The Wyoming Legislature’s special session that intended to fight back against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate started last week with 20 bills. After seven days, only one bill had survived.
The one measure left, House Bill 1002, passed both chambers on Wednesday evening and appears headed for Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.
The House received the bill back with the Senate’s amendments midday Wednesday and didn’t accept them. Leadership then convened a joint committee comprised of three senators and three representatives to negotiate a compromise.
On Wednesday evening, the House and Senate voted in favor of the compromise.
House Bill 1002 includes a strongly worded resolution stating Wyoming’s rights and allocates $4 million to the governor’s office to fight cases related to the vaccine mandate. That number was a compromise between the House, which wanted to allocate $1 million for the litigation, and the Senate, which supported spending up to $10 million.
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The bill acknowledges that “our hands are tied” because state law can’t override federal law, Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, said.
Earlier Wednesday, the heavyweight anti-vaccine mandate bill of the special session died in its final reading in the Senate.
After being amended repeatedly, House Bill 1001 sought to allow parents of public school children to opt their child out of a COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements, as well as ban vaccine passports in certain circumstances.
The bill also would have authorized spending up to $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds to challenge vaccine mandates in court.
“Trying to do something right is always worth it, but it’s sad that we couldn’t accomplish that for the people,” Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne told the Star-Tribune.
Goals and outcomes
The push for the special session began after President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring workers in businesses with 100 or more employees to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The order hasn’t gone into effect, as the federal rule-making process is not complete.
The order sparked outrage among Wyoming Republicans, who pushed for the special session to begin even if the rules were not yet finished. However, doing so made it more difficult for lawmakers to craft legislation to block a mandate without knowing its details.
That didn’t stop many lawmakers from trying to exclude Wyomingites from the Biden administration’s mandate. But as of Wednesday evening, all but one bill had died.
In the process, lawmakers ran into a number of recurring roadblocks and arguments.
With almost every amendment and reading of the bills, senators and representatives remained concerned about trapping businesses in between conflicting state and federal law, the lack of details about the executive order and the constitutionality of both Biden’s mandate and the laws they were trying to pass.
There was also the recurring question of whether the legislation was even a remedy at all.
“We are meddling and making a mess of the laws of this state, for the businesses and individuals,” said Sen. Tara Nethercott, a Republican lawyer from Cheyenne. “I urge you to trust the process of all three branches of government . ..Let the court do their jobs and determine the constitutionality.”
But those in favor of moving anti-mandate legislation forward expressed a different view.
“What I don’t advocate for is the other branch, the legislative branch, is to sit on the side of the road and watch the cars go by, because we have a responsibility and certain duties,” said Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs.
“What we’re going to do to [businesses] is not perfect, but it’s no worse than what the federal government is doing,” said Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep.
Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, was speaking to various groups of representatives Wednesday evening about possibly staying in session to override a potential veto on House Bill 1002 from Gordon. The governor, who has yet to take a public stance on the bill, has three business days to deliver a decision and both chambers need a two-thirds majority to override a veto.
Follow state politics reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis