Legislator Introduced Budget Amendment to Fire Wyoming Health Officer

in News/Coronavirus/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, introduced an amendment to the latest state budget bill this would that would have dismissed the Wyoming public health officer, but it was rejected by House members.

Gray introduced the amendment during the Wyoming House of Representatives’ second reading of the state’s supplemental budget bill Wednesday, but it was defeated in a voice vote.

“I’m bringing an amendment this afternoon to the budget to dismiss the state health officer,” Gray wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “The actions of the state health officer and the Governor’s office over the past year have been unconstitutional and wrong for Wyoming.”

The amendment would have defunded Dr. Alexia Harrist’s position as the state health officer and would have put her responsibilities on the director of the Wyoming Department of Health until at least September.

During the floor session, Gray explained to his colleagues that he has seen a “disturbing” pattern over the last year.

“The masking, the fear, it’s done tremendous damage to our state, to our economy, to our psyche,” Gray said.

He pointed to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who he called a brilliant leader and he said has become a “huge light” in the country by going against what was politically correct and what “the media was pushing.”

Gray added that the state wouldn’t be without a health officer for long, as the Senate has a bill that would allow the Legislature to confirm appointment to the position.

Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, agreed with his colleague about the amendment, but Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, found the amendment “troubling.”

“This is probably one of the most troubling amendments that I’ve seen in a budget bill since I’ve been in the session,” he said. “In that it looks to be vindictive against an individual trying to do their job. My point is, if you were hired to be the state health officer, you’re going to do what you think is best.”

Larsen added he felt Harrist did what she thought was best for the state, despite taking abuse from legislators about what an “idiot” she was.

“Do we want to do the same thing for every state employee, because we don’t like the way they patch the road?” Larsen said. “This is not the way we do business in Wyoming.”

It wasn’t clear how many representatives voted for and against the amendment since it was a voice vote.

The Legislature has been considering at least five bills related to public health orders and the authority of state and county health officers in the wake of the pandemic.

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