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More Than 1,200 Wyo Bridges Need Fixing But The State Lacks the Resources To Fix Them

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

More than 7% of Wyoming’s 3,114 bridges on Wyoming’s public roads are structurally deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory.

But the state lacks the money to pay for the necessary repairs to bring all of the deficient bridges up to code, according to state officials.

A bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, collapsed last week, dropping a Port Authority bus and several cars into a park below and injuring 10 people. Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for the percentage of bridges that are considered structurally deficient. 

Wyoming, on the other hand, is ranked 20th in the nation in the percentage of its bridges considered structurally deficient, defined as a bridge where one key element is in poor condition.

“Deficient does not mean dangerous,” said Mark Madsen, a civil engineer based out of Cheyenne who serves on the Wyoming Workforce Council and is currently the Associate Vice President of the Wyoming Contractor’s Association. 

“It’s deficient, meaning it needs upgraded,” he said. 

Roy Cohee, former state House Speaker who served in the Legislature from 1999 to 2010, told Cowboy State Daily that reliable roads and bridges are very important for companies like the one his family owns, C&Y Transportation.

“In my family, we’ve been in the heavy trucking business for 53, 54 years,” he said, “and highway safety and the construction and the maintenance of it was incredibly important to us.” 

Cohee said reliable roads and bridges are critical for a state like Wyoming in the absence of multiple transportation options.

“We don’t have much public transportation, no trains, no intrastate air travel, so people have to drive,” he said. “It’s important to be sure that the highways are constructed properly in the first place, but maintained to the point that they will last a good long time.” 

The state has identified needed repairs on 1,216 bridges at an estimated cost of $529.4 million.

However, the state’s budget in the last few years has seen a steep decline due to a decrease in mineral royalties, cutting into the amount available for such work.

“Just four or five years ago, we were only replacing four bridges a year,” Madsen pointed out. “I mean, just doing simple math, we’re expecting a bridge to last 400 years.”

But in those same four or five years, the state has made progress. In 2017, 291 bridges in Wyoming were classified as structurally deficient – in 2021, that number was down to 230.

“As a former member of the Wyoming Legislature, like anything, things are prioritized,” Cohee said, acknowledging the lawmaking body’s historically conservative attitudes towards spending.

“Wyoming’s Legislature doesn’t like to tax much. It’s very, very difficult to get anything through our revenue committee, let alone the legislature,” he said. “So it’s tough to get the Legislature to agree to any type of enhancement to taxation, even if the infrastructure is, frankly, in need of some additional funds. It’s very difficult for them to even consider a fuel tax.”

Cohee added that the legislature has to consider the spending needs for programs other than transportation, even if highway safety casts a long shadow on the state’s culture and economy.

“They recognize that fine balance, about what needs to be funded with public resources, highways being one of them, but you have community colleges, you have public schools, and many other things, water development, all of those things take money. But the Legislature then, and I’m sure now, realizes that without a decent highway system, a state where the people move from one place to the other is incredibly important, particularly for Wyoming’s people.”

Cohee said he was confident the Wyoming Department of Transportation would be able to keep highways and infrastructure safe for traffic.

“Coming from that industry group, I always felt that Wyoming did a really, really good job that entire time that we were in that business keeping track of their highways and the construction and the maintenance of it, and have done an extremely good job,” he said.

Paul “Cactus” Covello, former chair of the Wyoming Transportation Commission and current member of the Wyoming Business Council, agreed that WYDOT and its partners have a good handle on the safety of Wyoming’s highways and bridges.

“I like to think that the engineers in the state’s departments do a pretty good job of inspecting the bridges on a pretty regular basis,” Covello told Cowboy State Daily. “Obviously, in our state, some of them have a little bit of age on them, but you’ll find that they’re out looking at them pretty closely.

“I know, here in Goshen County, they’ve done an extensive job of going out and inspecting bridges for wear and tear,” Covello continued. “Now, oftentimes on the overpasses and stuff like that we have trucks come along and do some damage, but I think for the most part bridges are in pretty good repair.” 

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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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Wyoming Senate Changes Bill To Allow COVID Test Rather Than Vaccination

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill designed to prevent some employers from imposing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on their employees was changed Tuesday to allow workers to keep their jobs without vaccinations if they are regularly tested for coronavirus.

As the Senate approved HB1001 in its second reading Tuesday, it adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, which she said would give employees an option other than getting a coronavirus vaccine against their wills to keep their jobs.

“If we allow employers to force a drug on their employees without knowing the immediate or future health implications, we are making the employee no better than a slave,” she said. “This amendment will allow us to have a stay (from the federal vaccine mandate) until the lawsuit is resolved and allow the employer to follow the plan and make sure employees are tested.”

The amendment came in the sixth day of a special legislative session called by the Legislature to determine Wyoming’s response to the mandate proposed by President Joe Biden. Under that mandate, federal employees, health care workers and workers for companies with more than 100 employees would have to be vaccinated or regularly tested for coronavirus.

HB1001 originally said employers could not force employees to get a vaccine unless the employers could prove the vaccination was essential to their business.

Hutchings said her amendment would provide an alternative to a vaccination mandate while adhering to the administration’s proposed rules, even though she said those rules violate the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions.

Wyoming is one of several states to file legal action against the mandate. As it stood Tuesday, the bill and its prohibitions against vaccine mandates would not take effect until the legal challenges to the federal mandate have been settled.

Senators rejected an amendment that would have the bill take effect immediately rather than after a resolution to the legal challenge, agreeing businesses that would be subject to the federal mandate could lose federal contracts and support while the issue is settled in court. 

“Let’s shake our fist at the man,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “Let’s do it. But let’s not put a business in front. We’re all frustrated. We all want to fight. But do you want to fight your own fight or do you want to shove the viability of our state and our businesses … under the bus?”

The amendment was rejected despite arguments that unless the state takes a position against the mandate, the legislation is meaningless.

“We have a choice to send a strongly worded letter and shake our fists and stomp our feet but ultimately do nothing,” said Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan. “I don’t think that’s why the folks back home sent us down here. If we don’t pass this amendment, this bill doesn’t do much. This is a fight we must fight.”

The bill was approved for a third reading on Wednesday, as was HB1002, which would prohibit state and local government entities from enforcing a vaccination mandate.

Both bills were approved last week by the House, which is to return to the special session on Wednesday.

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Explainer: What Is The Cost Of The Special Session?

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By Ellen Fike Cowboy State Daily

The cost of the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will reach at least $125,000, according to latest state calculations.

However, the final cost breakdown will likely not be known for several weeks, according to the Legislative Service Office.

Costs for the special session will vary depending on how many members of the Legislature decide to waive the daily allowance they get to cover living expenses, which is $109 per day, and how many days they waive it and how many members participate remotely.

The payment, called a “per diem,” covers expenses such as lodging (excluding taxes), meals and incidental expenses. Since some legislators live in Cheyenne or within driving distance to the Capitol, they may choose to waive their per diem for whatever reason.

Legislators must notify the LSO of their intent to waive some or all of their per diem, and much of this does not occur until the session has adjourned, the LSO explained.

However, it does cost around $25,000 per day for the Legislature to convene, which comes from the legislators’ salaries ($150 per legislator per day) and per diem.

With 90 legislators (30 in the Senate and 60 in the House), the salary pay would amount to $13,500 per day. However, since the House of Representatives has not met two days of the session, this could reduce the cost by around $18,000.

The $125,000 figure assumes both chambers will meet for at least five days, four days last week and at least once this week.

Additionally, the cost to employ the 12 part-time LSO staffers during the special session is approximately $2,000 per day, meaning the state could spend nearly $175,000 by the time the session ends, if you factor in costs from the Senate meeting for two days ($9,000 for two days) and whether the legislature adjourns on Wednesday.

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Wyoming Business Owners Express Concern With Mandate Legislation

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Business leaders from across the state are urging legislators to proceed cautiously in their work on bills to temper a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

More than 40 officials and representatives from numerous different businesses and industries spoke for more than five hours on Monday either in defense or opposition to the two bills in the Wyoming Legislature related to vaccine mandates.

The Senate Appropriations committee on Monday heard hours of testimony about HB1001 and HB1002 from people all over Wyoming.

HB1001 would prohibit employers with more than 100 employees or those that have contracts for services with the federal government or work with Medicare or Medicaid from making vaccination a condition of employment unless they could prove such a mandate is important for their business.

HB1002 would prohibit state and local entities from enforcing a vaccine mandate, but not take effect until the federal mandate is found unconstitutional.

Jeff Chapman, chief medical officer of Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said HB1001 would make it difficult for his hospital to do business.

“My fear is the impact of the bill is going to create chaos,” he said. “As written, I think the impact is going to be chaos in terms of how we’re going to enforce it and how are we going to implement.”

Chapman raised concerns about religious exemptions, and suggested the bill allow employers to create a process to figure out what constitutes a religious exemption.

He questioned whether it would be enough to have someone state in a letter that they object to a vaccine due to religious reasons or if employers would have to go further and require some type of letter of confirmation from a clergy member.

Chapman said this has been an issue at the Cheyenne hospital and officials have tried to figure out how to deal with it.

Last week, a Banner Health employee in Worland testified that her religious exemption request to prevent getting the COVID vaccine was denied.

“I’ve been a born-again Christian since the age of 8,” Lorena Stewart said last week. “I think everybody was shocked when my request got denied. They want us to jump through these hoops, they didn’t want to make it easy.”

During his testimony, Chapman also suggested including some type of language in the bill about people getting medical exemptions to the vaccine.

Brett Glass, a small business owner in Laramie, told the lawmakers that there was nothing “good or useful” in either bill, and called on them to consider rejecting both.

“Neither actually nullifies anything that the Fed is likely to do,” he said. “They are both going to be superseded by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

He added that the legislators were fighting regulations with more regulations.

Mary Kate Buckley, president of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, also expressed concern about both of the bills. She noted that the resort employs 500 people year-round and more than 1,000 during the tourist season.

The resort also holds a contract with the federal government, due to it sitting on federal land.

“Following the law is very important to me, and as a leader, I need create clear expectations for my team at the mountain and we need to have an environment of certainty on how to operate our business on a day-to-day basis as a federal contractor,” she said. “Our federal contract status is critical to our business and we want to do everything we can to follow federal law, as well as Wyoming law.”

Nathan Anderson, a Union Pacific representative, also pointed out to the legislators that the railroad company is a federal contractor and will have to abide by the mandate. He said to avoid unnecessary and expensive legal battles, he proposed an amendment to HB1001, which would basically keep the bill from affecting federal contractors.

“This amendment helps to further move us toward both a safe operating environment and a recovery of our supply chain system,” Anderson said.

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Video Footage Vindicates Wyoming Rep. Against Assault Charge

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

State Rep. Landon Brown is challenging an allegation that he pushed a constituent in the Capitol last week by releasing video footage of the alleged encounter to the public.

Jane Killingsworth posted to a Laramie County news page on Facebook that Brown, R-Cheyenne, was “rude and pushed me out of the way” when she spoke to him as he was exiting the State Capitol on Wednesday.



The video of the incident released on Monday morning showed that other than a handshake, Brown had no contact with Killingsworth.

The charge spurred a number of condemnations of the legislator on social media, along with accusations that he assaulted Killingsworth. However, the video does not appear to support the allegation.



The footage showed Killingsworth trying to engage Brown in a conversation in the Capitol lobby. 

After the two shook hands, the footage showed Brown attempting to leave the conversation, but Killingsworth continued to hold his hand and repeatedly stepped in front of him. 

The video shows Brown eventually walking to Killingsworth’s side after ending the handshake, but it does not show Brown having any other physical contact with her.

“The video proves that I did nothing, which is exactly what I knew happened,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily.  “If anything it shows the bullying tactics used by individuals to try and harass and intimidate public officials.”

Fellow Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne, witnessed the encounter and confirmed Brown’s account.

“It wasn’t even close,” Olsen said. “She had his hand and wouldn’t let go, she was restricting his movement. He pulled his hand back, and turned his body away from her to step around her.”

“Rep. Brown freed his hand, and finally stepped around her,” Olsen continued. “She screamed down the hall at him telling him he would not forget this day,” Olsen said.

Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, also backed Brown’s account, saying Killingsworth’s allegation is “clearly false.”

“I was just a few feet from them. You can see me in the video,” Western said.  “She was clearly very upset about something and kept standing in his personal space. Landon handled it very well in order to avoid any type of physical contact.” 

Brown said he had a telephone conversation with Killingsworth the night before when she said he needed to step down because he wasn’t voting the way she preferred.

“I tried to talk to her about other points of view and she wouldn’t stop interrupting me and yelling. I gave her the opportunity to stop and told her I would hang up and she screamed she didn’t care so I hung up,” Brown said.

Killingsworth left Brown a voicemail shortly after the phone call which he shared with Cowboy State Daily.

“If I have to endure your talking down to me, then you have to listen to me,” she said in the voicemail. “The bottom line is you have a constitutional duty to protect all of the citizens of the State of Wyoming from government overreach. That includes mandates, that includes vaccinations, and that includes people like Cheyenne Regional Medical from making medical decisions for me. So do the right thing Landon and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Western said that he and his colleagues welcome the opportunity to speak with their constituents but added that following “basic decorum is important.”

“If you want to have a respectful conversation with your representative, great, but don’t put yourself in front of someone else and refuse to move,” he said. 

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Two Vaccine Mandate Bills Win First Senate Approval

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The two bills aimed at countering a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate still alive in the Legislature’s special session cleared their first hurdle in the state Senate on Monday despite arguments they will do little to protect workers against the mandate.

Wyoming’s Senate approved HB1001 and HB1002 in their first full floor review as supporters argued both bills struck a needed balance between the desire to mitigate the impacts of the mandate proposed by President Joe Biden and the needs and rights of the state and its workers.

“We are trying to strike a balance between having a case to make in court without chewing the innocent up along the way,” Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said of HB1002. 

The Biden administration has proposed a vaccine mandate for federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies that employ more than 100 people.

The Legislature called itself into a special session to chart Wyoming’s response to the mandate. Twenty bills were initially proposed for consideration during the session, but only two having to do with the mandate cleared either chamber. HB1001 and HB1002 were both approved by the House last week before it adjourned to return on Wednesday.

HB1001 would prohibit employers with more than 100 employees or those that have contracts for services with the federal government or work with Medicare or Medicaid from making vaccination a condition of employment unless they could prove such a mandate is important for their business.

The bill was approved for a second reading in the Senate on Tuesday despite arguments it does little to shield employees from the mandate.

“This does not push back on the federal mandate,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper. “It continues to make more state regulations for the employees and the employers. I don’t think we need more mandates from the state on employers.”

Many legislators have said the proposal could leave affected employers caught in the middle of trying to adhere to both state and federal laws, but Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that reviewed both bills, said the bills were amended to keep them from taking effect unless the legal challenges filed against the mandate are successful.

The amendment to HB1002 will allow state and local public entities to continue receiving federal assistance until a final determination is made on the constitutionality of the mandate in federal courts, Perkins said. The bill would prohibit those entities from enforcing a vaccine mandate, but not take effect until the federal mandate is found unconstitutional.

Perkins said without such safeguards, people who rely on that federal assistance could lose needed services if the federal government cuts off funding during the debate.

“This is not ideal for those who want to press the battle, but it will certainly save a lot of casualties going forward,” he said. 

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Explainer: What Does It Mean To Be Censured In The Wyoming Legislature?

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, could become the first legislator in recent history to be censured for a breach of decorum, if his colleagues vote to do so this week.

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. One is likely Harshman, but Bear did not clarify who the second was, saying he wanted to speak with the member first.

The Legislative Service Office told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that no legislator had been censured for breach of decorum in recent history. A censure is a formal expression of disapproval that has no effect.

Bear’s announcement comes after Harshman lost his privileges to participate remotely in the Legislature’s current special session. The action was Harshman’s punishment for an incident Thursday when Harshman, 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.

House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, handed down the punishment after identifying 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.

“Your conduct was unbecoming, so I want to condemn it, clearly,” Barlow said.

Bear on Friday announced that as a result of the incident, he would seek to censure Harshman, a move he originally planned to make on Monday. However, the House is not in session again until Wednesday.

According to the Wyoming Legislature’s rules, which the Senate and House of Representatives voted on during the legislative session in the spring, reprimand or censure of a legislator shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of the elected members.

The censure would remain on LSO records.

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With No Bills Pending, Wyoming House Breaks Until Wednesday

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Having no intention to introduce the lone piece of legislation approved by Wyoming’s Senate, Wyoming’s House Speaker announced Friday that representatives would not return to the floor of the Capitol to continue their special session until Wednesday.

Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, announced he would not move to introduce SF1019, which does not deal with a proposed federal coronavirus vaccination mandate, basically allowing it to die.

With no pending legislation before the House, Barlow said he saw no reason for the body to reconvene before Wednesday.

“(The Senate) did not send us a COVID-19 related bill,” he said. “They did send us a bill that is related to another subject and it’s not my intention to introduce that bill and refer it to committee.”

The special session that began Tuesday was called by the Legislature to chart Wyoming’s response to the mandate proposed by the administration of Joe Biden.

The House approved two bills related to the mandate, one prohibiting some employers from requiring their workers to get the vaccine to keep their jobs and another saying agencies in the state will not enforce the mandate. Those bills now move to the Senate for review next week.

The Senate killed its only mandate-related bill, which would have prohibited people who have not received the vaccine from being discriminated against, while approving one other bill, which would allow law enforcement officials with the Wyoming Gaming Commission to participate in the state’s retirement system.

Barlow said throughout the special session that he would not introduce legislation that did not relate to the mandate.

The Senate is expected to spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday reviewing the House measures and representatives will return to the floor on Wednesday to look at any changes proposed by the Senate.

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Wyoming House Approves First Anti-Mandate Bill Despite Criticism It Does Little

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would ban some Wyoming employers from using a person’s coronavirus vaccination status as a condition of employment won final House approval on Friday despite criticism that it does little to actually oppose a proposed federal vaccination mandate.

The House voted 38-20 to send HB1001 to the Senate for review on Monday, the fifth day of the special legislative session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a vaccination mandate for health care workers, federal employees and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 people.

The bill won final House approval after supporters argued it gave the state a good base from which to fight against the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“This is an attempt for us to say this is what we think ought to be done,” said Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette. “I’d say this is a compromise. I believe this compromise is a good one. It sets up exemptions that are appropriate and they will eventually go before the court system and I think they set up a good marker for what Wyoming’s position is.”

The Legislature called itself into session to determine a response to the Biden administration’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect.

As originally proposed, HB1001 would have prohibited employers from using a person’s vaccination status to determine whether they would keep their jobs, although employers would be able to adopt their own vaccination mandates if they could prove the step was necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of their workplaces.

As amended, the bill would extend the prohibition only to companies employing more than 100 and those with federal contracts or that work with Medicaid or Medicare, leaving other businesses free to adopt their own rules regarding vaccinations.

Opponents said the state has in essence created a new mandate to put on companies already faced with the possibility of dealing with a federal vaccination mandate.

“I’m arguing against this bill because I really think that we have overstepped and the state will now be guilty of doing the same thing we are upset at the federal government for doing, which is overreaching and putting their nose into somewhere it doesn’t belong,” said Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander.

Others maintained that while legislators entered the special session thinking they would offer a law to give the state a way to battle the federal mandate, the resulting legislation will not accomplish what they hoped.

“If your only goal was not to affect businesses and push back against the federal mandate, this bill doesn’t do that,” said Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson.But supporters including Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said the bill was a good starting point that could be refined as it moved through the remainder of the process.

“We have a bill that says we’re going to respect people’s rights about what they’re going to do dealing with this vaccine,” he said. “It says in Wyoming you can have a mandate, you just have to do it the right way.”

Greear said by setting out the conditions by which businesses can implement their own vaccine mandates, the state has created certainty for businesses.

Also approved in its third reading by a vote of 41-14 was HB1002, a bill that would prevent Wyoming officials from enforcing any federal vaccination mandates and explaining the Legislature’s opposition to the vaccination mandates.

The bill was approved for Senate review next week despite criticism that it accomplished little.

“We’ve been here four days at $25,000 a pop for two bills, the second one where it’s ‘Let’s beat my chest real hard, go home and say we did something,’” said Yin. “I’m not sure how this bill does anything different than what the governor is already doing.”

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Wyoming Senate Defeats Bill That Would Have Prohibited Vaccine Discrimination

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Senate defeated a bill on Friday that would have prohibited people from being discriminated against based on whether they have received the coronavirus vaccine.

Senate File 1003 would have prohibited using a person’s vaccination status to bar them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities or from accessing areas otherwise open to the public. The bill was defeated by a vote of 13-15 in its third and final reading in the Senate.

The bill was one of three still being considered by legislators in the special session called to chart Wyoming’s response to a federal vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. The mandate would apply to federal employees, health care workers and workers at companies employing more than 100.

Rep. Charles Scott, R-Casper, spoke against the bill Friday, expressing concern about its implications for those trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“What I’m afraid we’re going to do with this bill, and with some of the others, is to put something into law that prevents some of the efforts to be sensible in trying to deal with what really is a deadly disease,” he said. “I think we would have been better served maybe to deal with some of these issues in our next regular budget session when we would have what the federal government is doing right in front of us and know what problems they might occur.”

The bill was killed despite arguments by supporters that the state needs to take some steps against overreach by the federal government.

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, recalled a time he was in Baltics and saw soldiers enforcing the “lack of personal freedoms” by demanding to see identification papers carried by citizens. SF1003, Cooper said, was designed to prevent such developments in Wyoming.

“It is about passports, it’s about personal freedoms and it’s about where this country is headed if we don’t stop,” Cooper said. “We have to stand up at some point and draw that line in the sand.”

Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, said the situation with the vaccine mandate came down to a person choosing between a “forced vaccination” or putting food on the table, noting that many of his constituents have called to tell them they would be out of a job Monday due to their refusal to get a COVID vaccine.

Banner Health, which runs several health care facilities in Wyoming, has ordered its employees to get the vaccine by Nov. 1 in order to keep their jobs.

While Salazar expressed some concern about the bill, he voted in support of it.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, pointed out that there is a big difference between discriminating against someone for their sex, religion or race compared to their vaccination status.

“We’ve morally agreed that we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of color or race, we’ve come to that agreement there is not a downside,” he said. “There very much is a downside with respect to vaccination status.”

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Rep. Harshman Apologizes For Cursing At Rep. Gray During Session; Has Remote Privileges Revoked

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative apologized to fellow representatives on Friday morning after he was caught on a live microphone cursing one of his House colleagues and was punished by losing his privileges to participate in the Legislature’s special session remotely.

During a debate on Thursday, Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, was participating in the Legislature’s special session remotely via Zoom when he was heard 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.

He appeared in person at the beginning of the fourth day of the session to apologize to the body and Gray in particular.

“What happened yesterday was a breach of conduct on the floor of this house and it’s not acceptable and I come here to apologize for that,” Harshman said. “We’ve all worked very hard to keep that decorum, so I apologize for that. It’s wrong and I know better than that.”

Harshman apologized for creating a distraction, particularly during the special session.

Speaker of the House Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, 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.

“Your conduct was unbecoming, so I want to condemn it, clearly,” Barlow said.

Due to these breaches, Harshman had his remote privileges revoked, meaning he would have to attend the rest of the session, which will last until at least Wednesday, in person.

Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told his colleagues that he was going to bring a motion to censure “one member and possibly two members” of the body on Monday. One is likely Harshman, but he did not clarify who the second was, saying he wanted to speak with them privately first.

“I don’t come to you with this lightly,” Bear said. “We should have already been on our best behavior, but that’s not what happened at the end of the debate.”

He asked the legislators to fast over the weekend, so they could be focused in prayer because their votes on Monday could be “pivotal.”

Bear said the incident reaffirmed his belief that allowing legislators to take part in sessions remotely would hurt the decorum of the Legislature.

“Being in a room like this, (decorum) has to be elevated so high in our hears and minds,” he said. “I feared at the time that Zoom would lighten that up.”

Carbon County Republican Chair Joey Correnti said people should have the same outrage over Rep. Harshman’s language that they did over a GOP precinct committeeman’s obscene email to a state senator “if they wanted to be looked at as relevant and legitimate.”

“Whether he did it remotely or not does not matter,” Correnti said. “As an elected member of that body his voice went out over the floor of that chamber and in that action the former Speaker of the House Representative Steve Harshman desecrated that chamber by speaking those words on its floor.”

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

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Wyoming Democrats Fail To Introduce Bill To Create COVID Impact Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Democrat leaders in Wyoming’s Legislature on Friday unsuccessfully proposed new legislation that would create a COVID impact support program using American Rescue Plan funds, legislators announced.

House Bill 1021, offered four days into a special legislative session designed to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus madate, would have created a program using ARP funds to provide monetary support for food, medicine, child care, mental health support and lost wages for people and families suffering from COVID impacts.

The bill’s introduction was defeated on a vote of 11-45.

One of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, urged legislators to change their rules to allow introduction of the bill because of the hardships experienced by Wyoming residents because of the coronavirus.

“We’ve heard from our constituents that they have struggled tremendously in trying to access basic necessities,” she said. “If COVID relief funding isn’t meant to ensure that those with COVID are able to access food, proper medical care, and resources while missing work to recover, then I don’t know what it’s meant for.”

But opponents to the bill pointed out it was offered very late in the special session. Under the session’s rules, legislation was to be filed five days before the session began.

In addition, several opponents criticized the program that would be established by the bill.

“”We’re distributing literally hundreds and hundreds of millions of (federal) dollars,” said Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton. “One of the criticisms I hear from my constituency is we’ve been too liberal and we’re actually encouraging people to stay home.”

The program would have been administered through the Wyoming Department of Family Services in coordination with existing social service programs (in an effort to prevent duplication of services), the legislators explained, and it is designed to provide a hand up for those quarantined or recovering from COVID who lack access to basic services.

Benefits under the program shall be initiated by boards of county commissioners who may request increased support to individuals and families suffering from the impacts of COVID-19. 

If the bill passes, $20 million from American Rescue Plan funds will be provided the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute.

“Whether an individual without a support system nearby to help with meals, or a family with lost wages who is deciding between rent and medication, this program is meant to alleviate the unnecessary suffering felt by our Wyoming friends and neighbors,” said Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie.

Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, told Cowboy State Daily that the lawmakers were able to introduce new legislation on Friday due to the legislature working under the 66th legislature’s normal rules.

“Even during a budget session, you can file a bill on the last day of the schedule,” Yin told Cowboy Stae Daily. “We do have some introduction limits based on House Rule 4-5, where we’d need a 2/3 vote to introduce a bill after the 15th legislative day, however, we’re not anywhere near that date”

This is the first new legislation introduced since the special session began on Tuesday, as the deadline for bills was set five days before the session started.

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Wyoming Special Session Day 3: Legislators Grapple With Individual, Business Rights

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s lawmakers continued their efforts to find a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of the state’s businesses Wednesday as they advanced legislation aimed at reducing the impact of a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

While House members worked to fine tune a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring their workers to obtain a coronavirus vaccination against their will, the Senate worked to accommodate what some called a new protected class of people who are unable or unwilling to get the vaccination.

The discussions came during the third day of the Legislature’s special session to chart Wyoming’s response to a federal coronavirus vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Biden has proposed making a vaccine mandatory for federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies that employ more than 100 workers.

The House is examining two measures aimed at countering the mandate. One, HB1001, would prohibit employers from making coronavirus vaccination a requirement for employment except in some circumstances. Those circumstances include that the employer determines such a mandate is critical to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of the workplace and that the employer grants exemptions to the requirement when requested.

Some have argued companies that receive federal contracts would be stuck between the requirements of the state law and the federal mandate and Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, suggested that companies be allowed to adopt vaccine mandates if they receive $100,000 or more in federal funding.

But the amendment was rejected when opponents argued such a rule would amount to discrimination against small businesses that have smaller contracts with the federal government.

Others argued the Legislature has no right to dictate to businesses that may want to adopt a vaccine mandate.

“This is capitalism, folks,” said Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne. “Saying you’re going to stop people from doing what they want to do with their business is not allowing capitalism to take place.”

The bill itself was advanced to a third and final reading on the House floor, scheduled for Friday, and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said he expected to see efforts to kill the bill during that debate.

Also approved for a third reading on Friday was HB1002, which would prohibit the enforcement of federal coronavirus mandates.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, members worked on SF1003, which would prohibit discrimination based on whether a person had received a coronavirus vaccine.

The bill’s language that would prevent anyone from refusing access to services, goods or facilities to those who have not been vaccinated was moved into the the section of state criminal law having to do with discrimination at the request of Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper.

“If you’re going to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status …  we’re going to make that at least somewhat of a protected class for the purposes of public accommodations, then the individuals subject to those laws, particularly the businesses, the stores, the restaurants, the motels … they ought to know they have one place to go to figure out what their obligation is and who they cannot discriminate against,” he said.

Several people said they objected to creating a new protected class of people, but supported the amendment because it made the intent of the bill itself more clear.

“I think this clarifies the bill and makes it more pointed what we’re voting on in third reading,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander. “I don’t think this belongs in the list of protected classes. The amendment restructures the bill so it’s a clear choice when we get there.”

The bill itself was forwarded to a third reading on the Senate floor on Friday.

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Wyoming Special Session To Last Until At Least Wednesday

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The special session of Wyoming’s Legislature, originally scheduled to last three days, will now stretch into the next week at least, the Wyoming Speaker of the House said on Thursday.

Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told his fellow legislators to plan on being at the Wyoming Capitol until at least Wednesday.

“No bills will be accelerated, that means we’ll do third reading tomorrow,” Barlow said. “I don’t see any point working on a Saturday. Then come back Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”

Barlow added that the House, which spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday reviewing two bills, will likely see short days next week when it receives the Senate’s measures. The Senate, which wrapped up its work before noon on Thursday after finishing its second review of two bills, will probably have longer days as it looks over the House bills, he said.

Only four bills remain of the 20 originally proposed in each chamber for review during the special session, called to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

In the House, those bills still in play were HB1001, which specifies that vaccination status cannot be used as a condition of employment except under certain conditions and HB1002, which would prohibit the enforcement of mandates related to coronavirus and reiterate the governor’s authority to take legal action to defend the state against mandates.

In the Senate, SF1003 was the focus of much of Thursday’s work. The bill would prohibit using a person’s vaccination status to bar them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities.

The second bill up for a second reading in the Senate, SF1019, would correct an error in existing law that prevented law enforcement officers for the Wyoming Gaming Commission from participating in the state’s retirement system.

Initially when the special session was proposed, it was only supposed to last three days and would have wrapped up Thursday. However, special rules for the session drafted to speed up the process to accommodate that timeline were rejected.

By law, legislators have up to 20 days to finish the session.

Beginning Monday, the House bills will move to the Senate for review and the Senate bills will move to the House.

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Wyoming Legislature Day 3: Lawmakers Review Four Remaining Bills

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s legislators continued to work Thursday morning on the four bills to survive the introduction process during their special session.

Representatives and senators were in the midst of their second review of the bills, three of which would address the proposed federal coronavirus vaccination mandate and one of which would correct an error in state law.

The session, which entered its third day Thursday, was called by legislators themselves to chart Wyoming’s response to the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

Of 20 bills originally proposed for review by each chamber, the bodies on Wednesday approved two for a second reading on Thursday.

In the House, those bills were HB1001, which specifies that vaccination status cannot be used as a condition of employment except under certain conditions and HB1002, which would prohibit the enforcement of mandates related to coronavirus and reiterate the governor’s authority to take legal action to defend the state against mandates.

In the Senate, SF1003 was the focus of much of Thursday’s work. The bill would prohibit using a person’s vaccination status to bear them from receiving public benefits, services or educational opportunities.

The second bill up for a second reading in the Senate, SF1019, would correct an error in existing law that prevented law enforcement officers for the Wyoming Gaming Commission from participating in the state’s retirement system.

A third bill was placed on the “general file” in the Senate, but there was no immediate indication that the bill would be considered for the special session.

The bill, SF1009, would require employers to provide severance pay for employees who quit or are fired because they are unable or unwilling to take the coronavirus vaccine and would require employers to grant exemptions to their vaccination requirements if employees submit written evidence of an objection on medical or religious grounds.

The measures receiving a second review on the House and Senate floor will most likely be read a third time Friday, when legislators will vote to approve or deny them as amended.

After that, beginning Monday, the House bills will move to the Senate for review and the Senate bills will move to the House.

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Wyoming Special Session Day 2: Lawmakers Work To Balance Individual, Business Freedoms

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming representatives on Wednesday spent most of their day trying to find a balance between the health care freedoms of the state’s residents and the rights of its businesses as they worked to chart Wyoming’s response to a proposed coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Members of the state House approved, in its first floor review, HB1001, which would prohibit employers from requiring coronavirus vaccination as a condition of employment except under certain circumstances.

Supporters of the bill successfully argued the state needed the legislation as a starting point to determine how to reduce the impact of the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“I look at this bill and there’s things about it I don’t like,” said Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. “But we need a vehicle to tell our citizens and our business owners we mean business. We owe it to those citizens out there to try and get this right.”

Debate on the bill came on the second day of the special session called by the Legislature itself to examine ways to reduce the impact of the proposed mandate, which has not yet taken effect. Under the proposal, federal employees, health care workers and employees and companies with more than 100 workers would have to get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

Opponents of HB1001 said they were concerned employers could become stuck between the conflicting demands of state and federal law if they chose to require their employees to get vaccinated.

Others noted that many companies in Wyoming have contracts with federal agencies, which would require employees to be vaccinated.

“This bill will be a burden to our entrepreneurs and it will say we are willing to prioritize the personal freedoms of a hesitant minority over our entrepreneurs who are also our constitients,” said Rep. Trey Sherwood, D-Laramie. “We are pitting staff against job creator in this bill and we are sending a message that says Wyoming is not business friendly.”

But supporters said the bill provides protections for business owners, especially with amendments that removed sections such as one requiring employers to pay a severance package to any employee who quits or is fired because of a vaccine mandate.

Others argued the state needs to stand up to federal overreach.

Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, said in order to get needed back surgery recently, he was told he would have to get the coronavirus vaccine, even though he is self-employed.

“It’s already happened to a one-man crew,” he said. “We don’t have to wait for the president to make a mandate. I think it’s already been made.”

As approved in its first reading, the bill would allow employers to explain to the Department of Workforce Services why protecting the safety of their businesses might require employees to get the vaccination. It would also require employers who do require vaccinations to find a job for their workers who will not be vaccinated in an area where they would not pose a threat to the business.

If the federal mandate is approved and upheld in federal court challenges, the prohibition on employers requiring vaccinations would end.

Also approved for a second reading, scheduled for Thursday, was HB1002, a bill that would prohibit government entities from enforcing any coronavirus-related mandates.

Sponsor Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, the House majority floor leader, said the bill was designed as a “pushback” against the vaccination mandates.

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Sheridan County Senator Compares Vax Status To Racism

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Blocking access to goods or services based on a person’s vaccination status is akin to racism, a state senator said during the second day of the Legislature’s special session Wednesday.

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, made the comments while the Senate was debating Senate File 1003, sponsored by Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, which would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status, as well as prohibit any requirements that a person obtain the coronavirus vaccine in order to receive or access benefits, services or educational opportunities.

“What are we having right now with COVID? Second-class citizens,” he said. “I’m hearing members who are perfectly OK with that; think it’s funny to have a vaxxed bar versus an unvaxxed bar. It’s not funny to have a Black-only bar versus a whites-only bar. We’re beyond that in this country.”

The bill was approved for a second review, schedule for Thursday, despite opposition from some lawmakers who said the Legislature was improperly trying to impose its will on the state’s residents.

“I think this bill looks at one overreach that could possibly happen and then takes another overreach that I think is far more draconian to try and fix it,” Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, said.

Debate occurred during the second day of the special session legislators called themselves to chart Wyoming’s response to a coronavirus vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Measures being considered so far include measures that would make it illegal to base employment on a person’s vaccination status and prohibiting law enforcement from enforcing vaccine or mask mandates.

Under Biden’s proposal, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees of companies with more than 100 workers would have to get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

One proposed piece of legislation named after a Laramie teenager who was arrested following her refusal to wear a mask earlier this month died Wednesday in the Senate.

Senators voted 11-18 to reject HB1010 on Wednesday. The “Grace Smith Medical Freedom Act” would have required county and state health officers to grant a waiver from coronavirus immunization or face mask use requirements to any K-12 student who requests one. This bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, Biteman.

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Wyoming House Committee Hears Passionate Testimonies From Banner Health Employees

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Health care workers are being questioned by their employers about their decisions regarding the coronavirus vaccine, several told legislators on Tuesday.

Two employees from the Washakie Medical Center, a Worland facility owned by Banner Health, shared their experiences with members of the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee who were reviewing three bills proposed for consideration during the Legislature’s special session on federal coronavirus mandates.

Jacob Power, a Washakie Medical Center X-ray technologist in Worland, told the legislators about being called into his manager’s office multiple times to be questioned about whether or not he would get a COVID vaccine.

“I simply told them at that point in time that they do not have the right to ask me that, as that is my personal decision,” Power said. “The people that are working above me, they have no right to look into my medical record without my permission, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Later, he told his bosses that he would seek an exemption from receiving the vaccine, but that his employers did not have the right to question him about his decision.

The special session is being held to chart Wyoming’s response to the vaccination mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden. Under the mandate, which has not yet taken effect, federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies employing more than 100 people would have to get the vaccine or be tested for coronavirus weekly.

The committee was studying three of six bills proposed regarding the mandate. One would prohibit employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment, unless certain conditions are met. Another would require employers to grant exemptions from the mandate requested by employees and the third would require severance pay for employees who are fired or quit because of the mandate.

Banner Health, one of the largest U.S. health system employers, is requiring its employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 1 to keep their jobs. The organization announced this mandate in July.

Banner Health operates multiple health care facilities in Wyoming, including the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and clinics in Torrington, Wheatland, Guernsey, Douglas, Worland and more.

No other Wyoming-owned hospitals or health care systems in the state have implemented a vaccine mandate, although some, such as Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, have created incentive programs for employees who do get vaccinated.

Banner officials said the company is implementing the requirement for several reasons, including the rise of the Delta variant of coronavirus, the need to protect its patients and workforce and to prepare for flu season.

Lorena Stewart, another Washakie Medical Center employee, told the legislators that she had requested a religious exemption from the vaccine, but it was denied. This was the first time in her 17 years of working at the medical center where she has been denied a vaccine exemption. she said.

“I’ve been a born-again Christian since the age of 8,” she said. “I think everybody was shocked when my request got denied. They want us to jump through these hoops, they didn’t want to make it easy.”

Stewart said that up until the last couple of months, she has loved working for Banner Health, but the vaccine mandate has completely changed the atmosphere.

Mary Lynee Shickich spoke as a representative for Banner Health in Wyoming and noted that of Banner’s 1,629 employees in Wyoming, about 160 had not yet received a COVID vaccine. However, she noted that there were processes in place to keep those employees on until the end of November.

Lance Porter, CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center, stated that the company is implementing the mandate due to the fact that the hospital is a resource that the community relies on to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have the obligation to make sure we can staff the beds and make sure we have providers to provide the care that is needed,” Porter said. “I guarantee you that anybody who works in health care got into it to help other people. Regardless of where you fall on the vaccine mandate, we want to help people.”

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Wyoming Legislators Reviewing Ten Bills During Special Session

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Nine bills aimed at reducing the impact of the federal coronavirus vaccination mandate on Wyoming residents and businesses have been selected for further review during the Legislature’s special session.

Lawmakers on Tuesday referred 10 of the 20 bills filed for consideration during the session to committees for review. The original schedule for the special session called for all of those bills to be reviewed by committees Tuesday and returned to the floor of each chamber for final action on Wednesday.

However, the special rules drafted to allow a faster legislative process were killed Tuesday and only a few of the bills referred to committees for review were sent back to the floor for action Wednesday.

Nine of the 10 bills introduced referenced the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

The tenth bill would correct an error in legislation approved in 2020 that prevented Wyoming Gaming Commission law enforcement officers from participating in the state’s retirement system.

The vaccine mandate, which has not yet taken effect, would require federal employees, health care workers and workers at businesses that employ more than 100 to receive the coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing for the illness.

The nine bills related to the mandate propose different approaches to limiting its effectiveness, from prohibiting its enforcement to specifying that employees who quit or are fired from a private sector job because they are unwilling or unable to get a vaccine are eligible for severance benefits.

Here is a list and brief explanation of the bills relating to the proposed vaccination mandate that are being examined:

HB1001 — Prohibiting employers from requiring COVID vaccination as a condition of employment and requiring a severance package for employees who are fired or quit because of vaccine mandates.

HB1002 — Prohibiting the enforcement of the vaccine mandate and setting aside $1 million for legal action against the mandate.

HB1005 — Requiring employers to grant exemptions from the vaccine mandate requested by employees and making employers who fail to grant exemptions liable for damages of up to $5,000.

HB1006 — Requiring health care facilities, government entities and providers of essential services to offer reasonable options for those unwilling or unable to get the vaccination as a condition of obtaining essential products or services or visiting certain areas. The bill would also require employers who require their employees to get the vaccine to prove that any employee not getting the vaccine would create a hardship for or pose a threat to others in the business.

HB1009 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

HB1013 — Specifies that anyone who quits a job because their employer is not complying with the vaccine mandate is eligible for unemployment benefits.

SF1003 — Prohibiting discrimination against any person because he or she has not received the coronavirus vaccine or does not have a COVID “immunity passport.” Any acts of discrimination, such as keeping a person from obtaining servies or good or entering a public space, could be punished by a fine of up to $750 and six months in jail.

SF1004 — Making it a crime (blackmail) to threaten a person’s livelihood, employment or educational opportunities to compel that person to get the COVID vaccination.

SF9 — Requiring severance pay for employees who are fired or quit from their jobs because they decline the vaccination. Also requiring employers to grant exemptions from the mandate for medical or religious grounds. Also allows employees who suffer an injury because of a required COVID vaccination to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

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Wyoming Legislators Continue With Anti-Vaccine Mandate Special Session, Kill Special Rules

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By Ellen Fike and Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The special session of Wyoming’s Legislature dealing with the proposed federal coronavirus mandate will proceed, but without special rules drafted to speed up the process, lawmakers decided Tuesday.

Members of both the House and Senate rejected the special rules, but also voted against adjourning the session, expressing a preference to stay and work out a state response to the vaccine mandate proposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“We fought to get out from under British rule because we said ‘You can’t make me do that, I want representation,’” said Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett. “I want to be able to hear all the information. We have a right to our health care choices. Freedom is choices.”

Biden has issued a mandate that all health care workers, all federal employees and all workers for companies that employ 100 or more either get the coronavirus vaccine or be tested weekly for the illness.

The federal rules needed to put the mandate in place have not yet been issued.

The session, originally scheduled to run three days, was called to let legislators adopt measures spelling out how the state will respond to the mandate.

Twenty pieces of legislation were filed for consideration during the session and special rules were proposed to speed up the process.

Under the proposed rules, the state House and Senate would have reviewed legislation at the same time and then resolved any differences in bills members of both approved in joint conference committees. Usually, a bill begins in one chamber, is reviewed and sent to the second on approval, where the review begins again.

But the rules were opposed by a number of legislators who said they would improperly limit debate and public input on the bills to be considered.

“The whole deliberative process is gone,” said House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie. “The steps that are cut out are really, really important. We’re not listening to the people well enough.”

“The problem I have here is we are compressing what would normally take us a couple of weeks into three days,” said. Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander. “I don’t want to be here, but if I am going to be here, I think we ought to do it right.”

The rules were rejected despite arguments they would allow the Legislature to work more efficiently.

“I think these rules provide us an opportunity to do the people’s work,” said Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs. “These rules, while they are not perfect, afford us the opportunity to have a debate and some limited public participation.”

Votes in both chambers fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve the change, with the House voting 37-20 to adopt the special rules and the Senate voting 18-11 to do so.

Legislative leaders had promised lawmakers that if they rejected the special rules, they would offer legislators a chance to adjourn the special session.

Both chambers voted against adjourning the session, the Senate by a vote of 6-23 and the House by 21-35.There was no debate over the motion in the Senate, but House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette gave representatives a chance to express their opinions on the session.

Several legislators expressed concern because if the mandate takes effect, it could mean a loss of jobs for anyone who chooses not to get a vaccine.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, noted that one private employer, Banner Health, has already imposed a vaccine mandate on its employees effective Nov. 1. Several of the bills awaiting review by the Legislature would prohibit private companies from discriminating against those who have not received the vaccine.

Others argued legislators need to protect the rights of the state’s residents by at least reviewing the proposed solutions to the mandate.

“I don’t know what the result’s going to be,” said Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan. “Let’s look at these bills and look at these people. I don’t know if we strike back at the (federal) overreach or not. I do know we were elected to stand between the federal government and the businesses and people of Wyoming.

Opponents to the session unsuccessfully argued the federal mandate can only be stopped in court, not in the Legislature, and added the session’s schedule of three days would not allow a thorough review of all the issues.

“We have to figure out a way to do this and do it right and I would have to respectfully submit we can’t do it in two days,” said Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne. “Let’s do this right with the right data and the right information.”

Without the special rules, bills introduced for consideration will be reviewed by one chamber of the Legislature and, if approved, sent to the other chamber for review. Any differences between the two chambers will be settled in a joint conference committee.

Committees began their reviews of bills on Tuesday afternoon and both chambers were scheduled to return to the floor for debate on Wednesday.

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Busloads of Anti-Vaccine Mandate Citizens Attend Special Session in Cheyenne

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Hundreds of Wyoming citizens showed up at the Capitol on Tuesday morning to attend the first day of the Legislature’s special session on President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.

At least three buses filled with constituents from eastern Wyoming counties arrived in Cheyenne early Tuesday and the passengers quickly filled the galleries in both the House and Senate.

When capacity limits were reached, others were taken to overflow rooms on the main floor, which quickly reached near-capacity crowds as well.



The organizer of the event, Kristy Tyrney, said she put the gathering together after her health freedom advocacy group received many phone calls from individuals who were worried about losing their jobs because of the federal mandate.

“We were flooded with messages on a daily and weekly basis,” Tyrney told Cowboy State Daily. “Families all across the state afraid of losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

“There are a lot of people who are concerned that there hasn’t been enough research and want to wait for that before they consent to something,” she continued. “And we think that that choice should be respected.”



James Barth, a Laramie County resident who is also running for sheriff in next year’s election, said the main message of Tuesday’s rally was to let legislators know the importance of preserving constitutional freedoms.

“If somebody wishes to go get the vaccine, fine, we’ll get the vaccine, but it should never be forced under the Wyoming constitution and the United States Constitution,” Barth said.

If elected Laramie County Sheriff, Barth said he would “be there to support citizens’ freedoms and liberties.”



Critics of the special session have said it is a waste of time as federal vaccine rules have yet to be presented and because federal law supersedes state law, any attempt to block the administration’s mandate would be futile.

No matter, said the attendees. What’s important, they said, is to send a message that Wyoming won’t stand for it and ultimately victory could be achieved either through the legislative or judicial process.

“We gotta play the long game,” said Chris Robarge, who provided the audio/visual equipment for the rally.  “There’s going to be fights in the courts so hopefully what we can do is slow the process down until we can get some national legislation to address it.”

Cheyenne resident Jeanette Leishman agreed that the debate over federal mandates will end up in court but there was another important reason to attend the rally — to keep an eye on their legislators.

“We’re watching how you’re voting because we will make sure that you are removed and someone else is voted in in your place if you choose to be tyrannical about medical choices for Wyoming,” she said.



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Explainer: How Wyoming’s Three-Day Special Session Will Work

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A three-day special legislative session to consider possible state responses to a proposed federal coronavirus vaccine mandate will begin Tuesday with what legislative leaders hope will be an accelerated schedule.

Before lawmakers can review any legislation, however, they must approve the special rules proposed to govern the session. And while some have said a failure to adopt the rules could mean the end of the session, Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton said other options could be available to lawmakers.

“There may be a fallback,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

The special session has been called to develop Wyoming’s response to President Joe Biden’s proposed coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal employees, health care workers and employees at companies with more than 100 workers.

The rules that would put the mandate in place have not yet been issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

Legislators have already filed 20 bills for consideration during the special session that would take steps such as prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who do not get vaccines or creating exemptions to the federal mandate.

But before lawmakers consider any of those bills, they must approve special rules for the session designed to speed up the process.

Usually, after a bill is introduced in one chamber, it is sent to a committee for review and then returned to the floor for amendments in three separate readings over three days. If approved, it moves to the second chamber, where the process begins again.

Under the rules proposed for this week’s session, identical versions of the bills are to be reviewed at the same time by House and Senate committees on the first day of the session.

On the second day, each chamber will review the bills three more times. If approved in the separate chambers, differences in proposed amendments to the bills will be ironed out by joint conference committees made up of members of each chamber. Those committees are scheduled to meet on the third day of the session, Thursday.

Finished legislation is to be sent to Gov. Mark Gordon for his signature on Thursday.

The special rules, which must be approved in the first day of the session, have generated opposition among some legislators who say the rules will make the legislative process less transparent and will prevent the public from having sufficient say in the bills being considered.

The Wyoming Republican Party, in an email to its members Monday, said if the rules are not approved by two-thirds of the legislators, they could then vote to adjourn the session.

Dockstader said leaders hope the rules are adopted because they have been designed to address the specific needs of this special session.

“We don’t want a situation where we venture into something not charted and these rules are designed specifically for this session,” he said. “This is all very unique.”

If legislators do reject the rules, leaders could call for a vote on adjournment or regroup to develop another plan, he added.

“We’ll recess, discuss our options and come back,” he said.

The recess probably would not last long enough for legislators in Cheyenne to return to their homes, Dockstader said.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” he said. “We’re trying to get some work done.”

Legislators could also consider suspending their normal rules to allow the multiple reviews of bills in one day, said Matt Obrecht, director of the Legislative Service Office.

“The real need for the special rules is to allow the mirror bill process,” he said. “Everything else could be accomplished by suspending rules.”

If the “mirror” bill process was not allowed, that would mean bills would move from one chamber to the other, perhaps adding another day to the session, Obrecht said.

“We’ve got a three-day session planned,” he said. “If we went with a suspension of existing rules, I think the shortest amount of time they could do it in is four days.”

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Wyoming to Hold Anti-Biden Vaccine Special Session

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Although the paper votes have yet to be certified, it appears as though enough legislators have voted in favor of holding a special session later this month.

Several Wyoming lawmakers on Thursday announced they had received word that a majority of both Houses voted (electronically) for a three-day session designed to address President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.

If the paper ballots sync-up with the electronic votes, then the session scheduled for October 26 – 28 will occur.

It was a close vote. 36 members of the House and 18 members of the Senate voted yes on the session. The threshold necessary to commence was 30 and 16 respectively.

“What a huge moment for our state!”, Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) tweeted. “I continue to work on bills for the session.”

“Just got notice there are enough unofficial electronic ‘aye’ votes in both houses to call a special session,” Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) said. “Leadership will wait to officially send a letter stating we are having a special session to the Governor until enough hard copy official ballots are received.  This is good news!”

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) said he was 90% certain the special session would occur because President Biden’s vaccine mandate was an “egregious overreach” of the Biden administration and and it was worthy of “whatever expense to fight for Wyoming citizens’ rights.”

Bills are already being worked on to address the mandate which stipulates that employees who work for companies of more than 100 people must be vaccinated or receive weekly testing.

Gray said his bill would subject companies who follow the federal mandate and penalize an employee to a $500,000 fine per victim.

Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs) said he will introduce a bill that targets a “public servant” with fines and prison time for attempting to enforce the mandate.

“This would allow us to prevent the feds from coming in and implementing any vaccine mandates and it would also forbid  any public servant from enforcing federal vaccine mandates,” James said. “I am currently working on adding teeth to the local public servant part of this statute.”

Last month Driskill said he was more interested in “out-of-the-box” solutions like using federal COVID funds to pay for federal fines imposed on businesses that don’t follow the mandate.

He also said the state could “widen the window” for exemptions to the federal law.

“There’s always been a history that you can’t be challenged if you are using a religious exemption,” he said.  “You can’t challenge it.”

Other Republican leaders weren’t convinced that a special session was a good idea.

“I think there’s a legal fix in the courts,” Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said during a hearing earlier this week. “But I don’t see a way the Legislature can fix this.”

Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) was equally pessimistic.

“Our President’s mandate has no place in Wyoming. Unfortunately, we have no clue what his mandate looks like under rule making process and we would be fighting against a rule that doesn’t exist yet,” Brown said.

Brown went further the state shouldn’t be involved in the first place.

“If a private business wishes to impose hiring protocols that an employee is uncomfortable with, they have the choice to not enter into that employment,” Brown said.

“Likewise, the business should be ready to suffer the consequences of the choices they choose to impose or not impose on their employees and the response from the public,” he said.

An official announcement after the paper vote is expected on Friday.

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Rep. Hans Hunt Steps Down From Legislature To Join Lummis’ Staff in DC

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

State Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, on Thursday announced he is resigning from the Wyoming Legislature to join U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ staff in Washington, DC.

Hunt, who has served for six terms in the House representing Weston, Niobrara, and Goshen counties, will serve as Lummis’ agriculture and trade policy advisor.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the voters of House District 2 for the past 10 years,” Hunt said. “Thank you for putting your trust in me to represent you in Cheyenne for six terms. I cannot thank my family and friends enough for all the support they’ve given since day one.”

Hunt was greeted by a bipartisan display of good wishes on Facebook from many members of the Legislature including State Sens. R.J. Kost, R-Powell and Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, and Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, and Reps. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, Shelley Duncan, R-Lingle, and Jared Olson, R-Cheyenne.

Many former legislators thanked Hunt for his service as well, including former Sen. Tony Ross, and former Reps. Mary Throne, Lori Garrison, Tom Lubnau, and Tom Jones.

Looking back at his 11 years in the House, Hunt told Cowboy State Daily he was proud of serving as Chair of the House Ag Committee and the Select Water Committee.

In terms of legislative accomplishments, he said House Bill 187 was his favorite. The legislation clarifies residency requirements for most elected county officials.

“I’ve passed other legislation over the years of course, but I personally feel that one had the most impact and did the most good in working to solve a problem,” he said.

Hunt’s addition to Lummis’ staff gives it even more legislative firepower, with three former members of the Legislature working alongside the senator.

Hunt will join former Sen. Leland Christensen and former Rep. Tyler Lindholm — although both of them work here in Wyoming.

Lummis herself was a member of the Legislature. At age 24, she became the youngest woman to be elected to the body. She served in both the House and the Senate before joining Gov. Jim Geringer’s office as general counsel.

Note: There’s only one member still serving in the Legislature who was a freshman with Lummis. That’s State Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, who has the most seniority of the entire body.

Both he and Lummis were elected when Jimmy Carter was the president, Ed Herschler was Wyoming’s governor, Warren Morton was the incoming Speaker of the House, and Neal Stafford was the incoming President of the Senate.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl in their first year of office. The Atari 2600 was considered state-of-the-art and Löwenbräu was enjoying its peak of success.

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Park County GOP Disavows Violent Email Telling Wyoming State Senator To Kill Herself

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A strongly-worded email suggesting a state senator kill herself written by an official with the Park County Republican Party does not reflect the party’s opinions, according to the party’s chairman.

However, Martin Kimmet, in a statement issued Wednesday, said there is no way to remove an official such as Park County Republican Precinct Committeeman Troy Bray from his elected office under state law.

“Despite calls for the precinct committee person’s resignation/removal there are no Wyoming state statutes providing for the removal of an elected person,” Kimmet wrote. “We welcome efforts by the Wyoming Legislature to provide a statutory and constitutional process to remove an elected person from their position.”

Kimmet’s comments are in response to an email written by Bray to state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, criticizing the way the legislative committee she chairs handled a bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a proposed bill that would have prohibited the state from requiring its employees to obtain the coronavirus vaccine.

“If I were as despicable a person as you, I would kill myself to rid the world of myself,” said the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Casper Star-Tribune. “You sicken me. Thank you for ensuring that the people of Wyoming are subjected to tyranny once again. F— YOU C—.” 

Kimmet had said earlier that while Bray signed his email as a precinct committeeman, his statements were not made as a party official.

In Wednesday’s statement, Kimmet specified the party does not support the language used by Bray.

“The Park County Republican Party does not condone the language used in a recent email from one of our precinct committeepersons to a Wyoming state senator,” the statement said. “Furthermore, that email is not reflective of the opinion of the Park County Republican Party.”

Kimmet said after he learned of the email, he sent a letter to and called Nethercott to apologize.

The Park County Republican Party’s executive committee has met to discuss the issue and will take up the matter again at a regular meting of the central committee, he said.

“We believe in constructive dialog with our elected persons,” he wrote. “However, we believe such dialog should be respectful.”

State Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for Bray’s resignation.

The two said they would also support efforts to develop “appropriate statutory means” to remove elected officials for such behavior.

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Legislative Leaders Call For Resignation Of Park County GOP Official Who Told Senator To Kill Herself

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The leaders of Wyoming’s Legislature on Wednesday called for the immediate resignation of a Park County Republican Party official who sent a state senator a vulgar email.

Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, issued a joint statement condemning the email sent by Troy Bray, a Park County Republican precinct committeeman, to state Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne.

“The statements made by Mr. Bray are the antithesis to constructive discourse in a civil society and are especially repugnant and intolerable when made by an elected official,” the two said in the statement. “We therefore call for the immediate resignation of Troy Bray from his position as a Park County precinct committeeman.”

Bray on Sept. 12 sent an email to Nethercott criticizing her handling of a bill that would have prohibited the state from requiring employees to get the coronavirus vaccine.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Nethercott chairs, rejected the proposed bill.

The email, obtained by the Casper Star-Tribune, attacked Nethercott for what it called her “shortsightedness and ignorance” and closed with a suggestion she kill herself.

“If I were as despicable a person as you, I would kill myself to rid the world of myself,” the Star-Tribune quoted the email as saying. “You sicken me. Thank you for ensuring that the people of Wyoming are subjected to tyranny once again. F— YOU C—.”

Bray signed the email with his name and official party titles, including his precinct committeeman position.

Martin Kimmet, chair of the Park County Republican Party, told the Star-Tribune Bray did not send the mail in his official capacity.

Dockstader and Barlow said such communications cannot be tolerated.

“Attacking a state legislator through use of violent, lewd and derogatory language cannot and will not go unanswered in Wyoming,” they said. 

The two asked the leadership of the Wyoming and Park County Republican parties to help them seek Bray’s immediate resignation and said they will work to develop “appropriate statutory means” to remove elected officials for such behavior.

“Such a unified response will be a clear signal to all that Mr. Bray’s bullying and intimidation have no place in Wyoming,” the statement said.

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Wyoming Tax Revenues Up $73 Million From Projections

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The tax revenues that pay for Wyoming’s government programs are coming in a bit higher than predicted earlier this year, according to a state report.

An update on the state’s revenues prepared by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group showed that as of the end of March, income for the state’s “general fund,” the main bank account used to pay for state operations, was $45.5 million above what had been predicted in January.

In addition, revenues for the state’s “Budget Reserve Account,” an account used to provide funds for government agencies if money from the general fund runs short, has increased by $25.7 million over projections, the report said.

“Combined, revenue collections are $71.3 million ahead of pace or 6.2% higher than projected at this point in the fiscal year,” the report said.

The CREG is a group of fiscal analysts from various state agencies who track and predict state income. The group’s projections form the basis for the governor’s office and the Legislature as they prepare the state’s two-year budget.

After the Legislature approved a budget for the 2021-22 cycle in 2020, CREG predicted the state would run short of funds by up to $1.5 billion because of slumps in the state’s energy industry and business closures caused by the coronavirus that would reduce tax income.

Gov. Mark Gordon and the Legislature cut the state’s budget by more than $500 million to address the shortfall.

CREG updated its projections in January and predicted growth in some of the state’s tax revenue.

The report released Friday said revenues had grown even more than predicted in January, with sales and use tax collections for the state’s general fund exceeding projections by $18 million through the end of March to total $322.4 million, a 4% increase.

Those numbers could run even higher, the report said, thanks to federal coronavirus relief programs.

“Recent collections do not yet account for potentially increased consumer spending, stimulated by the most recent round of direct individual payments from the American Rescue Plan,” it said.

The biggest gain in sales taxes was from the retail sector, where collections actually exceeded collections by the same point last year by 1.8%.

However, sales taxes paid by the mining sector dropped by 61.4% from last year, the report said.

Despite the slump in the state’s energy industry, severance taxes paid to the state also exceeded projections by $13.6 million, about 10.8%, the report said. Revenues generated by oil production, natural gas production and trona production were all above earlier estimates.

Also topping projections were revenues for the state’s schools, which totaled $264.8 million through the end of March, $11.4 million over earlier estimates.

The report should only be seen as an update to revenue projections and will not be used to make any adjustments in the CREG’s earlier report, said Michael Swank, a senior fiscal analyst with the Legislative Service Office.

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Wyo Legislator: Wyoming Legislative Special Session Will Start July 12

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A state representative told a Cheyenne radio station over the weekend that the Wyoming Legislature’s special session will likely take place in mid-July.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, spoke with KGAB over the weekend and told host Doug Randall that he expected the latest legislative special session to convene July 12 and run for one week. Zwonitzer said all of the state’s legislators have been contacted and told to block out that particular week.

The Legislature is to use the session to discuss the appropriation and distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds.

“It’s about $1.3 billion coming in for municipalities, education, rental assistance, all types of things,” Zwonitzer said during his interview.

Legislative Service Office spokesman Ryan Frost could not confirm the dates of the ses to Cowboy State Daily on Monday, but said the week was being eyed as a possibility for the special session.

Last month, Gov. Mark Gordon announced a program for rental assistance in the state that would use $200 million in federal funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

His office also announced last month that the state was expected to receive around $1.2 billion in federal funding, close to Zwonitzer’s own estimate for the special session.

Gordon wanted to identify needs and opportunities that could be addressed with the COVID funds, as well as develop a budget to optimize the distribution.

“Wyoming will survive the impacts of COVID, drive through our period of recovery and set up the conditions for us to thrive in the long-term,” he said. “It is imperative to emphasize long-term benefits because this funding has increased the debt for future generations.”

He stressed collaboration between the Legislature and the executive branch will be required to maximize the benefits of these resources for the people of Wyoming.

“I am committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we use the funds effectively and responsibly, and that we seek to develop big ideas that will have significant and long-lasting impacts” Gordon said. “Wyoming won’t see these funds for some time, allowing us to develop a plan to ensure these dollars benefit citizens for years to come.”

The American Rescue Plan included $350 billion in aid to states and local governments.

Guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds is expected to be issued sometime this month, but unlike the federal CARES Act funding distributed last year, Wyoming will have nearly four years to spend the money.

The governor wants to focus on three areas in identifying the most significant problems Wyoming is facing due to this pandemic and then use the federal money to address the highest priorities within those areas. The areas are:

  • Health and Social Services
  • Education and Workforce
  • Economic Diversity and Economic Development

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Good News: Scraping Up Roadkill & Eating It Will Be Legal In July

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UPDATE, July 1, 2021: Game and Fish continues to draft regulations to address the new roadkill law passed by the 2021 Wyoming Legislature.

These draft rules will be open for public comment in mid-August. While the law is effective July 1, members of the public will not be able to begin collecting roadkill carcasses until those regulations are approved by the Commission, presented for approval during their November meeting.

———

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

If the idea of seeing a squashed raccoon in the middle of Interstate 80, picking it up with a shovel and putting it in your backseat, and then throwing it on the barbecue when you get home sounds like a great idea, you’re in luck.

Gov. Mark Gordon, earlier this week, signed legislation that allows citizens to scrape dead animals off of any road and then fry them up for dinner, put them in a blender for a smoothie, or consume the animal au tartare as they motor down the road.

That doesn’t mean you can turn your car into a killing machine and intentionally run over animals like a Bambi-version of the movie “Death Race 2000”.

But it does mean that if you see an 18-wheeler hit an elk at 85 mph, turning the animal into the equivalent of a Fourth of July fireworks show, you are allowed to scoop up the carcass, throw it in the back of your pickup, and then have a romantic elk-kabob dinner later that evening.

The question, of course, is should you?

Cowboy State Daily, of course, does not pass judgment on the eating habits of our readers.

As no one on our staff has expertise in roadkill preparation, we turned to BackdoorSurvival.com for answers.

The website provides eight basic tenets to follow when considering making a meal out of squashed rabbits or any other animal.

  1. Make sure it’s legal. Some animals in Wyoming do not qualify. For example, if you hit a grizzly bear with your Mini Cooper (or any other vehicle), you may not eat the grizzly bear. If a Mini Cooper was used, the bear will likely eat you. Regardless, if you hit a grizzly, you must report it to local officials (this does not apply if you have been consumed).
  2. Impact damage. How much of the animal is salvageable. “Squashed squirrel would require a spatula to remove from the asphalt and should be avoided,” it cautions.
  3. Clear eyes. If the eyes are clear, go for it. If the eyes are cloudy with creamy discharges, it’s not advisable. If the eyes are gone, leave it alone, it says.
  4. Stiffness and skin. If the skin moves along top of the muscle, you are probably OK. If the fur can be pulled off the animal, it’s been dead for too long.
  5. Bugs and blood. If you see maggots, it’s not a good idea to pick it up for dinner. But then, this should not be a newsflash.
  6. Climate and weather. It’s advisable to find roadkill during a snowstorm in Wyoming. Meat will decompose in hot and humid conditions, the website says.
  7. Smell. If it reeks, walk away. 
  8. Collection and processing tips. You’ll want to put the animal in some type of bag. It is not advisable to put the animal in the back seat of the car like the elk in the movie Tommy Boy. And don’t field dress the animal in the middle of the interstate.

By the way, you do need a permit to collect the roadkill and you can’t harvest roadkill until July — that’s when the Game and Fish Department will create all the rules.

Until then, bon appetit!

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WyGO Calls Biden a “Tyrant,” “Gun Grabber” For Latest Executive Orders

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Gun Owners group had strong words for President Joe Biden on Thursday with the announcement of new firearm-related executive orders.

Biden’s executive orders included steps to restrict weapons known as “ghost guns,” which can be built with parts and instructions found online and which do not carry a serial number, according to CNN.

WyGO, however, did not think any of Biden’s orders were a good idea, calling the president both a “tyrant” and “gun grabber” in posts made to their social media account on Thursday.

“Joe Biden just launched his massive attack against freedom!” the group wrote Thursday, detailing multiple issues Biden was tackling with the orders. “His handlers decided he will…stop the sale of ‘ghost guns’ and force their sale records to be processed through the government gun owner database.”

The ”ghost gun” ban was one of the seven issues the group tackled in its post. WyGO also encouraged its followers to tell Congress “F No” to red flag gun confiscation.

Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.

Biden has pushed the Justice Department to prepare a template for red flag laws that could be used by states wanting to adopt such restrictions.

Biden’s executive orders come just weeks after a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that left multiple people dead, including a police officer.

The president also announced he is nominating gun control advocate David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which hasn’t had a permanent director in place since 2015.

WyGO also encouraged its followers to reach out to Wyoming legislators about adopting a “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which was actually proposed during this legislative session by WyGO founder Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne.

Bouchard’s bill originally would have allowed the state to declare invalid any federal law or rule that was seen as a violation of constitutional Second Amendment rights.

Senators voted 24-6 in favor of Senate File 81, the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” only after it was heavily amended to create a legal process by which the state could refuse to enforce certain federal gun rules.

Bouchard ultimately voted against the bill, saying its amendments destroyed its original intent.

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Gordon Vetoes Bill On State Land Leases

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A bill dictating that the state give preference in awarding leases on state lands to people who own or lease adjoining lands has been vetoed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon, in a letter to Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, said Senate File 114 creates new requirements for leasing stand land would limit the state’s ability to determine which bids for state land would most benefit the state’s schools.

“As written and set before me, this legislation now requires the (State Board of Land Commissioners) to award leases based less on return to the schools and almost solely on how proximate a bidder is to the state land in question,” he wrote. “These changes potentially upset a carefully crafted and historic balance between the two competing interests that is recognized elsewhere in (state law).”

The SBLC is constitutionally required to award leases or sell state lands so “as to realize the largest possible proceeds” for the state’s schools. SF 114 was drafted to resolve a conflict in how state law that describes how SBLC should give preference to competing bids in awarding leases to state lands should be interpreted.

Gordon said he asked the Legislature to address the issue and the result was SF 114, which he said resolved the conflict.

However, Gordon said amendments added to the bill during the Legislature’s general session would limit how the SBLC decides which bids for leases would most benefit the state’s schools.

“In effect, this bill instructs the SBLC to ignore all other criteria except adjacency, which the SBLC would normally consider when determining an optimal solution that would best insure to the greatest benefit of the state’s trust beneficiaries,” he wrote. “Preemptively restricting competitive bidding from the process to lease state trust lands, thereby depressing the potential revenue derived from that activity, seems to stand in contrast with the constitutional obligation (of the SBLC).”

Gordon asked legislators to look at the issue again during the interim.

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Wyoming Gun Owners Praises Passage of Concealed Carry Bill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Gun Owners organization is celebrating the recent signing of a bill to let visitors to the state carry concealed weapons without a permit.

House Bill 116 was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday. The bill removes extends to all law-abiding American citizens Wyoming’s privilege to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

WYGO posted about the bill’s signing on Tuesday, praising two particular legislators for their work on it.

“BOOOM!!! Moments ago, House Bill 116 was signed into law meaning that Wyoming’s Constitutional Carry laws (one of the oldest in the country) now applies to ALL law abiding gun owners!!!” the organization wrote on its Facebook page. “MAJOR SHOUT OUT to Rep. Bob Wharff and Senator Anthony Bouchard for leading this fight on the inside and a massive shout out to the members of WYGO for hammering this bill into law!!!!! WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wharff, R-Evanston, was the sponsor of the bill. Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, along with six other Wyoming senators (including Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne) co-sponsored the legislation.

More than a dozen state representatives co-sponsored the bill, including Bouchard’s primary election opponent in his effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper.

Bouchard is the founder of WYGO, although he is no longer involved in any management positions due to his work as a senator.

The group posted a second time on Tuesday about Wharff and Bouchard, praising their work in the Legislature.

“HUGE SHOUT OUT TO Rep. Bob Wharf and Sen. Anthony Bouchard, the House and Senate sponsors of HB 116, which passed today!!!” WYGO wrote. “No one fights harder for you on the inside!”

This was not the only firearm-related legislation Bouchard worked on this legislative session. He originally sponsored Senate File 81, which would give the state the authority to find certain federal gun regulations invalid.

However, he ultimately voted against the bill after it was amended, saying it no longer had the intent of the original legislation.

As originally written, the bill said the state could declare as invalid any federal law that infringed on Second Amendment rights, including taxes on firearms and ammunition, registration of firearms and laws forbidding the ownership, use or possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.

The bill would also have forbidden law enforcement officers from seizing weapons in response to federal laws and would have allowed officers and their local governments to be sued over such seizures.

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Wyoming To Vote In 2022 To Allow Local Governments To Invest In Stocks And Equities

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By Jackie Mitchell, Ballotpedia via The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would allow the legislature to provide by law for local governments (county, city, township, town, school district, or other political subdivision) to invest funds in stocks and equities.

Legislation establishing or increasing the percentage of funds a local government could invest would require a two-thirds supermajority vote of the state legislature. Currently, the state constitution allows the state legislature to authorize certain state funds to be invested in stocks.

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote is required in both the Wyoming State Senate and the Wyoming House of Representatives.

The measure was introduced as House Joint Resolution 9 on March 4, 2021. It was approved in the House on March 23, 2021, by a vote of 43-16. The Senate approved an amended version of the measure on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 25-5, which was sent to the House for concurrence. The House concurred with the Senate’s amendments on April 1, 2021, in a vote of 46-13.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Wyoming State Legislature referred 20 constitutional amendments to the ballot, of which, 12 were approved (60%) and eight (40%) were defeated.

The legislature was set to adjourn the 2021 legislative session on April 7, 2021. The legislature can also refer measures to the 2022 ballot during the 2022 legislative session.

As of April 2, 2021, 15 statewide ballot measures had been certified for the 2022 ballot in 10 states.

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Gordon Lets Ag-Related COVID Bill Become Law Without Signature

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is warning Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers to think carefully before taking advantage of a new law that would let them collect coronavirus relief funds.

Gordon, in a letter to state Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, explained why he allowed Senate File 50 to become law with out his signature, saying he is worried agriculture producers might be forced to repay the grants they receive under the law.

“I understand that some producers might want to get a chance at the federal one-armed bandit, and therefore will let the bill pass into law without my signature,” he wrote. “In my view, caveat emptor should be the watchword of the program: if producers are willing to take advantage of this program, they should be prepared to possibly have to pay back the grants — a decision that could cripple additional Wyoming industries.”

The bill would allow ranchers and farmers to seek federal coronavirus relief grants given to the state if they claim a loss incurred due to COVID-19.However, Gordon said he is not sure the program will meet federal requirements for the money to be used to compensate businesses for losses caused by COVID-19 or restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness.“

Rather than reimburse individuals or businesses for impacts related to an emergency, the program created in this legislation seems to seek some way to give money to agricultural producers simply because they are producers,” he wrote. “I remain concerned about what an unfriendly administration that appears to be preparing for war could do to Wyoming’s key industries, including agriculture.”

Gordon urged legislators to clarify and strengthen the program in the future and to investigate whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to offer a coronavirus relief program.

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Gordon Vetoes Limits On State Rent In Budget Bill

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Limits on the amount the state spends to rent office space proposed by the Legislature are unnecessary because the state has already committed to reducing that cost, Gov. Mark Gordon said.

Gordon, in signing the supplemental budget bill approved by the Legislature last week, also issued eight “line item” vetoes, using his constitutional authority to cut specific items from the budget.

One item he removed is a “footnote” from the Legislature reducing the amount the state Department of Administration and Information can spend on rental space from $24.8 million to $17.9 million.

In his veto message to legislators, Gordon said the Department of A&I is already working to reduce rental costs, so the footnote is unnecessary.

“The Department of A&I has committed to making cuts to the stat leasing program,” he wrote. “I have struck the prescriptive language because, on a practical note, an emergency or unanticipated leasing necessity could require more flexibility. Nevertheless, it remains the intent of the executive branch to reduce our leasing budget by 28%.”

Gordon also vetoed a footnote transferring management of the state Veterans Museum in Casper from the state Military Department to the state Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Gordon noted that the museum’s management was given to the Military Department through legislation in 2008 and if the Legislature wants to return management to the Department of State Parks, it should do so with a separate bill, not through a footnote in the budget bill.

“A transfer of responsibility or authority for any particular program is appropriately the subject of a stand-alone bill,” he wrote.

Also vetoed was language requiring the Wyoming Business Council to administer the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues for the state department of Workforce Services.

The two agencies are already working to give the WBC control over the program, Gordon said, so the legislation just complicates the issue.

The supplemental budget itself, which details more than $430 million in spending cuts to the biennium budget approved by the Legislature in 2020, was signed into law on April 1 by Gordon.

Gordon praised the Legislature for its hard work.

“These are not easy decisions to make, but this discussion on the fundamental question of the role of government has been a necessity,” he wrote. “Now, as more reductions are implemented, the debate will continue.

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Signs Supplemental Budget

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a supplemental budget that includes more than $430 million in cuts and maintains the Governor’s commitment that the state continues to live within its means. He complimented the Legislature for taking a fiscally responsible approach and passing a budget bill that aligns closely with the budget he proposed in November.

“Despite an epic decline in revenue we were able to maintain some crucial programs while making some modest but integral one-time investments,” the Governor wrote in his budget letter. “The budget does set our state back by eliminating valuable programs and services, and some of the impacts of the cuts we have had to make will be felt by those who are already struggling;  but it is our constitutional duty to right-size our government based on revenues.”

Governor Gordon initially proposed cutting state funding by more than $500 million, but the revenue forecast improved in January.  The new budget includes the elimination of 324 state positions and reduces the size of state government to its smallest level since the early 2000s.

This budget restores a modest amount of funding to several Wyoming Department of Health programs for seniors, the disabled, low-income residents and those requiring mental health services. It also restores $8 million in funding to the University of Wyoming  and the state’s Community Colleges to support the Governor’s Wyoming Innovation Network initiative. 

“WIN is an ambitious effort to supercharge all of Wyoming’s post-secondary work by combining the best ideas that can strengthen the state’s workforce, promote entrepreneurship and actively support economic growth and diversification,” the Governor wrote. “I applaud you for giving our higher education system a minor reprieve from deeper cuts for this year.”

The Governor used his authority to issue several line item vetoes, including items that represent substantive lawmaking in the budget bill and those that present separation of powers concerns. He noted that this is the fewest line-item vetoes he has issued since taking office and offered his thanks to the 66th Legislature. 

The Governor’s budget letter explaining his vetoes follows, and can be found here.

April 1, 2021

 The Honorable Eric Barlow,

Speaker of the House of Representatives,

200 West 24th Street

State Capitol Building

Cheyenne, WY 82002

 Dear Speaker Barlow,

 Today’s signing of the supplemental budget marks the end of an arduous but necessary task by many. This budget and the earlier cuts I made in 2020 reflect our shared commitment to the goal of living within our means. I thank you and all the members of the 66th Legislature for the close scrutiny you gave the $500 million in reductions I proposed, and for bearing in mind the negative impacts on services these cuts will cause. These are not easy decisions to make, but this discussion on the fundamental question of the role of government has been a necessity. Now, as more reductions are implemented, the debate will continue.

 Despite an epic decline in revenue, we are able to maintain some crucial programs while making some modest but integral one-time investments. These come at a cost, I realize, but I thank you for setting aside money so Wyoming can take the next step in carbon capture utilization and storage, and for ensuring we have funds for key legal actions to defend Wyoming’s interests. These dollars allow us to continue to fight for our oil, gas, coal, uranium, wind and mining industries while investing in transformational technologies, agriculture, and other diversifying elements of Wyoming’s evolving economy. These decisions require foresight.

 Additionally, I thank you for giving our higher education system a minor reprieve from deeper cuts for this year. Your action recognizes the importance of a collective, organized post-secondary education system embodied in the new Wyoming Innovation Network (WIN), which was created in collaboration with our community colleges and the University of Wyoming. WIN is an ambitious effort to supercharge all of Wyoming’s post-secondary work by combining the best ideas across Wyoming’s institutions that can strengthen the state’s workforce, promote entrepreneurship, and actively support economic growth and diversification. Moreover, this effort will help folks faced with changing work circumstances add to their skills and education, ultimately retaining our workforce and modernizing the deliverables of education.

 The budget does set our state back by eliminating valuable programs and services, and some of the impacts of the cuts we have had to make will be felt by those who are already struggling;  but it is our constitutional duty to right-size our government based on revenues. We are not adding debt for future generations with this budget. However, we cannot rest assured our troubles are over since revenues were already in decline before the global pandemic arrived. I believe we all agree that some of the programs considered for elimination this year, but spared, may need to end next year. Unhappily, some of these services will weigh heavily on the elderly and the disabled. One cannot relish that chore, but as we continue to see our revenues decline, we must continue to evaluate the role of government and what we can afford. Those decisions will affect the level of services the public has come to expect and remind us all of the fact we are fortunate that we can continue to pay very low taxes thanks to the disproportionate share we levy on our mineral industries.

 Specifically, I appreciate your work to fine tune the spending for the final year of the biennium. These vetoes represent the fewest line-item vetoes I have needed to execute in my time as Governor.

 Thank you again for your efforts. With my signature, House Bill 001, House of Representative Enrolled Act 45 has the following line-item vetoes:

 Section 006 Administration and Information Footnote 4

 The Department of A&I has committed to making cuts to the state leasing program.  A&I has been working diligently on this process and will have it fully implemented in the upcoming biennial budget. I have struck the prescriptive language because, on a practical note, an emergency or unanticipated leasing necessity could require more flexibility.  Nevertheless, it remains the intent of the executive branch to reduce our leasing budget by 28%.

 Section 007 Wyoming Military Department Footnote 4

 The management of the Veterans Museum was transferred from the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources to the Military Department in a single-subject piece of legislation in 2008.  If the legislative intent is that the responsibility for management of the museum returns to State Parks, mandating an MOU represents substantive lawmaking within the budget bill. A transfer of responsibility or authority for any particular program is appropriately the subject of a stand-alone bill. Even so, for the time being the Military Department is committed to working with State Parks for the operation and administration of the Veterans Museum and this can be codified with a stand-alone bill next year.

 Section 024 State Parks & Cultural Resources Footnote 8

 This conforms with the change to the Military Department budget. This footnote presents substantive law-making within the budget bill. I support making this change in a stand-alone bill next year, but until then the Military Department is committed to working with State Parks and Cultural Resources for the operation and administration of the Veterans Museum.

 Section 027 State Construction Department Footnote 2

 The review and performance assessment of individual employees in state agencies is the exclusive responsibility of the Executive Branch and the authority of the Legislative Branch does not extend to the review and assessment of Executive Branch employees.  Since your expressed intent relates to a matter for which you have no authority now or in the future, I have vetoed this footnote.

 Section 053 Department of Workforce Services Footnote 2

 The Department of Workforces Services is committed to working with the Wyoming Business Council for the operation and administration of the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues. Work is already underway to execute an MOU for the two agencies.  However, mandating such an agreement transfers the authority to administer the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues to a different agency and therefore represents substantive lawmaking within the budget bill. It is appropriately the subject of a stand-alone bill and I commit to work with you to develop such a bill next year.

 Section 085 Wyoming Business Council Footnote 1

 This conforms with the change to the Department of Workforce Services budget. The required MOU represents substantive law-making within the budget bill. These changes are appropriately the subject of a stand-alone bill. The Department of Workforces Services is committed to working with the Wyoming Business Council for the operation and administration of the Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues.

 Section 206 Department of Education Footnote 2

 This vetoed language is overly prescriptive in directing how an Executive Branch agency functions when it comes to making staffing, workforce and resource allocation decisions, and therefore raises separation of powers concerns. For instance, if the Board of Education wanted to pay this contractor less than $136,890 it could not or if the Board wanted to hire two contractors for $68,445 each to work part-time the Board could not if this footnote remains.

 Section 3

 Careful inspection of the vetoed portion of this section seems especially appropriate on April 1.  This veto conforming to the veto I made to Section 300, requires an especially artful and careful — if clever — use of red ink. 

 Section 300 – Budget Balance Transfers (p)

 Subsection (p) directs the State Auditor’s office to transfer the balance of the Wyoming State Penitentiary Capital Construction Account in equal parts to the Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund and the Common School Account within the Permanent Land Fund. The State Penitentiary Capital Construction Account was created in 2017 as a sub-account of the Strategic Investment and Projects Account (SIPA). While I am in favor of repealing the SIPA, I believe this account needs to be part of an interim topic discussion and therefore the transfer should not happen at this time.

 With the passage of this supplemental budget, we now must embark on the hard work of creating our next standard budget. I look forward to presenting it to you in November. There are a couple of items I would like to raise now so they are on your radar. First, part of the Department of Corrections’ budget cut was brought forward with the understanding that a separate bill would raise fees to help pay for the cost of probation and parole officers. These are key positions for public safety; however that fee increase did not pass. This is unfortunate and seems ill-timed placing unrealistic burdens on the department to man yet not fully pay for the positions allowed.  I will be seeking to use federal American Rescue Plan dollars for these positions or in the budget next year I will be asking for a provision that enables funding to those positions, which you did restore.  I will ask that they be effective immediately.

 Lastly, I appreciate and applaud our joint efforts to bring more transparency and accessibility to the Executive and Judicial branch budgets over the past couple of years.  More than anything, thank you again for your diligence and service to our wonderful state during trying times.  It has been an honor to work with you for the greater good of the people of this glorious state.

 Sincerely,

Mark Gordon

Governor

cc:

The Honorable Secretary of State, Edward Buchanan,

The Honorable Dan Dockstader, President of the Senate

Chief Clerk, Wyoming Senate

Chief Clerk, Wyoming House of Representatives 

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Bill To Create Airport Districts In Wyoming Counties Dies On Tie Vote

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A measure that would allow the creation of airport districts within counties to help pay for the operations of local airports was killed in Wyoming’s House on Thursday on a tie vote.

Representatives voted 30-30 against Senate File 4 and then rejected an effort to reconsider the vote. A bill must receive a majority of votes cast to be approved in the Legislature.

The bill would have allowed the creation a special district to support local airports, with residents inside the district charged an extra property tax to finance the airports’ operations and maintenance. The districts would have taken over all operations of the airports.

The bill died with no debate after Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, questioned using property taxes to finance the districts.

“I’m concerned this bill may have unintentionally created an extremely regressive way to create revenue for airports,” he said.

Andrew offered an amendment, which he later withdrew, that would have imposed a landing fee on aircraft using the airports.

He said the extra property tax would hurt someone who may live on a limited income, while the person actually using the airport would not have to pay anything for its use unless they lived within the airport district.

“SF4 would allow the voters to impose an extra tax on (a low-income resident) for the purpose of paying for the millionaire (flying into an airport), who will pay nothing more,” he said.

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Bill Preventing Selective Abortions Passes Through Wyoming Senate Committee

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill preventing abortions for selective reasons such as the sex or race of the unborn baby is heading to the Wyoming Senate for debates this week.

House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. John Romero-Martinez, R-Cheyenne, would ban abortions performed because the unborn child diagnosed with a disability or for the reasons of race, sex, color, national origin or ancestry.

The Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee tackled the bill first in its meeting on Tuesday, ultimately unanimously voting to pass it out of the committee.

“A woman goes to a genetic test done and the test shows the child has Down syndrome or it’s mixed race or something, and for that reason only, they choose to have their unborn child killed,” Romero-Martinez said during his testimony. “This bill prevents that.”

In the bill, disabilities are defined as any disease, defect or disorder that is genetically inherited, including physical, mental and intellectual disabilities, physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, down syndrome, albinism, amelia, meromelia or a physical or mental disease.

An amendment was made to the bill to make an exception for women who terminate a pregnancy in the event their fetus is diagnosed with a fatal anomaly that would result in the child dying within three months of its birth.

Sen. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, asked if there was any disability, besides a fatal one, that would be considered reasonable for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

“You’re making it clear in this bill there is no disability that could not be purposive of an abortion,” Furphy said.

Romero-Martinez said there might be some “gray area” situations where a child might be born, but not have any brain capacity. He said this would likely fall under a lethal fetal anomaly.

“I don’t know, I would imagine…that’s covered under that amendment,” he said. “But it’s a tricky situation.”

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, commented there are some countries that have increased genetic testing, but also have increased abortion rates in fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Mike Leman, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, spoke in support of the bill on Tuesday.

“Enforcement will be a challenge, but at least it will allow for retroactive action and that could save lives, if it prevents even one provider from encouraging an abortion, it will have been worth it,” Leman said.

Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, also testified in support of the bill.

“Life is precious and I struggle with the idea we even have to have this legislation and come to a point as a society where we say ‘You know what? This is worth saving and this is not worth saving,'” Neiman said.

Additionally, Wyoming Right to Life supported the bill.

Cheyenne physician and former legislator Larry Meuli spoke in opposition to the bill, however.

“I’m opposed to this bill…because of the unintended consequences of it,” Meuli said. “It bothers me the Wyoming Legislature feels like they can tell people what they can believe and how they can practice.”

Sen. Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, questioned the difference between “killing” a fetus while in the womb and killing a child at the age of 2.

Meuli countered there were many definitions of when life begins, and that he didn’t necessarily believe a fetus in the womb was a person.

Cheyenne realtor Wendy Volk also spoke in opposition of the bill, noting she had genetic testing done on a pregnancy, but added it wasn’t to decide whether or not she would terminate the pregnancy.

“I had a pregnancy at 42-years-old and there were some unusual things happenings in my pregnancy,” she said. “It was for the health and well-being of me and my pregnancy.”

With committee approval, the bill will now be sent to the Senate for a review by all senators.

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Wyo Lawmakers Work To Address Wyoming’s Lack Of Meatpacking Plants

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By The Center Square, for Cowboy State Daily

 Lawmakers are moving to fill a COVID-19-created gap in Wyoming’s meat industry with new bills aimed at the state’s processing sector.

In a state that is heavily agricultural with a focus on beef, meat processing plants are few and far between.

House Bills 54 and 51 and Senate File 122 would work to change that.

Until about a year-and-a-half ago, Wyoming did not have any federally inspected slaughter facilities, according to Jim Magagna, executive vice president at Wyoming Stock Growers’ Association.

Even now, the USDA-certified plants the state has are small, he said.

When the pandemic hit and large national facilities shut down, the problem was magnified as producers flocked to small, regional slaughterhouses. Additionally, consumer preference shifted to locally produced food, compounding the logjam.

Wyoming Public Media reports one of those was Wyoming Legacy Meats, where co-owner Frank Schmidt said they quickly became booked out a year in advance. Usually, the waiting list was only a few months.

“So that’s what we were faced with, just a shortage of capacity, and the individual ranchers that wanted to have just an animal processed for their own use often had to schedule a processing date nine months to a year in advance,” Magagna told The Center Square.

The Wyoming Meat Packing Initiative (House Bill 54) directs the Wyoming Business Council to up its game in supporting the state’s agriculture industry specifically through meat processing, Wyoming Public Media reported.

House Bill 51 would create the Wyoming meat processing expansion grant program that would direct money to help expand existing facilities.

The final bill would create the Wyoming Ag Authority, which while driven by the need for beef and lamb, would make loans or grants to facilities developing value-added processing for any Wyoming agriculture products, according to Magagna.

On the national level, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., has introduced a bill to allow state-inspected meat processing plants to sell across state lines.

Magagna explains state facilities are held to the exact same standards as USDA inspected ones; however, they are not allowed to sell outside the state currently.

This bill would open up more markets to Wyoming producers, Magagna said.

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Voter ID Bill Headed to Wyoming Senate for Debates

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill requiring people to present some type of identification when voting in person is heading to the floor of the Senate for debate this week.

House Bill 75 would require a person to present “acceptable” identification when going to vote in person. The Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions approved the bill on a vote of 4-1 Tuesday, with only Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voting “no.”

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, the bill’s sponsor, told Senate colleagues during his testimony that the bill would be critical for Wyoming’s elections.

“Voter ID is a step in keeping our election statues tight, and ensuring there’s an environment where it is difficult to commit fraud, it’s a best practices issue,” he said. “This bill will ensure confidence in our elections.”

Wyoming currently requires identification to register to vote, but not when actually voting in person. This bill would not apply for absentee voting.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, cracked a joke during the meeting, asking Gray if he would consider amending the bill to include fishing licenses, a joke referencing to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who Gray plans to challenge in her bid for re-election.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, asked Gray what would happen in the event someone’s ID is stolen prior to voting, to which the representative responded an old ID or a temporary, paper one would suffice.

Scott expressed his concern about the bill, noting not everyone has multiple types of ID and adding a voter could be in a bad spot if the ID is lost before voting.

However, Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Towers, interjected, saying identity could still be verified through voting registration records, since an ID is required to register.

“When you live in the backwoods like I do, all the polling people know you,” Driskill said to Gray. “Is there a thought you could be allowed to cast your ballot because you know the polling people? I know mine, we have coffee together.”

Gray said there were some equal protection concerns regarding visual verification of a person’s identity, which is why that situation hadn’t been addressed in the bill.

Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan testified in support of the bill, telling the committee how much work his office had done to help write the legislation.

“You really have every available type of identification to be used in this case, so no one has to feel like there’s an ID they can’t get,” he said. “One of the important things I emphasized early on this was in no way disenfranchising any voters.”

Buchanan did say there have only been three or four instances of voter fraud in the state over the last couple decades, “but it does occur.”

Driskill added no one voluntarily announces they cheated the system, they just do it again.

Nethercott mentioned that as a sitting senator, she was once rejected from a polling place in Laramie County because she did not have her ID.

Tom Lacock, spokesman for AARP, supported amending the bill to allow Medicare IDs to be used as acceptable identification for voting, as many elderly people have no need for photo IDs any longer.

Some of the organizations opposed to the bill included the League of the Women Voters and the Equality State Policy Center.

Marguerite Herman, representing the LWV, said Wyoming simply does not need such a requirement for its voters.

“The only accomplishment of HB75 is to create a hoop for the voters and poll workers to jump through on election day with no corresponding benefit,” she said. “Our voter registration system is solid. Our elections are secure. Wyoming should have no patience for such an expenditure of time, effort and other resources.”

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Bill For New Community College District Nears Legislative Approval

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A bill that would create Wyoming’s first new community college district in more than 50 years is nearing its final review in the Legislature.

Senate File 83, which would create a separate district for Gillette’s community college, was scheduled to be read a third and final time in Wyoming’s House on Wednesday. The bill has already been approved by the Senate.

Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, who represents Gillette and Campbell County in the Legislature, said it is long past time that Gillette has its own community college.

“Gillette has grown a great deal since the school first started,” he observed. “We’ve really become the third largest community in the state, and we are the largest community in the state without a its own community college district. So we think that it’s time that we put our ‘big boy panties’ on and became an independent community college district that’s controlled by people in Gillette and Campbell County.”

For residents of both Gillette and Sheridan, this could be a win-win, according to Wasserburger.

“I don’t think that there’ll be any impact that is going to hurt Sheridan College in any way,” he predicted. “They have an independent foundation called the Whitney Foundation that helps fund the college — but they also levy five mills (in property taxes) that generates funding, and they receive state aid from the Wyoming Community College commission.”

He added that the Wyoming Legislature recently approved the construction for a new technical education building at Sheridan College, so he expects that the school will continue to be a valuable resource for Sheridan and Johnson Counties.

But the proposal for a new district isn’t without its detractors. 

Officials with the Northern Wyoming Community College District, which controls the Sheridan and Gillette colleges, in February wrote legislators a letter expressing the district’s opposition to the new district.

Walter Tribley, the district’s president, said if the Gillette College wins its own district, Sheridan College will lose $3 million per year because of the resources that will be directed to the new college.

“This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division,” he wrote in his letter. “We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.”

As the bill neared its third and final House review, no such appropriation had been put in it.

Several other hurdles must be cleared even if the bill wins final legislative approval and it is signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon.

If the Legislature approves the creation of the district, Gillette College will still need to ask voters in Campbell County to approve a tax to fund the school.

“It will be a special district election, and all the people in Campbell County – registered voters – will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether or not they’re going to accept the tax for what would be the Gillette Community College,” Wasserburger said.

Even if the voters approve the tax in August, it will be a few years before the school can become entirely independent from the Sheridan College umbrella. Until then, the two schools will continue to operate as they have for the last 51 years.

“In the Gillette College bill, the funding remains the same for Sheridan – and until Gillette college is fully accredited (which is going to take anywhere from two to six years), Gillette college will not be independent,” Wasserburger said. “So it’s very important that we have a great relationship with Sheridan College – we will continue to be best of working partners.

“It has nothing to do with having hard feelings towards Sheridan College – they’ve been more than good to us for many, many years. It’s just that it’s time for us to move on,” he continued.

Should the new district be created, Wasserburger noted it would be the first new community college for the state in more than 50 years.

“The last community college to become an independent community college was Laramie County Community College in 1968,” he said. “It doesn’t happen every day.” 

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Revenge Porn Bill Passes Wyoming Senate, Headed Back to House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill banning the distribution of intimate pictures or videos of a person without that person’s knowledge, also known as “revenge porn,” won final approval from the Wyoming Senate on Monday.

The Wyoming Senate passed House Bill 85 on its third reading Monday, with 29 senators voting to approve it (the other senator was excused). The bill will now be sent back to the House for its review of any Senate changes to the bill and if approved there, it will be sent to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will decide whether to sign the bill into law.

The bill would create a law making the act of distributing intimate images (sending out videos/photos depicting people in a sexual act) of another person without that person’s knowledge a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill on March 19, sponsor Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, told committee members that the bill would add an important element to Wyoming’s criminal laws.

“What is commonly known as ‘revenge porn’ is not a crime in Wyoming and there are only a handful of states where this isn’t a crime,” Stith said.

Stith, an attorney, said he became aware of this issue because he had a client who engaged in “revenge porn,” but the local prosecutor was in a challenging situation because the act was not illegal.

“He either had to charge nothing or he had to try and shoehorn the conduct into some other category,” Stith said. “Your typical case is where you’ve got a jilted boyfriend who then has an intimate image that he initially got consensually from his ex.”

Stith explained the ex-boyfriend will be upset and post the image to social media or find another way to use it to humiliate a woman.

He added that the charges against his client were eventually dropped.

“From a lawyer’s point of view that sounds like a victory, but it didn’t really feel like justice, frankly,” Stith said.

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Bill Banning Social Media Censorship Killed In Committee

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A measure aimed at preventing internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook from blocking certain opinions was killed in a House committee Monday as members expressed concern about the government telling businesses what they can do.

Senate File 100 was defeated by a vote of 3-6 in the House Judiciary Committee after members questioned whether the state should tell private companies how to moderate comments on their sites.

“What this is is the government telling companies what they can and cannot do,” said Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton. “It seems to be the opposite, conceptually, when we’re in this area of the First Amendment.”

The bill would prohibit interactive internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook from discriminating against a person who posted a message based on “viewpoint, race, religion and location.” Any person who believes a company violated the rule could seek compensation of $50,000.

Harriet Hageman, an attorney with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said there have been examples of some statements being removed from social media, such as those from people who believe there were irregularities in the 2020 election. She also pointed to larger companies blocking access to a social media company popular conservatives.

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, said because such companies hold what amounts to a monopoly over social media, they should be regulated to guarantee residents are treated fairly.

“When you have a company that is basically a monopoly … you can regulate them or go for an anti-trust remedy,” she said. “And it’s an obligation of the government to protect our citizens when a company gets too large and too monopolistic.”

But several members of the committee noted that while guarantees of free speech exist in public spaces, those same protections do not exist in private businesses.

“My understanding is this is simply a matter of whether it is the public square or not,” said committee chair Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne. “Are we saying that Facebook ought to be the public square?”

The bill was opposed by several internet organizations, such as NetChoice and the Internet Association, which also questioned the state’s ability to dictate to private businesses.

Mike Smith, a representative for the Internet Association, noted Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not apply to private companies.

“This idea that the First Amendment applies to private property is kind of a dangerous one and one I wouldn’t want us to go down,” he said.

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