in the country to not use Medicaid to pay for school-based health services, instead using a separate stream of federal funding to cover those costs.
Under this bill, schools would have been allowed to voluntarily enter into a pilot program to tap into these funding streams.
Gordon — who has been reluctant to pursue means to expand the use of Medicaid in Wyoming — said in his veto letter that the legislation offered no guarantee of savings or participation by a sufficient number of school districts. However, he wrote that he would be open to state lawmakers pursuing similar legislation as an interim topic.
Banking division-classification and salary exemptions: Intended as a way to attract new talent to the state’s burgeoning cryptocurrency programs by offering salaries competitive with the private sector, this bill elicited some pushback and scrutiny from lawmakers after it was introduced after a critical deadline when Senate leadership suspended the rules during the session, fast-tracking the bill to passage.
While Gordon did not note that in his veto letter, he argued that the bill presented separation of power concerns between the legislative and executive branch, writing that it is the responsibility of the executive branch — not the Legislature — to determine staffing and compensation levels in their respective agencies.
Investment of state funds: Likely the most consequential of Gordon’s vetoes, Senate File 138 set out a process for the executive branch and the Legislature as the state pursues the purchase of 5 million combined land and mineral acres in the southern tier of Wyoming from Occidental Petroleum, a series of parcels commonly referred to as “the checkerboard.”
In his veto letter, Gordon argued that the bill — which laid out oversight and approval procedures for the Legislature — was a flawed one, writing that it put too many administrative and financial restrictions on the executive branch to properly vet and, ultimately, carry out the deal, particularly as the funds available to pay for the land have been called into question by recent economic crises.
“Unfortunately, I am left with an all-or-nothing solution,” he wrote. “Most of the requirements contained in this legislation are important and should not be forgotten, but the language overreaches in its grant of authority to the legislative branch. I also believe this legislation anticipates what is not yet clear. I do not have the option to selectively implement the legislation.”
While the Legislature’s oversight provisions were rejected, the Governor outlined an agreement of what level of oversight he and the Office of State Lands and Investments would be willing to commit to, including the purchase price of the land, the estimated loss of tax revenue to the counties impacted by the purchase and several other reporting requirements requested by lawmakers in the bill.
Reached by phone Friday, House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper — one of the chief architects of the bill — said he was unconcerned by the veto, however, noting that “a lot has changed” since the Legislature gaveled out. While the bill was defeated, he said he felt comfortable that the governor would keep a number of the sideboards included in the bill, like public meetings, in place.
“I think it’ll be fine,” he said. “We’ll take a look at the deal, see if it’s a good one or not, and decide at that point. But this will probably help him move a little quicker, the state move a little quicker, and decide one way or another.”
While the governor’s veto includes language dictating where the funds for such a purchase would come from, the Legislature will still have the final say on whether to fund the deal or not, as well as how to pay for it. That would likely take place during a special session of the Legislature later this year, though no date has been decided and there’s no guarantee it will happen.