Wyoming Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said there is a 90% likelihood that the Legislature will hold a special session to address President Joe Biden’s sweeping national vaccine mandate.
Driskill told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he envisioned a two- to three-day session where legislators would focus on strategies to fight the president’s mandate which would, in effect, force thousands of Wyoming workers to receive a COVID vaccine or be fired.
“The Legislature has listened closely to the people of Wyoming,” Driskill said. “We agree with the people that this is egregious overreach by the Biden administration. It is worthy of whatever the expense is to fight for Wyoming citizens’ rights.”
Driskill said he was with Gov. Mark Gordon when word of the mandate first surfaced last week and it was like a “shot in the gut” when he heard it.
“It was crushing,” he said. “It is massive overreach for the feds to dictate to private business what their employees have to do.”
Biden last week announced that federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies with more than 100 workers would be required to either get the vaccine or be tested for coronavirus weekly. The rules would be enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which could levy fines against companies that fail to comply with the order.
Driskill said legislative leadership began talking immediately about ways to address the mandate.
“Obviously we are going to sue,” Driskill said. “There is no doubt the governor’s going to join in and sue. But suing takes time and we are working up against hard deadlines here.”
Driskill and Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said all legal and legislative options must be pursued.
“The president’s mandates touched a nerve of opposition across this state,” Dockstader said. “It’s important the Legislature respond to that concern and thoroughly be prepared with methodically prepared legislation.”
Driskill said this is where the Legislature could get creative.
Because state law cannot supersede federal law, Driskill said, more outside-the-box strategies could be employed.
One example would be to follow Colorado’s lead and just ignore the feds, he said.
“Colorado ignored federal laws with pot,” he said alluding to Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana despite federal laws. “We can obviously take a look at that and say we are not going to do it.”
Another interesting strategy, Driskill said, was to use federal COVID funds to pay for federal fines imposed on businesses that don’t follow the mandate.
“It’s obviously COVID-related,” he said. “We can use those funds to pay the fines for business.”
Driskill said the state could order state OSHA employees to “stand down” and enforce only the rules the state wants enforced.
The state could help employees who are fired for not following the mandate, he said, by paying for unemployment benefits and assisting with finding other jobs.
Because the federal mandate does allow employees to take weekly COVID tests instead of a vaccination, Driskill said the state could reimburse businesses or employees for the costs of rapid tests.
Driskill also said the state could help to “widen the window” for exemptions to the federal law.
“There’s always been a history that you can’t be challenged if you are using a religious exemption,” he said. “You can’t challenge it.”
“We need to make sure the feds aren’t onerous in denying those exemptions,” he said.
If The Vaccine Works
Driskill said he’s not opposed to vaccinations. He’s vaccinated himself.
He thinks vaccinated people shouldn’t be threatened by the unvaccinated “if the vaccine works.”
“I get that you can get the shot and get COVID,” he said. “But overwhelmingly, it’s pretty minor and you aren’t likely to die from it.”
“So we shouldn’t force things on people when if you’ve got a vaccination, you really shouldn’t be threatened,” he said.
As for the session itself, Driskill said it would likely be conducted via video conferencing instead of in-person as the cost savings would be significant.
The governor’s office did not tip its hand on whether or when the governor might call a session although some have speculated he would make an announcement this week.
His spokesman, Michael Pearlman, said the governor has been “in initial discussions with legislative leadership regarding the potential for a special session.”