By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A bill that would prohibit some employers from requiring their workers to get the coronavirus vaccination to keep their jobs died in the Senate on Wednesday, leaving just one bill as the product of the Legislature’s special session.
Senators voted twice to kill HB1001, agreeing that as it was amended in the Senate, it amounted to the Legislature dictating to businesses about how they should respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m now entering my 20th year of holding elected office … and I’ve never seen an overreach by state government to regulate business as egregious as this is,” said Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper. “It doesn’t push back on the federal government. It ends up with Wyoming employers suing … to set aside a law that we passed that we said would help them.”
Of the 20 bills filed for consideration in the special session, only two remained as of Wednesday morning. The only bill alive after the Senate’s action was HB1002, which would prohibit state and local government entities from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House, where members voted to reject Senate changes and convene a “conference committee” to iron out House and Senate differences in the bill.
The action came in the seventh day of a special session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a federal coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by President Joe Biden. Under the proposed mandate, federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies that employ more than 100 would have to get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested regularly for the illness.
HB1001 would have prohibited employers with 100 or more employees, those with federal contracts and those that deal with Medicaid or Medicare from making vaccination a condition of employment unless the employer could prove such a mandate was critical to their business.
Perkins said he knows the owner of a road contracting company who will not bid for federal projects because of concerns the vaccine mandate could apply to his company.
“That’s how it’s supposed to work,” he said. “It’s not us making the decision for every employer. The employers get to make those decisions for themselves.”
The bill was voted down despite arguments from its supporters that the state needs to take some action to prevent its residents from being forced to get the coronavirus vaccine against their will.
Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, noted the bill still prevented some employers from imposing a vaccine mandate on employees and that it should be sent to the House for further work.
“It’s all in the bill,” he said. “We need to send this bill (to the House) for their concurrence. To kill this bill and not even give it an opportunity to go (to the House) does a huge disservice to our constituents. If this was all just a charade to run us all down different rabbit holes and at the end of the day have us kill the bill … that’s a disservice.”
But opponents such as Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said approval of the bill could send the message that Wyoming is not business-friendly.
“We desperately need to be a good place for business,” he said. “If you’re a business person … I think your read is we’re making it harder, more confusing and more difficult and that Wyoming is not really a good place to think about being part of the future because it’s not going in the right direction, and because it’s not consistent and because frankly, sometimes when the Legislature gets together, it gets a little scary.”