By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The two bills aimed at countering a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate still alive in the Legislature’s special session cleared their first hurdle in the state Senate on Monday despite arguments they will do little to protect workers against the mandate.
Wyoming’s Senate approved HB1001 and HB1002 in their first full floor review as supporters argued both bills struck a needed balance between the desire to mitigate the impacts of the mandate proposed by President Joe Biden and the needs and rights of the state and its workers.
“We are trying to strike a balance between having a case to make in court without chewing the innocent up along the way,” Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said of HB1002.
The Biden administration has proposed a vaccine mandate for federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people.
The Legislature called itself into a special session to chart Wyoming’s response to the mandate. Twenty bills were initially proposed for consideration during the session, but only two having to do with the mandate cleared either chamber. HB1001 and HB1002 were both approved by the House last week before it adjourned to return on Wednesday.
HB1001 would prohibit employers with more than 100 employees or those that have contracts for services with the federal government or work with Medicare or Medicaid from making vaccination a condition of employment unless they could prove such a mandate is important for their business.
The bill was approved for a second reading in the Senate on Tuesday despite arguments it does little to shield employees from the mandate.
“This does not push back on the federal mandate,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper. “It continues to make more state regulations for the employees and the employers. I don’t think we need more mandates from the state on employers.”
Many legislators have said the proposal could leave affected employers caught in the middle of trying to adhere to both state and federal laws, but Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that reviewed both bills, said the bills were amended to keep them from taking effect unless the legal challenges filed against the mandate are successful.
The amendment to HB1002 will allow state and local public entities to continue receiving federal assistance until a final determination is made on the constitutionality of the mandate in federal courts, Perkins said. The bill would prohibit those entities from enforcing a vaccine mandate, but not take effect until the federal mandate is found unconstitutional.
Perkins said without such safeguards, people who rely on that federal assistance could lose needed services if the federal government cuts off funding during the debate.
“This is not ideal for those who want to press the battle, but it will certainly save a lot of casualties going forward,” he said.