A bill that would prohibit hospitals, businesses, schools and any other facility from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations and other related health requirements has passed a Wyoming Legislature committee, albeit narrowly.
State Rep. Sarah Penn, R-Riverton, gave an impassioned plea to support House Bill 66 shortly before the vote was taken in the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee meeting Friday morning.
She brought up historical health discrimination to make her point that personal liberties should take priority over considerations for overall public health.
“Go back in history a little bit further and people of different skin colors weren’t allowed to walk in the same door, they weren’t allowed to use the same drinking fountain,” she said. “Looking back on that, we don’t find that acceptable.
“But in that timeframe, it was perfectly acceptable. Just because the culture allows it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to infringe on a human right.”
The bill, titled “Prohibiting Mask, Vaccine and Testing Discrimination” passed out of committee on a close 5-4 vote.
While it ultimately passed, HB 66 will move forward significantly weakened and narrowed from what it was as introduced.
A previous version of the bill prohibited all vaccine mandates for COVID-19 and any other infectious virus or disease. This would have included other diseases like measles, mumps, polio and rubella.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, was the lead sponsor of the bill and successfully passed an amendment removing the broad scope of the bill, thus narrowing the focus of it to COVID-19.
Another amendment removed all penalties for those found guilty of implementing COVID-related requirements at their business. That amendment made by Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, passed 5-4.
But without penalties, there is no accountability to not following the law, countered Ward.
She said Yin’s amendment “essentially guts the bill. If there’s no penalty for not obeying the bill, then it’s not really a bill is it?”
But the bill advancing out of committee is still a victory for Ward.
Casting the possible swing vote was Rep. Kevin O’Hearn, R-Casper, who said he had previously opposed the bill after a Wednesday meeting of the committee. He changed his opinion Friday, mentioning how an amended HB 66 does not prevent facilities from requesting the public adhere to COVID protocols.
“Now I’m a yes, but I’ll probably vote no on the floor,” he said. “I want to hear more from the different people that said there’s still questions to be heard.”
About a dozen people testified before the House Labor Committee on Friday, continuing a discussion that had started earlier in the week.
A number of health practitioners expressed concern with the bill Wednesday, but Friday’s discussion was dominated by proponents.
Lander resident Jennifer Scribner said she believes children are less healthy today than they were in the past, mentioning how cases of childhood autism have risen. She also said children today receive significantly more vaccinations than they have historically.
“I don’t understand as a public citizen how I’m able to trust these agencies and how any mandates could be forced on our public,” she said.
Scribner said the only vaccine she has allowed her child to have caused regression and seizures eight months after the shot was given. She also claimed she and her husband have read every clinical trial on vaccines.
Cheyenne resident Bryan Dawe also spoke in favor of the bill, but made it clear he felt it needed to be narrowed to COVID-19 only.
“There are vaccines – smallpox, polio – where we have clear historical evidence that that vaccine not only prevents adverse symptoms, infection in the individual, but also supports strongly (fighting) the spread of the associated disease in people around the individual,” he said.
A few others like Taylor Jacobs, a school psychologist who lives in Lander but worked in a school district in a different area, spoke of how they lost their jobs when they refused to get a COVID vaccine.
“Not only did I receive financial loss because of this, I was shamed and ostracized by many people I considered friends,” she said.
She said 20 employees were let go from positions at her school district with no exemptions given.
‘Fake’ Pandemic Has Been ‘Inconvenient’
Dan Sabrosky, a member of the staunchly conservative Liberty’s Place 4 U Wyoming group, described the pandemic as “very inconvenient to deal with” and “fake.”
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, chairs the Labor Committee and voted against the bill.
He showed exasperation a few times during Friday’s meeting with the number of people who wanted to testify and reprimanded Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Casper, at one point for speaking out of line in his request to talk.
There still were a few opponents of the bill who testified.
“This (bill) language implies that even if students are ill, and if staff are ill, we cannot require them to go home,” said Janet Farmer, a school nurse in Cheyenne who also is the Wyoming director for the National Association of School Nurses. “With this in place, schools would become even larger incubators of illness and disease.”
Rep. Ken Clouston, R-Gillette, also voted against the bill, expressing appreciation for Ward drafting the bill, but also concern about the possibility of more severe COVID variants arising in the future.
“We’ve lost the trust in the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a lot of our personal rights were violated,” he said. “We haven’t controlled it, these vaccines haven’t worked. I just don’t want to handcuff us in the future that if something worse with Covid comes on that we’re not able to take precautions that we may need.”
Ward made an amendment lowering the penalties for those found guilty of enforcing Covid regulations from a maximum $5,000 fine to $750, and one year in prison to six months. These are the standard misdemeanor punishments in Wyoming.
This amendment passed but was later reduced by Yin’s.
The bill moves to the House floor.