By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming legislators had mixed reactions to the outcome of their weeklong special session that concluded Wednesday with one bill passed.
As sent to the desk of Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature, HB1002 would prohibit public entities at the state or local level from enforcing a federal coronavirus mandate on employers.
However, public entities that receive federal assistance and which could lose that funding by defying the mandate would be exempt from the law. The law would be in place as long as the proposed federal mandate, which is being challenged by several states, is blocked in court from taking effect or is ultimately repealed by court action.
The bill would also set aside $4 million to have the state attorney general help Wyoming residents who were injured or whose livelihoods were damaged by the vaccine mandate sue the federal government.
Rep. Chris Knapp, R-Gillette, said in a Facebook Live video along with some of his House colleagues that the most important thing accomplished this session was that legislators stood up for the rights of Wyoming residents.
“It seems like this was an opportunity for us to have a special session, go on the offensive, actually be proactive, protect your rights and at the same time, protect business rights,” he said. “I think that was one false narrative was this hurt businesses.”
Throughout the session, legislators struggled to strike a balance between preventing residents from being forced to get the vaccine against their wills and protecting businesses that may want or have to adopt a requirement that their employees get the shots.
The major piece of legislation to survive the first four days of the session, HB1001, which would have prohibited certain employers from requiring their workers to get the vaccine, died in the Senate on Wednesday when senators agreed it imposed too much of a burden on the state’s employers
That left HB1002, which Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, called a “feel-good” bill that doesn’t actually address the issue at hand, as the only bill out of 20 initially filed for consideration to clear the Legislature.
Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said he did not regret a minute of the special session and that his colleagues did the best they could, but agreed with Haroldson that the bill does “very little,” a sentiment shared by Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie.
“After 7 days, $175,000+ in tax payer money, and a whole bunch of debate, we have passed one bill that does effectively nothing,” she said in a social media post. “I fought for science and public health and I will continue to do so from my home district.”
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told Cowboy State Daily that even though he does not believe HB1002 was the best piece of legislation passed out the Legislature, he does believe the discussion and debate he saw among his colleagues was “high-caliber.”
He particularly highlighted the work done by Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
“I think this session validated my point that we needed to slow down and not (do) all of this in three days,” he said. “I’ll take some credit for that, for promoting we not suspend the rules.”
While Case didn’t support HB1002, he did feel the session was worthwhile, as it reached people across the state and taught the lesson that vaccinated and unvaccinated people are just going to have to get along.
Case also joked that President Joe Biden waited until after the Wyoming Legislature adjourned to send out the new rules about the vaccine mandate, which were issued late Wednesday.