One of the most conservative bills in consideration by the 67th Wyoming Legislature was killed Monday.
House Bill 66, which would have prohibited Wyoming businesses, health care facilities and schools from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, failed its third reading on the House floor by a narrow 32-29 vote.
Had it passed, the bill would have moved to the Senate for consideration.
What may have been the death knell for HB 66 was an amendment added Monday that would have pulled $847 million from state coffers to cover possible losses of federal government funding as result of enacting the restrictions.
It also would have violated the Wyoming Medical Assistance and Services Act.
HB 66 would’ve prevented any publicly accessible facility in the state from mandating COVID-19 public health measures like vaccinations and wearing face masks.
The bill survived Friday when an amendment was added making it a criminal offense to enforce health mandates.
Would It Happen?
Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, brought the amendment Monday morning to move $847 million from the legislative stabilization reserve account to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Most of the debate on the House floor centered on the likelihood of the federal government pulling hundreds of millions of dollars from Wyoming in response to HB 66.
That would decimate the state’s health care facilities without a way to make up for those losses.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, described the potential to lose so much federal money as the Legislature playing a game of chicken with the federal government.
“Is it fair or right? I don’t know, but you don’t risk people’s lives,” Zwonitzer said. “We can’t afford to be playing with this many people’s lives that are in hospitals, in critical health care facilities.”
An Empty Threat
Rep. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, disagreed, finding it incredulous that the federal government would actually pull funding.
He mentioned how more than a dozen U.S. states have legalized recreational marijuana even though it is federally prohibited. Those states have not lost any federal money as a result.
Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, compared those lawmakers who supported the amendment to domestic violence victims.
“This reminds of an abused spouse,” Bear said. “At some point we have to have the courage to do the right thing.”
A few opponents of the amendment also said a special session could be called if the feds did retaliate.
Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, found fault with this argument. He described the idea that legislators or Gov. Mark Gordon might be able to quickly find nearly $1 billion in lost health care money on short notice as “fantasy.”
The amendment to add the $847 million passed 36-25, but ultimately HB 66 as killed in a vote taken immediately after.