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Despite Failed Lawsuit, Plaintiffs Hope Legislature Will Change Nomination Process for Vacant Seats

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A federal lawsuit filed over the way nominees are picked to fill vacant statewide offices may convince the Legislature to take action to change the existing process, according to a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“My hope is that once the public is made aware of the nomination process … and they see who were nominated as a result of the procedure followed by the Wyoming GOP central committee, the Legislature will amend the statute to require that all such nominations be based on the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ …” Sheridan attorney Rex Arney told Cowboy State Daily.

“After all, Jillian Balow was elected on that basis and it should not be any different when selecting a person to replace her,” he said.

Arney’s comments came after a federal judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order that would have prevented Gov. Mark Gordon from appointing a new superintendent of public instruction.

“I respect the judge’s decision, even if I disagree with it,” Arney said.

Judge Scott Skavdahl on Thursday rejected a request to block Gordon from selecting a new superintendent from a list of three nominees given to him by the Wyoming Republican Party’s central committee.

Shortly after the judge’s decision, Gordon named Brian Schroeder the new superintendent to finish out the unexpired term of Balow, who resigned earlier this month to take a similar job in Virginia.

The request for a temporary restraining order was filed at the same time as a lawsuit filed by Arney and 15 others seeking to overturn the way the Republican Party selected the nominees whose names were submitted to Gordon.

Under state law, Gordon was required to select a person to fill out Balow’s term — which expires in January 2023 — from a list of three nominees provided by the Wyoming Republican Party.

The party’s central committee selected three nominees Saturday, but the selection was challenged by the lawsuit filed Tuesday claiming the process was unconstitutional. The group, which included several other former legislators, claimed that because every county got three votes in the selection process, counties with small populations had a disproportionately large influence over the outcome.

Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not respond to Cowboy State Daily requests for comment about Skavdahl’s decision.

But Joey Correnti IV, chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party, said if the former legislators involved in the lawsuit were truly worried about the process, they could have changed the law while they were in office.

He pointed specifically to Tom Lubnau, a former Wyoming House Speaker.

“This is clearly a legislative issue,” he said. “If there was a legitimate concern about how our replacement process is conducted, you’d think the former speaker .. would have had those concerns and addressed them when he had an opportunity.”

Correnti said he was not surprised by the judge’s ruling.

Correnti described the legal action as an assault by a minority group of Republicans against the mainstream of the party in Wyoming.

“My take is it’s another attempt by a splinter group of progressives, called the Frontier Republicans, to bankrupt the legitimate Republican Party,” he said.

Frontier Republicans, according to the group’s website, is a “grassroots organization dedicated to promoting civility, engagement, and conservative values in Wyoming politics.” The group is registered with the secretary of state’s office as a political action committee.

Gaily Symons, treasurer for Frontier Republicans, noted that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Republicans, Democrats and independents.

“This lawsuit has nothing to do with the Frontier Republicans,” said Symons, who is also a plaintiff in the action. “Basically, Frontier Republicans has become the boogie man for the state Republican structure.” 

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State GOP Wants Investigation Into Legitimacy of Rep. Dan Zwonitzer

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By Ellen Fike and Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The leadership of Wyoming’s Republican Party is asking the secretary of state to determine whether a legislator has moved out of the district he was elected to represent.

The party’s central committee agreed Saturday to ask the secretary of state’s office to look into whether Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, has moved out of House District 43, the district he has represented since 2005.

The decision was made in response to a concern raised by Joey Correnti IV, chairman of the Carbon County Republican Party, who said he wanted to see if the central committee thought the issue merited further review.

“I have a concern; I don’t have an indictment,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I don’t know that the secretary of state won’t forward it to the attorney general’s office, but I would assume that between those two offices, those are the appropriate departments to address it or at least look at it.”

Zwonitzer did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s calls or emails seeking comment.

Under Wyoming law, if a legislator moves out of the district he or she was represented to elect, the office is considered to be vacant.

During the central committee meeting, Correnti told committee members he was presented with information such as property deeds and tax records that indicated Zwonitzer may be living outside of HD 43. 

The issue came to his attention, Correnti said, through his involvement in the legislative effort to redraw House and Senate district boundaries to conform with the latest state census results.

He added he was concerned because some proposals reviewed by the Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which is co-chaired by Zwonitzer, had proposed reconfiguring HD 43 to include the neighborhood where he believes the documents indicate Zwonitzer may be living.

“Over the past two weeks, I’ve been provided with documentation that convinces me there’s a legitimate concern that Rep. Dan Zwonitzer … is now practicing as an illegitimate representative of his district, from outside of his district,” Correnti told committee members. “Every plan for redistricting I have seen from Dan Zwonitzer has expanded from his current district to include the residence he has potentially moved into.” 

Correnti told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that he was contacted by others who expressed concern over redistricting efforts.

“I’m not going to take credit for doing the legwork, but I reviewed some of the information, spoke to a couple of people in the party and reviewed our statutes,” he said. “I felt at a certain point members of the party needed to have (the information), see it, know about it and see if there was enough concern to raise the issue with the secretary of state.”

Correnti stressed he is not accusing Zwonitzer of any wrongdoing, but he does want the issue examined.

“Government is administered on behalf of ‘We the People,’” he said. “It’s incumbent on the people to do the legwork and stay on top of it to be sure the government is administered on our behalf.

“Maybe it’s something concerning, maybe it’s easily explained,” he said. “It’s not a condemnation.”

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Bill To Exempt Outfitters From Wyoming Lodging Tax Basically ‘Cleanup Legislation,’ Industry Group Says

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

State representatives plan on introducing a bill to once again make backcountry guides and outfitters exempt from Wyoming’s lodging tax.

Guides and outfitters in the state have been seeing business boom since the pandemic ushered in a new age of outdoor recreation, but they have had to deal with an inconvenient change since 2020. Until just over a year ago, backcountry camps were always exempt from lodging taxes, but when rates went up and a new statute went into effect, backcountry camps were reevaluated to qualify as lodging.

State Reps. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, a former outfitter, and Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, plan to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session to clear up language surrounding backcountry camps, ensuring they return to their exempt status, the Casper Star-Tribune reported last month.

“This basically for lack of a better word is pretty much cleanup legislation to reinstate that exemption in the statutes that backcountry camps were going to be considered under the lodging tax,” Sy Gilliland, president of Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, told The Center Square.

Currently, the tax is 5% on all lodging services with 60% of the revenue going to the Wyoming Office of Tourism to advertise the industry at a state level, according to the Star-Tribune. The rest goes to local tourism offices.

Winter argued that the state offers very little marketing support for the outfitting industry and taxing them to support it isn’t fair.

Gilliland said facilities provided on backcountry hunts don’t meet the spirit of what lodging is, noting camps typically consist of a wall tent with no running water or electricity.

Nobody could understand why they would have to pay a lodging tax to sleep in a wall tent, he pointed out.

Hunting businesses that operate out of a true brick-and-mortar lodge would still have to pay lodging tax, he added.

“The legislature – they understand what backcountry camps are and the intent was never to institute a lodging tax on a tent camp, it was just an oversight and an interpretation that they fell under this statute,” he said.

The burden of paying the lodging tax for the past year mostly fell under accounting, said Gilliland. Outfitters had to carve out a portion of their total price for hunts to account for the tent accommodation and pay taxes on that, he explained.

“It’s going to be a miniscule amount of money that’s returned to the state on that lodging tax,” he said.

Gilliland doesn’t expect the bill to be controversial and thinks it will pass easily.

“It’ll be good for less accounting and of course less having to explain to a client why he’s being charged lodging tax to stay in a wall tent, which will be kind of nice not to have to have that conversation,” he said.

If the bill passes it would take effect July 1.

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Park County GOP Accuses Sen. R.J. Kost Of Vaccine Mandate ‘Conflict’

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Leaders of the Park County Republican Party contend state Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, has a conflict of interest — his concurrent service on the Powell hospital board — that should have prevented him from voting in October’s special session on vaccine mandates. However, Kost says he’s been assured by counsel that his dual roles do not present a legal problem.

The county party’s central committee voted unanimously this month to send a letter to Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill and Secretary of State Ed Buchanan that accuses Kost of violating state rules and laws related to conflicts of interest. It asks Hill and Buchanan to “investigate this situation and take the most serious action warranted under the authority of the Wyoming Constitution, the Senate rules and Wyoming State Statute, up to and including criminal prosecution.”

“It asks for — if there is criminal liability — that criminal prosecution,” precinct committeeman and letter author Troy Bray of Powell explained at the Dec. 2 meeting.

However, Powell Hospital District attorney Tracy Copenhaver told Kost in a written analysis last month that there is no conflict of interest from serving in the two capacities.

If the Park County Republican Party wants to make a big deal out of the issue, that’s their business, Kost said when the party first drafted the letter in November.

“I did what I needed to do to make sure I was still legal; I was legal,” he said. “From there, so be it.”

Kost has served on the Powell Hospital District Board and the related Powell Valley Healthcare board since 2011. He was reelected to the district board in 2018 — the same year he won a four-year term in the state Senate.

Wyoming law allows people to hold more than one elected office, so long as the entities they represent do not provide funding to each other. In this case, the Legislature does not directly appropriate money to the Powell hospital, Kost said. For instance, any state grants are awarded by the State Loan and Investment Board, which is controlled by the five statewide officials rather than the Legislature.

“There’s nothing that I could do that could influence the amount of money that our hospital would receive,” Kost said. He said the hospital’s attorney, Copenhaver, assured him in 2018 that holding the two positions did not run afoul of the state’s restrictions on holding more than one elected office.

However, the issue was raised amid the recent special session, called in response to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

Declaring a conflict

Kost drew scrutiny from some local conservatives after proposing an amendment to Senate File 1003, a bill that aimed to prevent businesses and other entities from discriminating on the basis of a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status. Kost took issue with the entire concept, feeling it would pit employers against employees and force businesses to choose between violating state law or federal law.

Looking to get hospitals “out of the middle of that bill,” Kost sought to amend the legislation to allow health care providers like Powell Valley Healthcare to “refuse, withhold from or deny employment opportunities based on a person’s COVID-19 vaccinations status or on whether the person has a COVID-19 immunity passport if necessary to protect the health and safety of patients or of employees who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.” It also allowed providers to “exercise reasonable measures imposed through the least restrictive means” based on a person’s vaccination status.

After learning of the amendment, Vince Vanata of Cody, who is the Park County Republican Party’s state committeeman, issued a personal “call to action,” saying Kost might have a conflict of interest because of his role on the hospital board.

After receiving pushback, Kost ultimately withdrew his amendment and recused himself from the vote on SF 1003.

“Due to concerns from certain people, I am going to declare a conflict and not vote on this,” he announced on the Senate floor.

Vanata sent another email saying a “battle” had been won, saying Kost recused himself “because people became aware of his ties to the healthcare industry, and voiced their concerns to him.”

“Moreover, the senator may have realized his positions put him [in] direct conflict with his ability to vote and serve the people of the State of Wyoming,” Vanata wrote.

The letter approved by the Park County Republican Party’s Central Committee this month says Kost’s dual roles created “a substantial Conflict of Interest in matters concerning the vaccine mandates” and that he should have removed himself from voting due to a “significant financial or personal interest.”

The rules of the House and Senate define a “personal or private interest” as being when a lawmaker will receive “a direct personal or financial gain or loss if the measure or bill is enacted.” It must also be “a greater benefit or a lesser detriment” than the general public or another large group of people.

The party’s letter does not say what they believe that Kost stands to personally gain or lose from the vaccination mandates.

“In case somebody didn’t check, you don’t get paid for being on the hospital district and so there’s no financial gain for me in that,” he said.

Although Kost briefly recused himself, he went on to vote on other legislation in the session after being reassured by Copenhaver that he did not have a conflict.

“They said there’s not any problem,” he said, “and so that’s where it ended.”

But the Park County Republican Party is hoping for an investigation into Kost’s actions, with enthusiastic support for the letter approved this month. When Bray finished reading the document, it was met with an “amen” and a round of applause.

The 26 precinct committeemen and women present at the Heart Mountain Clubhouse — representing 30 of the committee’s 78 members — voted unanimously to approve the letter, followed by another round of applause. One of Sen. Kost’s legislative colleagues, state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, was among the committee members present for the vote.

Bigger battle

Kost has been at odds with more conservative members of the local party for some time, saying at a September panel discussion that they are “looking for somebody to be their puppet, not to think on their own and look for what’s best for Wyoming.”

“I’m not here to fight with them,” he said this month. “I’m just here to keep doing what I think is right for the people.”

While the letter only complains of a conflict of interest, more conservative Republicans in the state have expressed unhappiness that the special session ended without a more forceful push against the Biden administration’s mandates.

Last month, the state party passed a resolution strongly condemning Republican lawmakers who voted against some of the bills, saying they failed to protect the people of Wyoming. The measure was among 11 resolutions passed by the state party — including one saying they would no longer recognize U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney as a Republican and others opposing mask and vaccine mandates and critical race theory.

Vanata said some of the measures incorporated text from Park County Republicans.

“What we are saying and what we are doing here in Park County is making a difference,” he told the body on Dec. 2.

Vanata also discussed a resolution the Laramie County Republican Party brought to November’s state party meeting, which called for action against Bray. The Powell precinct committeeman had sent a profane email to state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, in September, which took issue with the way she handled an earlier bill on coerced vaccinations. Bray told Nethercott in part that, “if I were as despicable a person as you, I would kill myself to rid the world of myself” and closed with “F— YOU C—.” 

Speaker of the House Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, and Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, asked the Park County Republican Party and Wyoming Republican Party to join them in calling for Bray to resign his post.

The two GOP organizations did denounce Bray’s language, but the county party declined to discipline him and the state party rejected Laramie County’s proposed resolution. Wyoming GOP leaders modified the resolution to condemn two state lawmakers, Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, and Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, rather than Bray.

“It went beautifully,” Vanata said of that result.

As the meeting came to a close, Park County Republican Party Chairman Martin Kimmet told members to continue to be tenacious.

“They try to wear us down and they try to beat us up, and in Park County we haven’t let that happen,” he said. “We’ve stood up to them, we’ve been strong.”

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Report: Wyoming Legislature Ranks Near Bottom For Representation Of Women

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came in near the bottom in a new report that shows the gender parity in state legislatures across the nation.

The state ranked third for gender parity among state legislatures, with only 15.6% of its legislators being women, according to a report published by New American Leaders, a nonprofit organization that recruits people of immigrant heritage to run for elected office.

This is actually a slight increase compared to 2015, when 13% of the Legislature was made up of women.

The two lowest states for gender parity in legislatures are are West Virginia (13.4% of its legislators are women) and Tennessee (15.2%).

Gender parity is defined as the equal contribution of women and men to every dimension of life, whether private or public.

Women serving as legislators in Wyoming are: Sens. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne and Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston and Reps. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, Shelly Duncan, R-Lingle, Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie, Andi LeBeau, D-Riverton, Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody.

Research organization Wyoming Women’s Action Network pointed out that Wyoming’s legislators are not offered certain benefits to make policies, unlike some states such as California and Michigan, which have full-time legislators and pay them tens of thousands of dollars per year.

“Our state legislature meets in January and February. Cheyenne is far from many, many, many of our legislators’ homes making a commute impossible (even if it weren’t the dead of winter),” Wyoming Women’s Action Network wrote in a blog on Monday. “There is no access to health insurance, retirement benefits, or childcare. So, in addition to the logistical and geographic challenges, there are significant economic and family constraints, too.”

The State of Pay report from the New American Leaders recommended five key policies that would close the representation gap and improve representation and policies for all communities: make state legislatures full time, create independent compensation committees, provide funds for full-time support staff, address the need for childcare and invest in candidate recruitment and training.

Wyoming legislators currently make $150 per day when the legislature is in session. They also receive a $109 per diem, but they can choose to not take this.

The top state for gender parity in its legislature was Nevada, where 54% of its legislators are women.

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Wyoming Legislators Have Mixed Reaction To Special Session, Don’t Feel Bill Is Effective

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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.

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During Mandate Discussion, Members Frequently Debate Whether Vaccine Works

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

As Wyoming legislators on Wednesday discussed the pros and cons of a state bill aimed at countering President Joe Biden’s proposed federal vaccine mandate, the efficacy of vaccines and masks were debated yet again.

Often when a senator has expressed doubt about the safety of the vaccine or the benefits of wearing a mask in the battle to slow the spread of coronavirus, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, speaks up to offer an opposing position.

The same thing happened on Wednesday.  Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, said she had information that showed “the vaccine was not safe” and recipients have been effected by various side effects including paralysis, heart attacks, and death.

“We need to think about lives being lost,” Hutchings said on the Senate floor. “People are dying from this vaccination.”

“An employer being able to tell somebody you will take this vaccination or not work with me and they take it and then the next day, they die. What is that going to do? What is that going to do to our cities and towns when police officers, firefighters, and medical workers who are no longer there?” she said.

Case responded shortly after Hutchings’ remarks and said because legislators were speaking to “all of Wyoming today . . . it was important that we try to be as accurate as we can be especially about things like the vaccine.”

Case said it is important that lawmakers rely on the advice of the medical community “not with the junk that comes about on the Internet that’s been passed around 1,000 times about data that doesn’t exist.”

“You’re more likely to survive COVID-19 If you’ve been vaccinated,” Case said. “Most of the people severely ill in our hospitals right now are unvaccinated.”

Case said he was aware that not everyone in the medical community supports the use of masks and vaccinations, but most do.

“I’ve heard from them, you’ve heard from them, and I respect them,” Case said. “The vaccines are pretty safe. If you are going to survive COVID, you’re better off vaccinated,” he said.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, told his colleagues the Senate should not be discussing he effectiveness of the vaccines at all.

On Tuesday, he said discussing the mandate is one thing but discussing if vaccinations work was “dangerous.”

“It’s dangerous when a body of non-experts start debating science and judging what is and what isn’t correct,” Rothfuss said.

Rothfuss’ pleas were not heard. Immediately after his statement, Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, the owner of a septic draining business, tried to explain to members why he believed the COVID vaccine is imperfect.

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Gray Says Harshman’s Disparaging Comments Come From Lack Of Accountability

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, addressed the disparaging remarks made about him from one of his fellow representatives last week.

In a statement, Gray said that Rep. Steve Harshman’s, R-Casper, comments followed Gray’s request for a recorded vote on an amendment following a debate last Thursday.

“Rep. Harshman’s wrong comments demonstrate how some members of the Legislature react when conservatives call for accountability through recorded votes,” Gray said. “It’s troubling that some members of the body view other members that way. I will continue to stand for accountability in government.”

While votes on amendments are most often cast as voice votes, lawmakers may ask that the vote on an amendment be recorded so it will be clear which legislators voted for or against the amendment.

Gray said he asked for the recorded vote on the amendment because “it’s pivotal for elected officials to be on the record about the work they do.”

Harshman did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Harshman, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at Gray.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

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Senate Kills Anti-Vaccine Mandate Bill Citing Business Concerns; One Bill Remains

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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.”

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Harshman Won’t Be Censured For Dropping F-Bomb & Swearing At Colleague On Hot Mic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A representative from Gillette has decided to not to seek the censure of one of his colleagues for breach of conduct, he confirmed to Cowboy State Daily.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues on Friday that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body this week, but he said Tuesday he had changed his mind.

“I simply evaluated what would lead to the best result as far as maintaining decorum as we go forward with technology like video conferencing,” Bear told Cowboy State Daily late Tuesday.

“The public nature of censure and the potential divisiveness of the debate would not improve the legislature’s reputation nor our decorum, so I chose a more private path of petitioning leadership to change the consequences to something more appropriate and more likely to reduce further breeches of decorum,” he said.

During a House debate on Thursday, the third day of the Legislature’s ongoing special session, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, who was participating in the session by Zoom, was overheard using foul language directed at fellow Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

“Chuck Gray, f*****,” he was heard saying. “Little f*******.”

Harshman, the former Speaker of the House, did not realize his audio was on when he made the comments.

Harshman was reprimanded on Friday by his successor, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who identified three breaches of conduct Harshman committed on Thursday: Addressing the body without permission from the chair, using a name of another member and inappropriate language.

Harshman’s Zoom privileges were also revoked for the duration of the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

A censure, a formal expression of disapproval with no binding effect, must be approved by a majority of those in the House. Had representatives voted to support it, Harshman would have been the first legislator in recent history to be censured.

Bear had said last week he would bring a motion to censure Harshman and one possibly one other unidentified House member when representatives returned to the Capitol to resume the special session Wednesday.

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