By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A bill that would ban some Wyoming employers from using a person’s coronavirus vaccination status as a condition of employment won final House approval on Friday despite criticism that it does little to actually oppose a proposed federal vaccination mandate.
The House voted 38-20 to send HB1001 to the Senate for review on Monday, the fifth day of the special legislative session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a vaccination mandate for health care workers, federal employees and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 people.
The bill won final House approval after supporters argued it gave the state a good base from which to fight against the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.
“This is an attempt for us to say this is what we think ought to be done,” said Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette. “I’d say this is a compromise. I believe this compromise is a good one. It sets up exemptions that are appropriate and they will eventually go before the court system and I think they set up a good marker for what Wyoming’s position is.”
The Legislature called itself into session to determine a response to the Biden administration’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect.
As originally proposed, HB1001 would have prohibited employers from using a person’s vaccination status to determine whether they would keep their jobs, although employers would be able to adopt their own vaccination mandates if they could prove the step was necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workplaces.
As amended, the bill would extend the prohibition only to companies employing more than 100 and those with federal contracts or that work with Medicaid or Medicare, leaving other businesses free to adopt their own rules regarding vaccinations.
Opponents said the state has in essence created a new mandate to put on companies already faced with the possibility of dealing with a federal vaccination mandate.
“I’m arguing against this bill because I really think that we have overstepped and the state will now be guilty of doing the same thing we are upset at the federal government for doing, which is overreaching and putting their nose into somewhere it doesn’t belong,” said Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander.
Others maintained that while legislators entered the special session thinking they would offer a law to give the state a way to battle the federal mandate, the resulting legislation will not accomplish what they hoped.
“If your only goal was not to affect businesses and push back against the federal mandate, this bill doesn’t do that,” said Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.But supporters including Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said the bill was a good starting point that could be refined as it moved through the remainder of the process.
“We have a bill that says we’re going to respect people’s rights about what they’re going to do dealing with this vaccine,” he said. “It says in Wyoming you can have a mandate, you just have to do it the right way.”
Greear said by setting out the conditions by which businesses can implement their own vaccine mandates, the state has created certainty for businesses.
Also approved in its third reading by a vote of 41-14 was HB1002, a bill that would prevent Wyoming officials from enforcing any federal vaccination mandates and explaining the Legislature’s opposition to the vaccination mandates.
The bill was approved for Senate review next week despite criticism that it accomplished little.
“We’ve been here four days at $25,000 a pop for two bills, the second one where it’s ‘Let’s beat my chest real hard, go home and say we did something,’” said Yin. “I’m not sure how this bill does anything different than what the governor is already doing.”